There was a time when "organic" could be roughly summed up by stodgy bread and unappetising health foods. Now it is more commonly found as a guise for wholesome living and rustic perfection. Never mind the lack of synthetic inputs, we want organic to look as good as it makes us feel. Tom and Barbara Good, meet Jerry and Margot Leadbetter.
The Pig, the newly opened little sister to the New Forest's Lime Wood hotel, pins itself to the manifesto for this modern age reprisal of The Good Life. You might expect, as I did, with a name like The Pig that you'd be getting a country inn, all crackling fires and low, timber beams. But you'd be mistaken. The hotel is bucolically beautiful, an early 17th-century New Forest groom keeper's lodge that was later run as a hotel by Brigadier John Doyle, of the Conan Doyle clan. Latterly, it was Whitley Ridge, a Michelin-starred restaurant and contemporary-country hotel that closed in February for the rustic transformation to a self-styled "kitchen garden with rooms".
And, oh, does it look and feel good. A gravel drive sweeps up to the pretty-as-a-picture main house, clad in wisteria and shaded by a mature oak tree. Inside, the drawing room invites you to sink into a deep sofa by the wood fire under the watchful gaze of old oil paintings, with a Forager's Fizz – champagne, vodka and elderflower liqueur – in one of the artfully antique, mismatched cocktail glasses from the bar.
This theme of artful mismatching creeps in elsewhere, too. Wild boars' heads are mounted on the walls in the bar, where club chairs also demand your lingering presence and vintage trunks double as tables. In the Green Room, papier-mâché pigs' heads peer down over a snooker table: one sucking on a pipe is called "Smoky Bacon", another – "Capitalist Pig" – is formed from pages of the Financial Times. In the Library, books are present only in image on the wallpaper.
The restaurant, which rarely seemed to be empty during my visit, is where the stylised interpretation of farmhouse life plays out in full force. A glasshouse-style annexe has been added to brighten up the dark main room, all mossy tones and spruced-up cornicing. Odd wooden tables each sport potted herbs or wild strawberries, while vines and climbers twist up light fittings, old crates stack up in a corner, vintage scales add texture and end-of-run patterned tiles deliver shabby-chic colour to the floor.
The menu aims to source as much as possible from the kitchen garden, with the rest coming from within a 25-mile radius. It includes "piggy bits" (crackling) with apple sauce, home-smoked salmon with silver chard that I'd tasted only hours earlier in the garden, and roast New Forest venison. If you decide on Mrs Bartlett's "Karma ham", spare a thought for the Saddleback and Tamworth pigs which are fattening up for Christmas in the fields behind the hotel (though two pet kunekune "micro" pigs soften the reality).
It's all well-judged, comfortable and accessible – unsurprising given that The Pig's chairman, Robin Hutson, co-founded the successful Hotel du Vin chain and later sat on the board of the Soho House group. In The Pig, he has formed a new blueprint for a mini chain of similar well-priced country hotels in southern England. If they look and feel anything like this first edition, then Hutson will be on to a good thing.
Just a mile from Brockenhurst and five from Lyndhurst, The Pig is well placed for venturing into the heart of the New Forest. High-spec mountain bikes are offered for exploring at speed; Hunter Wellies (you weren't expecting Dunlop were you?) for a more leisurely tramp through the leaves.
There are 26 rooms spread between the main house and an annexe in the renovated stables, where the suites – Hen House and Dog House – are also located. Snug and Comfy rooms come without a bath, Spacious rooms boast both showers and roll-top tubs. Some accommodate families; others allow dogs.
My Spacious room wasn't huge, but was luxurious. The lichen and cream palette complemented the forest, and the dark-stained floorboards creaked reassuringly. Pressed flowers were framed on the walls, National Trust books on pig-keeping and wild food added context and a digital Roberts radio and Bakelite phone kept things the right side of stylish. The large four-poster bed was almost overwhelmingly plump; it took the smell of sizzling bacon downstairs to prize me out of its puffy confines in the morning. Sorry, Saddlebacks.
Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst, the New Forest, Hampshire SO42 7QL (01590 622354; thepighotel.co.uk).
Double rooms start at £125 midweek, £155 at weekends, room only. Breakfast is £10-£15 per person.
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