Burgh Island Hotel – Art Deco Style

Burgh Island

“There is evil under the sun!” 

And not because of any far eastern virus sweeping around the globe. My four lovely days of self-imposed isolation on Burgh Island were for one of those ‘0’ birthdays that my wife had arranged for me. 

Geoff MooreAgatha Christie set one of her best and most popular crime stories at this delightful art-deco island retreat, cut off twice a day by the tide laying just off the South Devon coast. 

She put her detective, Hercule Poirot, in ‘Evil Under The Sun’ onto the island to solve the mysterious murder of the beautifully bronzed Arlena Stuart at the island’s Pixie Cove. 

I so wanted to get to the island on their unique ‘Sea Tractor’ but because the tide was low, we were swept over the 220metres of golden sand in a four-wheeled drive Toyota land cruiser instead.  

On my previous brief visit, a few years ago, I did have a chance to ride the tractor but only to the island. However, the one change I noticed on arrival was under its previous ownership, visitors to the island were allowed but entry to the hotel itself was not unless you were staying there.  

Burgh Island sea tractorAlthough now under its new owners, Giles Fuchs and Duncan Gray, visitors can now pop in for refreshments or perhaps take a delightful Devon cream tea in their exquisite period Palm Court lounge. To my mind a very good marketing ploy! 

If you have a liking for the 1930s Art Deco then the Burgh Island Hotel is a superb example of it. A period when the stars, politicians and the well heeled headed to this haven to see and be seen in the style of that time. 

And style it still has in spades. As dressing for dinner in the ballroom is the rule!  Both ladies and men dress either in period costume or for me my requisite ‘DJ’ made four appearances with a selection of cummerbunds and bow ties to ring the changes. Whilst my partner raided her best wardrobe for suitable couture variations too! 

Burgh Island HotelThe Burgh Island Hotel was created back in the 1920s as a home by the bay for Archie Nettlefold. However, not in the style seen today, that came later after it was re-modelled by him into the clean ocean-going lines that have survived. 

This change in style followed the art-deco trend that raced through the 1930s after he was besieged with so many friends turning up to enjoy the sea, sand, free grub and rooms and hence he turned it into a commercial operation around 1932.  

There have been a number of owners over the years: during the Second World War it was used as a RAF hospital. After a period of decline it was at one stage converted to holiday apartments. Then in the 1990s it was fully restored by Tony and Beatrice Porter into a functioning stylish hotel. It was sold just a few years ago to the current owners, who last year have updated much of it, but of course, preserving its unique Grade II listed art-deco style.  

Although relatively small, the island has many points of interest, one building, the Beach House, still in use today, was where Agatha Christie penned two of her crime novels. The former, very first hotel building made of timber is still there too and functions as staff accommodation.  

Burgh Island HotelAll the bedrooms still hark back to the 1930s with beds, furniture, seating and bathrooms all fitted out with period items. 

The rooms and suites are named after some of those famous at the time, led by Noel Coward who came to the hotel for three days and stayed three weeks! 

Speed ace Malcolm Campbell, George Formby, Amy Johnson all feature in the room naming and a star I actually met many years ago, Jessie Matthews, who at one time was considered as a dancing partner for Fred Astaire, also has a room bearing her name.  

Evening cocktails are certainly part of the dining ritual at the Burgh Island Hotel. We were dressed in our swanky clothes whilst the efficient bartenders dispensed martinis, Singapore slings and numerous other concoctions prior to a personal escort into the dining and dancing room for the delights that awaited us.  

Burgh Island HotelHere depending on your luck, you could be entertained by a small band, or just by the tinkling of the ivories as the first-class food starts to arrive. Tunes of the time by Fred Astaire, Al Bowlly or Bing Crosbie with perhaps the odd Charleston thrown in too! 

A dress down option in the Nettlefold room is also available.  

Just on the foreshore of the island is the Pilchard Inn, a long-established traditionally styled pub. Dark wood and beams where fishermen and smugglers probably met, is another dining option for you. 

Attention to detail and great service from the whole team hotel team is all part of the Burgh Island 21st century style.  Here in the new 20s, Mr Coward or Mrs Christie would without doubt feel thoroughly modern yet again!


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Geoff Moore

Experienced travel writer, photographer, blogger & videographer

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