Review of Combe House Hotel, Devon
All fifteen en-suite rooms at Combe House have been carefully modernised with calming tones and luxurious fabrics, whilst keeping in tune with the history of the building. Huge, stone-framed windows fill the rooms with light and views of rolling countryside by day whilst thick, heavy curtains make them cosy and private by night. High ceilings and spacious bathrooms allow total relaxation; read the papers whilst morning coffee is delivered to your door or slowly get ready for an evening of fine food and drink. For the ultimate romantic break check into the Linen Suite, a vast living room, bedroom and bathroom situated at the back of the main house with its own doors out onto the courtyard gardens. Small touches bring the history of the room tastefully alive; the living room ceiling is filled with the original Victorian drying rack, an ironing stove sits in one corner and paintings reveal scenes from the days when the room was a Victorian laundry. Neutral colours and subtle lighting helps you melt away the moment you set foot in this suite, and that's before you've even had a soak in the 6ft wide, round copper bath tub.
For maximum privacy the hotel also has a thatch cottage for two, set in its own walled gardens on the edge of the estate. The original features of the cottage - including limestone floors, vast fireplaces and a Victorian bathroom - have been preserved during renovation, creating a luxurious but homely feel. The cottage can be rented on a self-catering basis but make sure you don't miss out on drinking and dining in the main house at least once during your stay.
The food Food is half of the Combe House Hotel experience and therefore must not be missed. Three course meals are available for both lunch and dinner, both served in the grand but intimate dining rooms overlooking the grounds. Before heading straight to your seat for dinner enjoy cocktails and canapes in the informal bar area and head to the main hall for a post dinner whisky, coffee and homemade truffles by the fire. The hotel has several rooms available for private hire during lunch or dinner and so do enquire if you're a larger group.
Each season brings with it a new menu, stuffed full of the finest local and seasonal produce in classic dishes, often with a modern twist. We were lucky enough to catch the last weekend of the autumn menu, which, in the chef's own words 'heralds the arrival of an enormous variety of apples and soft fruit, with potatoes, pumpkins… wild mushrooms, fennel, leeks, swedes… the arrival of game birds, venison, chickens, duck, pork and beef that have been growing and maturing over the summer… not least our native oysters, mussels and herrings'. Scallops, pork belly, beef steaks, beef wellington, frangipane, white chocolate moose and the rest was all prepared to perfection, oozing with autumnal flavours and enjoyed slowly in a very civilised setting.
Breakfast is also a local and seasonal affair including freshly pressed local apple juice, homemade yoghurt, porridge with Devon cream, smoked applewood bacon, local free-range eggs, natural smoked Dartmouth haddock and Combe House breads and jams. The menu provides details of what items come from specific local farms, which not only reassures you of its organic nature but also gives you a nice sense of geography.
If you are at Combe House for a short stay then there is no need to go too far; with such beautiful rooms, both private and communal, and 3500 acres of estate, your time is best spent soaking up the relaxed manor house ambiance. Head around the side of the house to see the Victorian working gardens and greenhouses, still in use as they would have been 100 or so years ago. Walk a little further and you'll stumble across a tiny thatch folly, complete with sofas, a cooker and even an outdoor bathtub with views over the East Devon hills. Impressive Arabian horses roam in the fields at the front of the house and footpaths make it easy to take a stroll through the fields into the woods.
Beyond the mile long driveway to Combe House is the quaint village of Gittisham, which is worth a visit for the Norman Church and pretty thatch cottages. Honiton is only 15 minutes down the road and is a pleasant market town with all the usual tea rooms, pubs, shops and a bric and brac market on a Saturday morning. If you are looking for country walks straight from the house then you're in luck - ask Ruth or Ken for maps and details. The Quantock Hills are close by, as are the two moors; Exmouth and Dartmouth. The Jurassic Coast is within an hours drive from the hotel and offers some of the most breathtaking coastal walks in the country. Ruth and Ken have put together a great leaflet of walks for dog owners that stay in the hotel, so be sure to ask for one on arrival.
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