Is there anything more romantic than being trapped by the tide on an Art Deco island as the sun sets and a pianist plays distantly, downstairs in the ballroom?
Burgh island sits across a narrow stretch of water on the Dorset coast. From the mainland it shines out all white walls and glass, and wonderfully restored to its original 1920s look. As soon as you sight it you telephone reception hotel and the Sea Tractor, a tall gangly four-wheeled bathing machine, is sent over to collect you and your luggage.
Burgh Island Hotel was built after the Great War by Archie Nettlefold. Initially he constructed a house on this private island for himself but so many London friends came to stay for free that in the end he converted it to a hotel, making his guests pay.
Today Burgh Island maintains the standards of interwar glamour created by the likes of Dame Agatha Christie, Sir Noel Coward, aviator Amy Johnson, and the Duchess of Windsor – all of whom, according to hotel legend, stayed here in the 1930s. Statues of athletic, small-breasted women are everywhere in the hotel in true Art Deco fashion. They hold up light fittings. They are draped round picture frames. They’re even supporting the bar.
Once inside the hotel - opened in 1929 (and proclaimed as Britain’s answer to Bermuda) – guests will find that nothing seems to have changed. There is the Palm Court Lounge with its stained glass dome, radiating in peacock feather patterns. There is the old cage lift, and the stairs up to the ballroom are framed by two great Art Deco columns topped with glass acanthus leaves.
The bedrooms are named after glamorous figures from the 1930s like Lord Louis Mountbatten, landspeed-daredevil Malcolm Campbell, Josephine Baker and Major “Fruity” Metcalfe who was aide de camp to Edward, Prince of Wales. There are no televisions in the bedrooms, as indeed there would not have been in the 1930s. All the bedside telephones are originals - and very heavy indeed. But what makes Burgh Island unique is its rigorous dress code. If you wish to dine in the ballroom, it’s strictly black tie. If you’d rather not dress for dinner, then the Nettlefold Fish Restaurant is for you.
If you’re dining on a Saturday night (or indeed Monday or Wednesday) then the palm court orchestra will be playing so one can take an elegant turn about the dance floor. The sight of all these glamorous couples at table looks just like a shot from an Agatha Christie adaptation and indeed the mistress of high-class murder did set one of her books, retitled as Then There Were None on Burgh Island. Not surprisingly, there are also bedrooms named after two of her fictional detectives: the Jane Marple and the Hercule Poirot.
I’d say Burgh Island is more dramatic and romantic than cosy. For those of a melodramatic turn of mind, it’s hard not to imagine that a fellow guest might well be murdered tonight. But it’s lovely to be inside this hotel, sipping an expertly crafted martini as the sea rages and crashes outside. It’s definitely a place to escape to one weekend this autumn. Who knows, you might even get marooned?