Glass visits Burgh Island Hotel, Devon – a little 1920s magic on a private island

FOR those who have never heard of Burgh Island Hotel, it is a one of a kind location. The only hotel on a private island in the UK, it was built in 1929 and remains true to its art deco roots, accessed across a beach where the tide comes in from both sides, and reached by a custom built sea tractor when when the water comes in (or by Jeep when the tide’s out).  It is a little piece of magic off the coast of Devon.

story picture island landscapeBurgh Island from the coast

Devon at any time, for those who like that sort of thing, is visually inspiring. It’s rugged coastlines in the winter and blissful coastal views in the summer.  It’s chocolate box villages, sandy beaches and, if you’re lucky the most beautiful wildlife – on a good day you may even see dolphins in that ever changing sea.

Burgh Island on the other hand takes the experience to a whole new level. An iconic visual icon from an entire coastal stretch of the South Hams, it’s opal green rooftops, turrets and window frames are unmistakeable; a beacon of style, sophistication and a little sea salt weathering.

Story picture from Burgh IslandBurgh Island Hotel. Photograph: Bonnie Friend

The hotel itself is not the first thing you encounter though when you arrive. As you stand on the sea tractor, the third the property has commissioned and had made in 1961 by local engineers in Newton Abbott, as bracing wind delivers you a freshly wind-swept style, the island greets you with a 12th century pub, The Pilchard Inn, largely unchanged over time except for the additions of a couple of low electric lights and the appropriate mechanism for pulling pints.  Other than that, it’s a roaring fire, candles and the waves breaking on the rocks outside the heavy stone walls.

story picture bathroomAn art deco bedroom at Burgh Island

Continue up to the hotel though and your Jeep escort will take you through the beautiful art deco gates, to the art deco doors, where you are greeted by the art deco reception and a glass of sherry to warm you up after your sea crossing (all five minutes of it).

Story picture Burgh IslandDining room at Burgh Hotel. Photograph: Bonnie Friend

Each room is named after an eminent (but not necessarily famous) figure from the 1920s.  Ours was the Cunard suite, named after American activist and socialite Nancy Cunard, heiress to the shipping empire – a biography neatly positioned by the wireless as we arrived, right next to their 2016 Good Hotel Guide award for the most romantic hotel.

The whole hotel is like travelling back in time. The furniture, the style, the service, it’s all classical and sophisticated.  In our room we were met by a bathroom as big as the bedroom and a balcony that spanned both with huge windows and a panoramic view of the beach and sea, whether you sat in bed or in the free-standing roll top bath, luxuriating in a combination of complimentary REN and Burgh Island’s own brand toiletries.

story picture Garden Suite April 2014A sitting room at Burgh Island

Wander around the grounds of the tiny island and it’s largely an exercise in different aspects of sea views.  Immediately outside the hotel there are layered landscaped gardens, but even the most dedicated of gardeners would find it tricky to grow anything too delicate in the salty sea air.

Follow the path from the hotel down the cliff face however, and you will find the Mermaid Pool, the perfect moniker for a lagoon created by closing a few gaps in the natural rock formations so that it has filled with ever circulating sea water to become the hotel’s unique answer to a swimming pool. It’s breathtaking, and while this trip took place in February, I cannot wait to return one day in the summer when a swim and an afternoon on the little beach will most definitely be in order.

Storypic burgh islandA view from Burgh Island. Photograph: Bonnie Friend

Instead we contented ourselves by returning inside to the ornate bar and coffee area with its glass ceilings, peacock motifs, large mirrors and fountain for a quintessentially Devon cream tea, all the while looking at the moody waters outside.  You couldn’t really ask for anything better.

Leisure at the hotel is in the form of strolls, the sea, reading a book, watching a film or playing snooker in the games room.  There isn’t a pool, or a gym – the important thing to remember here is that this is a hotel that is entirely true to its 1920-‘30s roots – it’s not an oversight, it’s what it is and why you go. When we were there, there were guests dressed impeccably in clothing from the appropriate era, adding to the sense of romance and timelessness – I could almost have believed they were hired props.

Dinner is the piece de resistance at Burgh Island.  While they host murder mysteries and the like throughout the year, dinner is a black tie affair every night. In their own words: ‘you can never be over dressed’.  You start with drinks, champagne in our instance, cocktails if you prefer, as well as canapés from 6.30pm, and having selected your meal from the daily menu you are duly escorted into the dining room where under low lighting and muralled walls, the best of the local area is served up in exquisite three course fine dining style.

For the remainder of the evening it’s about enjoying the company you keep, getting swept up in the music and retreating to your room with the dulcet tones of Billie Holiday and Bing Crosby in your ears and lulling you to sleep. It’s a place to dress up, dream, luxuriate in the gloriousness of time and even fall in love.

by Bonnie Friend

Burgh Island Hotel, Bigbury-on-Sea, South Devon TQ7 4BG

Tel: 01548 810514

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