In 2011, a new breed of boutique hotel was born. It didn’t come from nowhere; its gestation had begun more than a decade earlier in the form of the Hotel Du Vin chain of hotels, a then-fresh concept in hospitality which was revolutionary thanks to its unfussy chic, it’s hearty but good food and, crucially, its onus on simple white crisp linens and comfort. Its founder, hotelier Robin Hutson, showed us his flair for moving the game forward before selling up and moving on to pastures new.

Happily, those pastures came in the form of The Pig, a small chain that began with a single property in Hampshire and grew from there. The concept? To make guests feel at home enough to throw their shoes off by the fire, to dig into the famous ‘piggy bites’, to borrow from the stack of wellies lined up by the front door for woodland walks, and to slop about as informally as they so wished. The country house weekend had found expression in a hotel, whose stylings lay somewhere between the rustic sensibility of Petersham Nurseries and the quintessential Englishness of Robert Kime. The food, meanwhile, was not the sort you’d typically find in the rarefied world of hotel fine dining. Instead, it was homely, hearty and sustainable, with most ingredients hailing from within a 25-mile radius, all served up in the hotel’s signature conservatory.

Such has its success been that The Pig has not only spawned seven more properties, but a whole new movement in the world of style meets comfort. If you a fan, you may now wish to try one of these, which is are cut from the same cloth.

Thyme, Cotswolds

Thyme, in the Cotswolds village of Southrop, offers a slice of an ideal world in which nothing bad could ever happen. Lying within its much-revered 150-acres of farmland is not only a perfectly formed manor house in which guests sleep, but also a restaurant, a spa, a village pub, a florist and a cookery school. Want to master how to make pasta or create a floral centrepiece for your table? You can do so here in sublime tranquillity. The Telegraph calls it ‘the most romantic hotel in the Cotswolds’, and we would be hard pressed to disagree. Book it.

University Arms, Cambridge

The University Arms, right in the middle of Cambridge, overlooks the lovely Parker’s Piece green. This is just one of the many, many ways in which everything about it is just right. It may be rather grander in scale than The Pig hotels, but it competes insofar as the personal touches it offers – and so it should after an £80m renovation. You can borrow bikes. The whole place smells delightfully as though it had been dipped in rose water. And the restaurant exudes the glory of The Ivy in its heyday. Grand yet wholly comforting, if you can, do bag a room with a balcony – and, after a hard day’s punting grab a pew at the ever lovely Parkers Tavern bar. Book it.

Lime Wood, New Forest

You’ll pass wild pony a plenty en route to Lime Wood, it’s gleaming Regency symmetry sitting resplendently amidst the New Forest as it does. Not one of them, try as they might, would be able to drag us away, however, such is the sublime offering here. And it’s no surprise that it should be on a par – and perhaps even more special than – The Pig. It is, after all, another jewel amid the Robin Hutson portfolio. Every detail is thought of. The toiletries come courtesy of Bamford. The food at the restaurant is by Angela Hartnett. And the indoor and outdoor pools? We have but one word: wow. An absolute masterclass in how contemporary luxury is done. Book it.

The Double Red Duke, Oxfordshire

The signature red striped parasols that guests spy as they arrive are jaunty, welcoming and pretty: a good sign and a perfect taster for more of what’s in store inside. The Double Red Duke is cosy in all the right ways. The welcome is as warm as can be. The design is so perfect that you emerge mentally redecorating your house. And the food is sublime. We love the British tapas style menu, which features delights such as apple-glazed bacon ribs with fennel slaw, as well as curried crab with pickled kohlrabi with rye brioche. There is also a pub grub menu too if you fancy sticking with the classics. Unpretentious and wholly warm and welcoming, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this place. Coming with kids? The family room features a cool bunkbed just tucked away behind a curtain – they will be in heaven. Book it.

Dormy House, Cotswolds

Sitting just above the beautiful Cotswolds village of Broadway is Dormy House, a 38-bed home-from-home in which guests can stay in rooms spread across the main house (expect reassuringly hefty exposed stone walls) to the cabins (where the Scandi aesthetic that pervades throughout is even more pronounced). The restaurant is a thing of beauty, with much of the produce hailing straight from the kitchen garden. The swimming pool and spa are, meanwhile, irresistible. Book it.

The Scarlet, Cornwall

An eco-jewel that sits on the rugged northern Cornish coast, The Scarlet is for adults-only – and that is just fine by us. For, while family holidays can be a joy, there is a lot to be said for gazing uninterrupted across Mawgan Porth Beach with a glass of something cold in hand, having just emerged from an outdoor pool which is naturally filtered by reeds. Peace, quiet and a slice of sheer heaven. Book it.

Gilpin Hotel And Lake House, Lake District

A lake house, spa lodges, hydrotherapy hot tubs, saunas, rainmaker showers and steam rooms: there is little chance that any guest has ever come away from Gilpin Hotel And Lake House anything other than wholly unwound and blissed out. And, once you’re done relaxing, do go and gobble up some delights from the Michelin-starred modern British affair that is HRiSHi. One of the very best there is. Book it.

By Nancy Alsop
May 2023