Dolly's Diary

Dolly meets: Vladimir Krupa, Guest Relations Director at Burgh Island Hotel

Vladimir Krupa, general manager at Burgh Island HotelIt's no secret that we love Art Deco here at Dollydagger. We've already held photoshoots at Saltdean Lido (where we returned last year to see how the restoration is coming along) and The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill (where we shot our 2012 collection).

One year ago today, Mr Dagger and I had a trip to Devon to visit the stunning Burgh Island Hotel, an Art Deco time capsule sitting on an island just off the south coast. Famous as a retreat for Agatha Christie and the setting of many of her novels, it is now an exclusive hotel where you can visit for afternoon tea or stay as a guest in one of its many individually decorated rooms and suites (including Agatha Christie's own writing retreat!). You can also attend the black tie dinners held every night in the ballroom, or, if you prefer, a more casual meal in the island's smuggler's pub, The Pilchard Inn. We held off publishing this for obvious reasons, but now seems like the perfect time, to share it with you.

When you arrive you are met at the car park on the mainland and chauffeured down to the beach where, if you're lucky (as we were) and the tide is in, the famous sea tractor takes you and your luggage across to the island. 

The rooms are named rather than numbered, and we were in the Amy Johnson Suite, which is decorated with aeronautical motifs in honour of the trailblazing aviator.

We spoke to the Guest Relations Director, Vladimir Krupa, about what is involved in running such an exclusive and unique resort. We started by asking how long he had worked here.

"I've been here 11 years [that's 12 years now!]. The island was always evolving, always changing, even since 1929. What you can see now is the extension of the ballroom, more bedrooms, so it was always improving. We still want to give the customer the feeling that they are stepping back into the 1920s and 30s, and they can experience what the era was all about.

"Everything we do, any changes in the architecture or design, we always look into it before we start. We've got an interior designer in place who looks after everything - it's all placed together quite carefully.

"We try to keep it classy so that it doesn't look like a theme park. If you go back to the 1920s and 30s it was an era of style, and going to dinner people would take the opportunity to dress nicely, so this is the reason we keep the dress code of black tie in the ballroom. We want to keep it on, as it really makes any occasion more special."

Some people come here to immerse themselves in the 1930s style, but Mr Dagger and I didn't really fancy wearing black tie on our holiday, so it's just as well that the hotel also caters for those who prefer a more informal meal with two additional dining options.

"We recently opened the Nettlefold restaurant for people who don't want to dress up in black tie, and we also have The Pilchard, so we have three different options for diners here on the island. Some people travel alone and don't want to dress up, and some people just want to relax on the beach or have a romantic evening watching the sunset."

The hotel changed ownership in April 2018, and the new proprietor has grand plans for the future.

"The new investor runs serviced offices in London - nice and quirky, really nicely done, like an Alice in Wonderland style. He came here and he had a Christmas party, and nobody knew that he potentially wanted to buy the place, but as soon as he saw the island from the hill (on the mainland) he instantly fell in love with the place and knew he wanted to buy it straight away. Everything else he discovered while staying here was just an additional bonus.

"You have to have a passion to own something like this. You can imagine how hard it is to keep it running - maintenance is constant, you need to be really passionate. It's not a business where you can expect a quick return on your investment - you need to love the place; being an island we are cut off daily from the mainland and the weather is always against us, so you need to know what you are doing.

"We are quite exposed anyway, but when the weather is bad we need to stop running the sea tractor so we only go with the tide times, so guests need to be told when to arrive and depart - and not just guests: the staff, deliveries, entertainers.

"For this reason we always need to make sure everyone is told when to arrive, which makes it even more difficult."

We wondered whether they ever have to contend with snow...

"We don't get much snow, but we do from time to time. A few years back we got snowed in completely, the snow drifts were so tall it was impossible for us to go anywhere and it took 2 days for the snowploughs to reach us here. There were guests stuck here too and they all loved it. We just made it more special for those who were here, but there were also some guests who couldn't arrive unfortunately. We got some photos which are on our website."

Vlad went on to explain more of the new owner's plans for the hotel.

"So far we've refurbished three rooms - the Bentley, Nettlefold and Mitchell - and eventually we want go through every room but keep the style of the art deco period. We don't have televisions in the room - we believe this creates a distraction. I personally feel that when I go on holiday the worst thing I could do is to turn on the television. Just take the whole place in and explore the whole island, and we want people to explore and be linked to the 1920s and not the televisions.

"People love it - when they arrive, they say it's amazing that you can dress nicely, have afternoon tea, socialise with other guests, have a cocktail, and so many friendships are made on the island and people come back with their friends.

"We have some staff who have been here a long time - my colleague Gary has been here for 26 years now. Also quite a few other members of staff who have been here 8, 10, 15 years - it's that kind of place, We try to give a family feel to the place - we look after our staff so they want to stay as long as possible. And we also get comments from guests who like seeing familiar faces, making it a home from home.

"Now we have such a high level of regular clientele - we have about 1,000 couples who come back every year. When they come they know who to expect."

So what's next for the hotel?

"At the moment we have renovated the public rooms - nothing significant, but we had to close for around 2 months in January and February, sanding floors etc. All the parquet floors are original - if you look carefully in the ballroom, it used to be a carpet and you can see in the middle where the nails were that held down the carpet. The company who sanded the floor took care to sand it lightly so you can still see the original features.

"Many people come here for inspiration, and also many people from television when they are doing restorations just to get a general feel, as we are one of the few places in the world where we keep the place as it was.

"When we changed ownership I was approached by so many regular guests who were worried; I spent weeks answering emails and phone calls! There were people concerned about where we were going, but if anything we are going back in time, not forward, and we even want to restore some of the original features of the building.

"I don't see this place being too corporate - it's more for the romance and people come to enjoy themselves - I mean you can hire the whole place for parties. We do have some famous people here - Hollywood A-listers - but we keep it to ourselves so we can't tell you who they are! When they come, we give them privacy, nobody can access the island at all. If you're famous it's the perfect environment to come if you don't want to be constantly asked for autographs.

"You've always got your privacy here, we also welcome non-resident guests but ask for pre-booking so we can control the numbers. We want to maintain the exclusivity.

"Every room has some special pieces from the past, but every room is unique, with different furniture and colour schemes. The refurbishment is more of a refresh, so we will keep the original furniture, and we will refurbish existing furniture. 

Finally, some words on the island's fascinating history.

"The Pilchard is one of the oldest pubs in the UK - 700 years old. The first hotel on the island was what is now the staff quarters, but there are lots of stories of smugglers, like Tom Crocker who is still with us! When the tide came in it was the perfect place for smuggling - the mermaid pool is invisible from the mainland, and when the tide went out they could distribute their goods to the mainland. If you look into the fireplace in the Pilchard, you can still see the face of Tom Crocker in the stones!"

All photography by Nick Miners