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Glamorous Jazz Age at The Burgh Island Hotel

by Mike Cranmer
Burgh Island Hotel

“There was something magical about an island—the mere word suggested fantasy. You lost touch with the world—an island was a world of its own. A world, perhaps, from which you might never return.”
― Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None

Burgh Island Gates

Something Magical about Burgh Island

Burgh Island Hotel. The name evokes Glamour, Decadence, Mystery, and History…ah! history, both real and fictional. Edward and Mrs Simpson, Amy Johnson, Josephine Baker. Churchill and Eisenhower stayed in the run-up to D-Day, plotting the invasion over cocktails. No stranger to the cocktail, Sir Winston liked his Martinis without the Vermouth actually being added to the drink, just present in the same room, “Glance at the Vermouth bottle while pouring the juniper distillate freely”. Noel Coward came for the weekend, and stayed for three weeks, inspiration, perchance, for one of his most famous tunes…  

‘A room with a view
And you
And no one to worry us
No one to hurry us
This dream we found’.

But undoubtedly the most iconic and famous was the ‘Queen of Crime’, Agatha Christie, who wrote two novels here in The Beach House, built for her in the ’30s as a writer’s retreat and where we were to stay. 

Jam on Top

Burgh Island lies just off the South Devon coast at Bigbury-on-Sea, Bantham’s surf beach opposite. Being tidal, getting there needs careful planning. At low tide a hotel Range Rover whisks you past bemused dog walkers and families paddling; at high tide, you must clamber aboard the fantastical Sea Tractor and chug high above the waves. During a period of heavy swells or Spring Tides, you might be forced to kick your heels on the mainland until the sea calms down.

Sea Troctor

However, our arrival (safely via  Sea Tractor) was exciting but trouble-free; bags were whisked away while we were whisked up to the magnificent Palm Court by suave Head Concierge Simon for champagne, then a Devon Cream Tea (remember-jam on top). The room is dominated by a dazzling glass dome, the sun glittering through its ultramarine panes as it has done since 1927. After two glasses of bubbly, it was easy to narrow one’s eyes and imagine the scene then, as some Bright Young Things in tennis garb entered from the terrace, and declared “Too, too boring, darling. Reggie and Cuthbert took three sets orf us!”

Champagne on arrival Burgh Island Hotel

Creature Comforts

Our luggage was waiting in The Beach House, the hotel’s most expensive suite, specially built for Agatha Christie as her writer’s retreat. It must have served its purpose as two of her most famous novels were tapped out here on her trusty typewriter. Both are set on an island, with the ‘short, somewhat vain’ ageing bachelor Poirot, with his ‘brilliantined hair and waxed moustache’ who ‘enjoys his creature comforts’, sleuthing away in Evil Under the Sun.

Creature comforts are certainly there now: a king-size bed with jaw-dropping sea views, private sun decks, outdoor hot tub, lounge with log burner and a panoramic view stretching from Bigbury to Bantham, fluffy bathrobes Poirot would have approved of and exclusive Burgh Island toiletries (but no moustache wax?). The Beach House is built on stilts and nestles into the cliff above a sandy cove, where we found the remnants of old rusty moorings for Agatha’s rowing boat. 

Stairway To Heaven

A strict formal dress code is emphasized for dining in the Grand Ballroom – black tie, and evening dress. It is a very special room entered upstairs through the original Art-Deco archway framed by gorgeous aluminium floor-to-ceiling radiators fashioned into Egyptian papyrus plants, topped by translucent glazed uplighters. At the foot of this stairway to heaven is the outline of a corpse, a macabre reminder of Arlena, the murdered victim in ‘Evil Under the Sun’.

Outline of corpse Burgh Island Hotel

The room glowed; crisp tablecloths setting off the tableware to perfection. A Jazz-Age mural occupied one wall beside a white grand piano. The food matched the occasion: I chose Native Lobster Tartlet, followed by Sea Bass Chorizo cassoulet, paired with a Gewurztraminer Reserve, Lorentz. Through the haze following a fine meal with fine wine, I swear I could almost hear the brittle laughter of Noel, Gertie, and their table of acolytes.

burgh island dome

We moved seamlessly to the lounge for a cocktail wondering if this was where Churchill and Eisenhower gambled on the fate of the free world, both with their favourite late-night tipples, Winston a Hine Brandy cupped in his hands, ‘Ike’ a Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch Whisky ‘on the rocks’. History is woven into the very fabric of the Burgh Island Hotel.

Twinkle, Twinkle

The daytime storm had cleared leaving a midnight sky with more stars twinkling than the sequins on a costume of a Strictly contestant. Only one thing to do, hop out of the black tie and hop into the hot tub on the balcony perched out over the sea. Room service delivered a bottle of Taittinger Brut NV and two very happy people finished it, thence to bed, the windows ajar to admit the sound of the South Devon surf.

Mermaid Pool Burgh Island

Up to a beautiful morning and the fulfilment of promises to each other of a pre-breakfast dip in the magical seawater Mermaid Pool, right next to the Beach House. Then a gentle exploration of the extraordinary rooms and original artifacts in this Deco gem. The 25 rooms and suites bear the names and original décor of some who stayed here: Noel Coward, Amy Johnson, Lord Mountbatten, Nancy Cunard, R.J. Mitchell, George Formby, and of course Hercule Poirot (but he’s not real you know!) The tide was out as we left behind the other world which is The Burgh Island Hotel.

 Reasons to visit The Burgh Island Hotel

  • Unique original Art Deco Landmark
  • Situated on a tidal island surrounded by golden beaches
  • Restored to 1930’s glamour
  • 26 individual suites named for famous guests who stayed there
  • Agatha Christie’s writing retreat
  • Seawater Mermaid Pool
  • Arrival by Sea Tractor
  • Fine dining in dazzling surroundings

Burgh Island Hotel
South Devon
United Kingdom

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