Very few hotels can boast an exclusive island-based location, where, for a large part of each day that hotel is inaccessible to the rest of the world. Burgh Island Hotel on South Devon’s dreamy coast, however, can do just this, and the Art Deco hotel, which invites its guests to step back into another time and immerse themselves in a true escape, offers quite the unique trip.
With strong connections to Agatha Christie (two of her books were written here, one was filmed on the island and you can even stay in the beach house where the books were written), elegantly decorated rooms and suites in which to reside, and the tastiest of foods to devour within the smart surroundings, guests are spoiled.
From the minute you arrive in Bigbury-on-Sea you know you’ll be staying somewhere special, if not for the exquisite location, but for the fact that, with your car, you leave behind your worries on the other side of the water. I was told not to arrive later than 1pm as the tide would be making its way in and in my rather predictable style, I just about made that time.
Guests park up their cars in a secure location and are transported across the thinning beach by branded 4×4. On sunnier and calmer days guests can enjoy the unique trip across to the island via the iconic sea tractor, but in the rather blustery December weather this was not possible. I asked what happens when guests arrive a little too late and was told they have to head to a nearby town or village and pass the time until later in the day. Bottom line? Don’t be late! You really don’t want any to miss out on any moment at the hotel.
As it was a little early to check in, the Palm Court lounge played host to new arrivals and with a crab sandwich and glass of Champagne in hand, I started to relax and embrace the elegance and glamour of my location. The lounge is a wonderful example of the hotel’s Art Deco interiors with a glorious circular stained glass dome roof above the lower section and a fan shaped conservatory top section. Scallop shaped armchairs make for the perfect spot to take in the glorious interiors and watery views outside and this is the ideal location to enjoy an afternoon tea or pre dinner drink.
Built in 1929, extended in 1932 and now restored to its former glory, the hotel is quite unlike anywhere I’ve previously visited. Rooms are without a shower, tea tray, TV and with limited signal practically force you to slow down and enjoy your surroundings as if you could be staying here in any time period; Grand Ballroom dinners are quite something with diners requested to wear black tie, and all seated at the same time as if at a wedding reception; and when the tide comes in, this is really something else – complete exclusion, and it’s really quite nice.
The hotel has managed to retain a certain charm that many don’t, or won’t, and you could almost imagine Agatha Christie or Noel Coward stepping through the doors to the Palm Court to share in a moment of reflection with a drink in hand. It’s quite easy to see why Christie chose this place to pen Evil Under the Sun and And Then There Were None – distractions are few and far between, and the sounds of the waves lapping at the rocks below and those mesmerising sea views are simply soothing – the perfect setting for successful writing, no doubt.
If you want to get a taste of what it would have been like for the famous mystery writer, you can do so with a stay in Agatha’s Beach House. Built as a writer’s retreat for the Poirot author, this sophisticated beach retreat has been modernised and renovated to a high standard. Built into the island’s rock face and facing straight out to sea, the hideaway boasts a private balcony, lounge, king size bed and two singles on an upper floor, an outdoor hot tub, and more.
The 25 rooms and suites of the hotel, all individual in style, bear the name of a visiting guest to honour its rich history. I stayed in The Nettlefold, a luxe corner suite on the first floor, which was elegantly decorated in sumptuous fabrics, mustard, gold, champagne and deep, rich tones, and boasted a spacious lounge. I loved the antique furniture and ornaments, the framed newspaper clippings from another era and the balcony on which to gaze at those mesmerising waves.
Fluffy bathrobes, scallop-design swivel armchairs, Burgh Island bespoke toiletries, a roll-top bath and a welcome champagne cocktail and delicious cupcake added to the decadence of it all.
Don’t expect to find a TV or shower in this suite, time is best spent relaxing, taking in the views, dining on delicious food and exploring the beach and island. It’s elegant, classic, comfortable and makes you feel like you could be in a different age, much like the rest of the hotel.
Dining is truly an experience here, whether it’s a hearty lunch in the cosy 14th century pub, The Pilchard Inn, surrounded by fantastic features; afternoon tea or a snack in the light-filled Palm Court, or dinner in the Grand Ballroom or Nettlefold Restaurant.
