There’s no cosier way to pass an autumn evening than snuggling up with a great book – except, perhaps, snuggling up with a great book in a luxury hotel. Here we give our pick of the UK and Europe’s best, most decadent hotels with literary links, perfect for your next cerebral break.
Burgh Island, Devon
An art deco extravaganza, unexpectedly located just off the Devon coast, Burgh Island is where Agatha Christie set two of her novels: Evil Under the Sun and And Then There Were None. Now a luxury hotel, Burgh Island is only accessible by car during low tide: come high tide, the sea sweeps around the island, cutting it off. Black Tie is compulsory at the hotel’s restaurant, where you might see the ghost of Noel Coward tinkling on the piano. For the ultimate luxury experience, hire Agatha’s Beach House, built as a writer’s retreat for Mrs Christie, curl up in front of the wood burner with a good crime novel and hope for a storm to come in: seeing lightening flash over the silvery sea is as dramatic as it gets.
Ashdown Park, Sussex
Enjoy Victorian luxury at the spectacular Ashdown Park in Sussex, bang in the middle of an ancient royal deer-hunting estate which was the inspiration for A. A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood. After whiling away a morning playing Pooh Sticks in some of the many streams which meander through the ten square miles of Forest, try to seek out sights such as the Heffalump trap and Roo’s sandy pit. Then head back to the hotel for some old-fashioned country-house hospitality, making sure to cover your crumpets in plenty of hunny.
The Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh
One for Potter fanatics, the Balmoral Hotel in central Edinburgh is where J. K. Rowling finished writing The Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series. She even scrawled a note announcing she had completed the novel on a marble bust of Hermes. Luckily, the management must have been fans, as the bust has been placed in a glass case to protect it and the room re-named the J. K. Rowling suite. You enter via an owl-shaped door knocker, through a star-filled entranceway, to sumptuous elegance complete with magic touches. Holed up here for a weekend, you could easily re-read all seven Potter books.
Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin
On St. Stephen’s Green, the old-school Shelbourne has been at the centre of Dublin literary life for the two hundred years of its history. In the 1840s, William Makepeace Thackery declared the Shelbourne ‘majestically conducted’, and in the twentieth century Brendan Behan, Brian Friel and Seamus Heaney propped up the famous Horseshoe Bar. Elizabeth Bowen set a whole novel here. The Hotel is also mentioned in James Joyce’s books, including, of course, Ulysses.
‘Either that wallpaper goes, or I do,’ quipped Oscar Wilde on his deathbed at what was then the Hotel D’Alsace. Now simply called L’Hotel, in Paris’s swanky sixth arondissement on the Rive Gauche, the wallpaper has been much improved but the spirit of louche hedonism still prevails, particularly in the Oscar Wilde suite. Here, a gold peacock unfurls its many eyes over the sumptuous bed, while the charming escritoire beckons wannabe writers to exercise their wits.
Le Montreux Palace, Switzerland
On the shores of Lake Geneva, with views of the Alps, Le Montreux justifiably describes itself as a jewel of Belle Epoque architecture: think The Grand Budapest Hotel in its heyday. Once a tiny village, Le Montreux became famous after Jean-Jacques Rousseau set his novel La Nouvelle Heloise in the area, and Lord Byron discovered the splendours of Lake Gevena in the 1810s. Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, lived here for the last 16 years of his life, completing Pale Fire and Ada or Ardor in the hotel.
Westin Palace, Madrid
Opposite the Prado museum in the centre of Spain’s capital, the Westin Palace was built at the personal suggestion of King Alfonso XIII. On its opening in 1912, it was only the second hotel in the world to have a bathroom for every guest. Happily, it has kept pace with developments since and now offers every amenity you can think of, all delivered by impeccably groomed staff in the most lavish settings. Already a haunt of Picasso, Dali and Lorca, after the Second World War the palace became Ernest Hemmingway’s favourite haunt: he mentions the bar – obviously his preferred spot – in The Sun Also Rises.