In combining contemporary luxury and warm country comforts, Louise Jones proves you can have it all (and lashings of romance) at Combe House Devon.
My partner and I felt some trepidation as we set off for Combe House, a Grade 1 Elizabethan Manor on a 1,416 hectares (3,500 acres) East Devon estate. It was our first time eating and staying at a multi-award winning venue that inspired wonder-struck reactions from work colleagues (“Ooh…wow, Combe House!”).
Our anticipation grew as we reached the thatched cottages of adjoining Gittisham village and turned onto the mile-long drive that rose gently up towards the house. We were soon enveloped in undulating green slopes dotted with pheasants – a slightly surreal sight for weary urban eyes.
The house’s sandy-coloured stone facade and period features loomed before us as we parked on the gravel driveway. Heading towards the entrance we took in the pastoral scenery enveloping the house and felt slightly overwhelmed by the setting and sense of seclusion. What would we find behind the large entrance door?
To our relief, a huge log fire in the Great Hall and an expectant welcome came once inside. We were led to a signature suite where three large windows exposed views of the surrounding parkland, throwing light onto the spacious bedroom and sitting area. Soft white furnishings, low-lit lamps, and soothing Classic FM that played on a retro radio made us feel instantly at ease.
We dragged ourselves away to explore some of the grounds before nightfall. After following the pathways around the gardens and potting sheds, we spotted a clearing through the trees and came upon a fairy tale-like Thatch Folly and Bath House. Combe House excels as a romantic venue and this charming little hideaway would make even the most cynical hearts melt.
It was a bit nippy so we ambled back as the sun set. It felt like we were the only couple there. The ultra-professional staff appeared and gently guided us by suggesting we tuck into hot drinks and home-made biscuits within our plush suite. Thankfully, these helpful suggestions continued throughout our stay.
We paired our biscuits and drinks with some reading about the house and its history. Our suite was named after a local candle maker – the last local person to be hung for poaching on Tommy Wax Hill, which can be seen from the windows. Rather than reflecting on poor Tommy’s fate, I imagined corseted ladies peering through the glass for a glimpse of their suitors. I half expected Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy (the Colin Firth version of course) to come striding along the pathway in his white smock top.
After a soak in the large standalone bath, it was time for fine dining. The sitting room fire was wonderful, as we enjoyed our first course of canapés. Once seated in one of two intimate dining rooms, we scoured different pigeon, rabbit, chicken, and lamb dishes. All the meats are carefully sourced from local suppliers, while the vegetables were fresh from the house gardens. The dishes’ elegant presentations and nimble combinations paired cleverly with the food’s succulent, punchy flavours. Dessert was no exception- blood orange cheesecake that was a tangy and refreshing delight.
If all else had proved a complete disaster, the restaurant would have made our visit all the worthwhile. Master Chefs of Great Britain Hadleigh Barrett and Stuart Brown prepare scrumptious repasts showcasing the best of Devon.
Coffee and chocolates by firelight in the Great Hall brought our culinary adventure to a close before we retired upstairs. The staff were again one step ahead of us, having placed warmed water bottles beneath our bed linens.
We found room the next morning for the West Country breakfast and I was again wowed by the quality of the meat, attacking the smoked-applewood bacon with renewed gusto.
Exploring the nearby coast, moorland or the house itself were all possible daytime activities. We were intrigued by the house’s charms, and from the brochures it was clear that proprietors Ken and Ruth Hunt had put their heart and soul into its restoration and transformation since taking over in 1998.
Ruth gave us a tour which included the impressive Linen Suite – a former Victorian laundry area now awash with the finest light furnishings, quirky features like an overhead drying rack, and a huge copper bath tub flown in from India.
Despite the house’s relaxing aura, behind the scenes it was abuzz with projects and possibilities which helped bring its history to life and give a glimpse of its exciting future. Eco endeavors are ongoing, while plans are afoot to develop part of the Georgian kitchen into an artisan bakery.
While Combe House is a highly professional establishment catering to those who like the finer things in life, it’s also ‘home’ to Ken and Ruth, and their team. We may have been new to its luxurious comforts, but we too were made to feel utterly at home during our stay.
Combe House Devon
Gittisham, Honiton, Devon EX14 3AD, UK
Tel: (01404) 540 400.
Price for a double or twin room starts from £199 per night including breakfast, whilst a three-course dinner with canapés is £49 per person. Dogs are welcome in some rooms and the cottage.