For dinner at the Grand Ballroom, the hotel invites you to don your finest black-tie attire and evenings dresses to indulge in an evening of fine dining and pure sophistication. The meal begins with cocktails or Champagne and canapes in Palm Court – a winning start – before guests are taken through to the ballroom where a seating plan is laid out and a pianist tickles the ivories.
The amuse bouche on the night consisted of pumpkin and chestnut choux and was a delicate introduction to the tasting menu alongside the tasting of Camel Valley Bacchus Dry to accompany. The starter of goose terrine with brioche salardaise showcased an ability to produce a seemingly simple dish where all elements worked in unison. The rough texture of the meaty terrine was countered by the delicate, yet slightly crisp, brioche, while blueberry textures were a necessary flavour to marry it all together.
The fish course consisted of Chalk Stream trout with wasabi and oyster sauce and cucumber. The fish melted in the mouth and the colourful plate of ingredients and uplifting flavours, paired with a pinot gris from Oregon, made this a delightful dish.
The main course was a dish of smoked venison loin with a black pudding bonbon, beetroot puree and a juniper reduction. This smelled divine, and the glass of Chateau Boutisse, Sant-Emilion, Grand Cru smelled wholesome too. Rich, deep and bursting with flavour, this was the dish for me – all elements were a delight, from the earthy beetroot to the crisp bonbon and the perfectly cooked meat.
A sweet ending of Gianduja entremet with hazelnut ice cream perfectly rounded off what was a well-rounded and delectable dinner. A thick chocolate coating unveiled a light sponge base and mousse and, along with the ice cream, provided the sweet and sumptuous ending to a meal that almost anyone would enjoy. There was an option for a cheese course but the meal was enough for me, so a cappuccino in my suite’s lounge it was for me.
Dinner at The Nettlefold provides a more casual environment than the black-tie affair at the Grand Ballroom, but don’t be fooled into thinking that you won’t receive the same excellent level of service and tasty treats here. The seafood restaurant boasts a unique addition that was made in the 1930s, The Captain’s Cabin, which is literally the captain’s cabin of the HMS Ganges, a warship built in 1821, and makes for quite the unique feature.
Otherwise, the restaurant is an airy space with pale walls, plenty of windows and light blue chairs upon a black and white floor. There is something quite special about dining on seafood while you can see the sea, and the menu at The Nettlefold is bursting with plenty of delights.
Canapés are served at the table and I thoroughly enjoyed the beetroot and blue cheese tapioca cracker, chicken mixture in a crisp tube, and clam chowder on cracker with caviar. Some lovely warm sourdough found its way to our table too, and it was a tasty addition.
For starters I chose the wild mushroom tart with poached pear and hazelnuts, while my dining partner delighted in a selection of oysters. Both were as equally enjoyed and I loved the crisp tart case, creamy mushroom velouté, gentle pear and the addition of the nuts.
We both opted for the pan-fried scallops with pork belly, celeriac and apple for our main course and I enjoyed the variations of celeriac, though I found the pork had far too much fat, even for a helping of pork belly. Other options on the menu include local lobster, a seafood platter, and a great selection of cocktails to sip on. Desserts looked tantalising enough in words and included the likes of Bramley apple streusel tart, chocolate fondant, and carrot cake, but after a hearty lunch in The Pilchard Inn (a dreamy cheese and truffle toastie) we simply couldn’t eat anymore.
In a nutshell
Get ready to relax, slow down and thoroughly enjoy yourself at this haven. The whole place oozes elegance, sophistication, thirties glamour and a timeless nature that makes you wonder if you have actually stepped back in time.
With reports of high numbers of bookings for UK hotels, it looks like many will be enjoying a staycation or two this year, so get in quick, you won’t want to miss out on a Burgh Island experience.
Rooms can be booked from £515 for dinner, bed and breakfast, based on double room.
Address: Bigbury-on-Sea, Kingsbridge TQ7 4BG
Phone: +44 (0)1548 810514
All imagery courtesy of Burgh Island Hotel.