Location: Southampton city and England’s largest port
Perfect for: Culture and Sailing
Following in the footsteps of King Henry V’s men marching to Agincourt, Southampton’s ripe with British history; and our luxury hotel, The Pig in the Wall, is the perfect place to stay and soak it all up. With bags of charm, its 12 shabby chic bedrooms designed by Judy Hutson, are ultra luxe, its cocktails glorious, and its breakfasts magnificent…
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St. George’s Day, Tuesday, 5.44pm
“Ikea? That’s not very English now, is it?” says Monsieur 2 as we walk past the Southampton branch of the Swedish flatpack purveyors. “No,” I reply, a little testily, “but I promised you an English idyll for St. George’s Day and that’s what you shall have!”
“Oh now that’s more like it!” he cries as, across a lush little green complete with duck pond, we spot The Pig in the Wall – our luxury hotel in Southampton and home for the night.
“The wall The Pig In the Wall is set into is the longest stretch of medieval wall in England!” I explain, showing off how thoroughly I’ve read up on Southampton. Monsieur 2 looks impressed.
“Are you staying with us tonight?” enquires Fred, the rather handsome receptionist. “We are”, I smile, as he checks us in, before escorting us upstairs to our room – room six. “There’s a ‘mini-larder’ here,” he advises, opening the doors of a sturdy cupboard boasting an ample stock of snacks and drinks “but if you need anything else just call.”
We like it here. Our room is beautiful; decorated in off-whites and greens, with exposed floorboards and a centrepiece tall-post bed, there’s plenty of natural light and framed pressed herbs hang on the walls. We won’t be short of entertainment either: there’s a Roberts radio, flat screen TV and DVD player, plus a stack of National Trust books on farming, fruit growing and plant rearing.
“Time for cocktails!” I exhort, sensing that Monsieur 2 is getting too settled. “Now you’re talking,” he answers cheerfully, and we make haste to the lounge downstairs.
Putting down his rhubarb Bellini, Monsieur 2 asks: “Just wondering darling, but I don’t see anyone having dinner – are you sure we can eat here?” “Ahh, but we’re not eating here,” I reply, delighted that I’ve been able to keep a secret. As if on cue, the hotel’s driver arrives in a liveried Land Rover – to drive us to The Pig In the Wall’s sister hotel in the New Forest.
“Oh wow,” we say in unison as we pull up to the gorgeous former stately home that is now The Pig. “Beautiful isn’t it?” smiles the driver proudly.
We’re told that The Pig’s menu is supplied by its own kitchen garden (it’s impeccably-tended – we had a look) and produce from within a 25-mile radius, with the exception of a few things that just don’t grow in England. Monsieur 2 had wanted a quintessentially English St George’s Day, and he’s getting it.
Enjoying a cocktail in the cosy bar – the walls lined with boars’ heads – we nibble on some ‘Piggy Bits’, wonderful porky snacks. “This crispy pork belly’s amazing!” Monsieur 2 mumbles, popping another chunk in. “Wait ‘til you try the crackling,” I reply, “it’s cracking!” earning a groan.
Seated in the beautiful conservatory restaurant, we pour glasses of a rich, rounded Malbec and the meal proper begins. For starters I’ve chosen head chef James Golding’s home-smoked Glenarm salmon (the smokehouse is in the grounds) and Monsieur 2’s having black pudding hash with a fried duck egg. Both dishes are brilliant, although I think my salmon, offset perfectly by pickled cucumber, is even better.
“This could be the best pie I’ve ever tasted,” declares Monsieur 2 of his braised beef and Purbeck ale main course. It looks amazing, but I’ve no room to taste it – I’m too busy tucking into the most enormous Bath chap: a whole pig’s cheek, still on the bone, the skin char-grilled to a layer of smoky, salty crackling; the flesh meltingly tender.
We’re almost too full for dessert but I can’t resist trying the plate of local cheeses. “You’ve got to try this New Forest blue!” I implore Monsieur 2, holding some out to him on one of the pig-shaped cheese biscuits. “Thank you, but I’m sticking with my rhubarb and rosewater sorbets!” Both are a lovely end to a really fantastic meal, and we take the menu with us as a memento.
Dropped back at The Pig In The Wall in the Land Rover – talk about travelling in style – we heave ourselves up to our room and into bed. “What a wonderful evening,” Monsieur 2 sighs contentedly, “and what a comfortable bed!” He’s not wrong.
Waking bright and early we head for the huge two-man shower in our bathroom, admiring the colourful tiled floor as we step in. “It’s like being under a waterfall!” I giggle, soaking myself and my beloved in the powerful cascade and soaping up with herb-scented Bramley products.
In no rush to go down for breakfast just yet, we wrap up in thick waffle robes and Monsieur 2 makes tea, “English tea, no less!” he notices.
A decent breakfast buffet of excellent local produce awaits in the deli-lounge – we help ourselves to cheese and charcuterie, granola with yoghurt and fruit compote, toast and preserves. “And dippy eggs!” I cry, spying the egg boiler simmering away on the counter. It’s a simple spread, but a super start to the day.
With time to spare before our train home, we set out to explore the medieval walls and surrounding streets.
“This is such a perfect slice of Old England,” a clearly delighted Monsieur 2 says as we pass the Galleries, an arcaded stretch of the wall – but the best is yet to come. “Look,” I exclaim, as I read the sign at the West Gate, near our hotel, “‘Through this archway marched some of the army of Henry V on their way to Agincourt in 1415.’”
“Agincourt? Henry V? ‘Cry God for Harry, England – and St George!’” he quotes patriotically. We really couldn’t have celebrated our patron saint’s day and all that England has to offer in a more fitting place.
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