Thursday, 8 December 2011

Burgh Island, Bigby-on-Sea, Devon

Wednesday, 12.47am
Monsieur 2 –  was devouring an Agatha Christie last night, giving me 10-minute updates on whether he thought the Major was stabbed with a hatpin by Simon Thomkins Minor or the mousy little Vicar. I pointed out that modern-day Britain is as much about bodies in libraries as France is about bicycle-riding men with striped T-shirts and onion necklaces. He wouldn’t have a bar of it, and stuck his head back in his paperback and refused to discuss the demise of national pride – until I told him it was the frosty housekeeper who dunnit. He flung the book across the room and stormed into the garden. Actually, I had no idea who the evil perpetrator of the crime was. Frankly, I just didn’t like the sound of the housekeeper.

He eventually came around ­– although he now classes me in the same camp as serial murderers, apparently – and we are now bombing down the motorway towards the West Country. Now, I'd always thought Monsieur’s interest in antiques tailed off after around 1902, but he was getting extremely excited about the Art Deco hotel he had booked. Jo and Susannah have been raving about its polished floors and doorknobs ever since their visit last summer. According to them the 1920s atmosphere and sea views are a real throwback to silk dressing gowns, flappers and Agatha Christie. And they were right!

Burgh Island Hotel
Our first glimpse was magical. The hotel broods – yes, broods – like a grand cruise liner off the coast on its own island, all white and shimmering. Apparently it was built just before the Wall Street crash in 1929, and is now Grade II listed for its Art Deco accoutrements. One of the joys of the place is that you leave your car in a private garage on the mainland and they pick you up on a sea tractor. In our case, it was a Land Rover as the sea tractor had developed technical problems.

Check-in at reception was effortlessness, and made Monsieur 2 and I muse: just when did elegance and travel take different roads? We followed the bellhop up the grand staircase, rather regally in Monsieur 2’s case as he'd decided to don a linen suit for the occasion, but after nearly five hours of travel, it had become somewhat creased.

I picked out a hazelnut whirl from the box we'd brought for the journey, and Monsieur 2 negotiated a coffee cream, in that peculiarly suspicious way of his.

Our bedroom - Fruity Metcalfe
Then we explored. Painted and furnished in typical 1930s style, our bedroom - Fruity Metcalfe - was rose pink and black, with a few contemporary tweaks like under-floor heating, REN toiletries, and fluffy white bathrobes which hung in the enormous bathroom.

Art Deco Bathroom, with Modern Extras!
To stay as true to the period as possible, there’s no audio-visual system and no WiFi, no mini bar or tea or coffee making facilities. If you want something, they will bring it to you. On a large silver tray.
There’s no getting away from the fact that this place is fabulous, with a capital F; there’s a bit of peeling paint and rust here and there, but it adds to the soul of the place. If you prefer the pristine or replica the real McCoy, this isn’t for you; if you love atmosphere and authenticity, get down the M5 tout de suite.

Back in the '30s, they had radio, fine wine and conversation. This is precisely how we intend to entertain ourselves: the old fashioned way. And our westward facing balcony which overlooks the mainland, is just the place to start.

We sipped on our Midnight Martinis, brilliantly prepared by Gary, and tucked into complimentary hors d’oeuvres in the cocktail lounge, looking, if I might add, sensational. Dressing for dinner is encouraged by the Burgh Hotel, and we weren't going to disappoint! Monsieur 2 looked a picture in a splendid white tux and, I stunning in a Favourbrook silk waistcoat (they use the same material to make bishop’s robes don't you know!) and a white jacket, for real James Bond appeal. The other guests looked frightfully gentrified, and thankfully we didn’t stand out.

Dinner was wonderful, and since it’s included in the cost of the room, we feasted on a superb three-course meal, which included flavoursome beetroot soup, followed by melt-in-the-mouth lamb for me, and slow roasted fillet of beef for Msr 2. Portions were generous, and whilst Msr 2 admitted defeat after the second course, I refused, and ordered Baked Alaska with two spoons. With jazz setting the mood in the background, it couldn't have been more romantic, and although we’re unconvinced about the jazz-style mural that graces the wall, but the food makes up for any aberrations in taste. The menu changes daily and is dictated by the morning market, which means everything is fresh, fresh, fresh, and totally unpredictable. Just the way we like it.

Thursday, 9.43am
Our orange juice, tea and coffee arrived on a silver tray, and so we languished in bed with the paper. Monsieur 2 has resurrected the dog-earred Agatha Christie, and has just shouted ‘Aha!’. I've been grassed!

It wasn’t the dominatrix housekeeper who dunnit at all, but the newly-married young girl who had had an affair with the squire’s gamekeeper or understairs cleaning wench. Well, Monsieur 2 was delighted nonetheless, and dragged me out of bed for a long ramble along the Southwest coastal path. Handily, it brushes right past the hotel’s front door. He pointed out different varieties of sea birds to me (I assumed they were all seagulls or close relations) and we walked hand-in-hand on the edge of the sand.

We flung ourselves into a snug in the Pilchard Inn, a cosy, atmospheric place that dates back to the 1330s, when fisherman would return from their pilchard fishing. The log fire was the focal point for locals who walked over the estuary with their dogs for a pint and a crab or bacon baguette. Rustic. Rurual. Lovely.

For some bizarre reason, we decided to try out the open-air swimming pool down by the rocks. Why did we not think it would be freezing? We ventured out to the little wooden platform in the middle, but Monsieur 2 thought I was going to have a heart attack and assumed the rescue position to haul me back to shore. The heavens opened, and we made a dignified retreat to the 'Day Room' for a few hands of poker. We weakened, and the waiter brought a bottle of wine, an ice bucket, and an extra bucket to catch drips of rain from the ceiling!

Burgh Island Hotel
T: 01548 810514
A: Burgh Island Hotel, Burgh Island, Bigby-on-Sea, DevonTQ7 4BG
Our rating: ****+

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