What is it? Formerly the Manor House Hotel, a National Trust property overlooking Studland Bay on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, it’s a curious hodgepodge of a place, a jumble of windows, turrets and chimneys mixing up Arts and Craft folkiness with Victorian-Gothic splendour. The outside has had a sunny-yellow facelift (the old hotel was drab grey) and the bedrooms are painted in washed-out shades of Farrow & Ball, with vintage botanical illustrations on the walls and Roberts radios and bakelite phones on the bedside tables. The bar, snug and drawing room are darker, cosier affairs – velvet armchairs, lots of fires – meaning this is much more than a summer fling.
Behind the scenes Suddenly, we have a farmyard of little piggies. This is actually the fourth Pig from Robin Hutson (whose past form includes the Hotel du Vin group), joining siblings in Brockenhurst, Southampton and, very recently, the Mendip Hills. This one was due to open last year but 18 months of planning wranglings, additions (a new wing; a castellated glasshouse in place of a dated conservatory) and undoings (fireplaces unblocked; old ceiling tiles revealed) held it up. The message is ‘restaurant with rooms’, but there are the best hints of hotel: minibars stocked with Dorset fudge and chocolates from Chococo in Purbeck; spa treatments in huts hidden behind trees. And bouncy, young staff in pink shirts, jeans and Converse keep it far from being a stuffy country house.
Sleep Of the 23 bedrooms, the ones with sea views are pick of the bunch, and quirky Harry’s Hut (two corrugated-iron shepherd’s cabins – one bed, the other bath – at the bottom of the garden) has the best panoramas of all. In the main house Room 14 is more moody, with wood carvings rescued from the Palace of Westminster after a fire in 1834 by the Banks family, who originally built this as their summer residence.
Eat With their kitchen gardens, in-house foragers and 25-mile-sourced menus, food is at the heart of all the Pigs. Regulars will recognise the piggy-bits bar snacks, joined here by fishy bits, too: hake brandade; whiting fingers with homemade ketchup. The seafood focus continues with crab sandwiches for outdoorsy lunches and crispy oysters, charred Poole Bay mackerel with samphire and Studland lobster and chips in the restaurant.
Who comes here? Millionaires dressed in David Cameron Casual, white-jeaned wives in tow, from the glass mansions lining nearby Sandbanks; the coast’s retiree crowd come for lunch. Fans of the other Pigs had booked out weekends well into 2015 before it even opened, so get in now for next summer.
We like The ice-cream cart in the garden in the afternoon; enjoying a pre-dinner Dorset 75 cocktail (Nyetimber, lemon-thyme-infused Chase gin, sugar) sitting in an Adirondack chair on the lawn.
We don’t like It is not actually on the beach; it’s above it, and a short walk on the road to Middle Beach or South Beach on either side of the hotel’s headland.
While you’re here Go sea foraging in a kayak with Dan Scott from the Studland Sea School on Middle Beach to learn how to collect rock samphire and catch mackerel. The South West Coast Path runs along the end of the hotel’s garden; at 630 miles you won’t be tackling it all, but an amble to the famous Old Harry Rocks, above, is enough to earn pudding. Want to hang loose? Studland’s naturist beach is just north of Middle Beach.
Address: Manor Road, Studland, Dorset
Telephone: +44 1929 450288
Website: The Pig On The Beach
Price: Doubles from £139