Review: Combe House Hotel
PUBLISHED: 14:18 25 February 2015
The Exeter & Heart of Devon Hotels & Restaurants Association is a showcase for some of the very best accommodation providers in the county. ANDY COOPER comes away enraptured having stayed at one of their number.
If you spot me around and about lately you’ll notice I am walking with a limp and a slightly tortured wince. That’s because I have been kicking myself.
The boot has been self-administered for one very simple reason: how COULD I be approaching my 20th year living in Devon and almost two years in this role as Editor of Devon Life and not have visited Combe House before? This serious omission in my experiences has now been rectified, but my stay at one of the sublimest spots in the county - nay, the country - has made me all the more mournful I didn’t get there sooner.
No matter, now I have experienced the warmth, style, service, relaxation and attention to detail which are the hallmarks of Combe House I shall return again. And again. And again.
It really is that good a place. From the moment one drives though the picture postcard perfect village of Gittisham and sweeps up the long country drive to this stately and stunning building in the hillside, surrounded by jaw-dropping country views, it’s almost as if the stresses and strains of modern living have been lifted from your shoulders like a heavy overcoat removed by an attentive valet.
We had hardly stepped from our car when a member of the team – and they are truly a team at Combe – was at our side ready to collect bags. This was symptomatic of our stay there…the staff are so attuned to one’s needs and trained in the art of exemplary service they make every moment of your stay a pleasure.
This must come from proprietors Ken and Ruth Hunt, whose years of experience in the hospitality industry – both here and abroad – before they took over Combe in 1998 are writ large in all they do. Their hard work and attention to detail has created a beacon for first class hospitality and food in this delightful Devon spot.
It doesn’t matter whether you are staying, lunching, there for dinner, or dropping in for afternoon tea – this is a place to linger a while and feel special.
And, speaking of special, on to our room for our stay. The Linen Suite, as its name suggests, is the former laundry for the manor house but, rather than ripping it to bits and starting anew, the interior design for this suite of rooms melds the old with the new. The original, large drying rack hangs above the main room as a quirky and fascinating reminder of its past and soft-toned fabrics and marvellously understated colours create a warm counterpoint to the historic touches – including an ancient iron-heating stove.
In the bathroom a simply breathtaking game-changer is the 6ft diameter copper washtub bath, specially commissioned for the room and offering a bathing experience beyond compare. We were warned it needs a 20-minute fill time but, frankly, soaking deep in the bubbles as the heat-retaining underside keeps the water warm means that’s 1,200 seconds well spent!
It was, frankly, hard to leave our suite – and I am sure if we had stayed put all weekend we would have been waited on hand and foot – but with Masterchefs Hadleigh Barrett and Stuart Brown in the kitchen then a foray to the dining room is a must.
And wow, what an experience this is. Taking their cue from the superb array of local suppliers on hand, the Combe chefs produce a menu which makes the word memorable seem understated.
Again, with a knowing nod to the building’s history, a special innovation at Combe has been the introduction of private dining in The Georgian Kitchen. Faithfully restored, this amazing room with a stunning iron cooking range can be used for parties of 8-14. We snuck our head round the door before the evening’s guests arrived for dinner and were bowled over by the atmosphere the candlelit room had, even when empty.
So, I remain ashamed and embarrassed I hadn’t visited Combe House before, but now I am a latter day champion. Don’t leave it as long as me to visit. Now, forgive me, but it’s back to the kicking.