So for the second time in two months I am looking at a large framed portrait of Agatha Christie hanging in pride of place in the foyer of a luxurious hotel. The first time was in February 2004 in The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt where Agatha Christie stayed while she wrote 'Death on the Nile'. The second time was in The Grand Hotel, Torquay in Devon ? I wonder? Did she write a mystery thriller called 'Death on the English Riviera'? The Grand Hotel in Torquay is an architecturally beautiful large Victorian and Art-Deco white painted building set in its own gardens framed with the ubiquitous Torbay palms and only 100 yds from Torquay railway station. The hotel is situated on the sea front in the popular seaside resort of Torquay with wonderful views of Torbay, also rightfully known as the English Riviera. We arrived at 1.00 pm. on a Sunday parking our car in the Grand Hotel's free residents' covered garages and walking into the impressive and welcoming reception area dispelled any misgivings we had about staying for two nights in this AA Four**** and Rosette awarded hotel. Why misgivings? Well, just think of boiled cabbage, swirly patterned carpets and a dreadful stuffy atmosphere and sense of faded glory that many English seaside resort hotels conjure up. We knew at once this was going to be a good experience. The first impression given to a guest arriving at The Grand Hotel is the view through the reception area through a lounge and into The Compass Bar. The huge picture windows on three sides of The Compass Bar gave us the sense we were on a luxury liner because of the stunning panoramic vista of the sea and the sky. Reception checked us in very efficiently and
politely and because our room wouldn't be ready until 3.00 pm we were happy to hand our luggage over to the porter and have lunch in The Compass Bar. Hot fresh salmon fishcakes with real tartare sauce, salad and good bread plus an excellent chilled glass of house white wine whilst gazing out over the bay and the ornamental gardens and full size swimming pool put us in a superb frame of mind, especially me as the young waiters on duty that day were gorgeous Australians and I didn't know whether it was the wine or these handsome young men that were giving me the feel good factor. Our room was a double en-suite with bath and dressing area and situated on the side of the hotel. A sea view with a balcony on the front of the hotel would have been preferable but later in this review when I tell you what we paid for these two nights and what we got for our money I think you may agree this was a bargain break. But first there was a puzzle to solve. We had booked and paid online through Hotelnet and understood that The Grand was a Best Western Hotel, which indeed it is, but there was a guest feedback form on the dressing table in our room and one of the first questions asked was 'Were you aware that this hotel is part of the Richardson Group of hotels?' No I wasn't. I soon discovered that the Grand is one of five hotels owned by the Richardson Group and since being bought by them in 2001 has undergone extensive renovation resulting in the opulence and grandness that made such an impression on us as we entered for the first time. The Grand has 117 rooms, seven of which are Premier Suites, plus indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a multi-gym, hairdressers, beauty salons, jacuzzi, sauna, a peaceful library and excellent conference suites and yet with all these facilities the atmosphere was leisurely and intimate. T
;he Grand has a civil license for weddings and has various different sized suites to suit a wedding party group of twelve to three hundred and fifty people. The Grand offers twenty-four hour room service for food, light meals and drinks whilst dinner and breakfast is served in the Gainsborough restaurant. There was a kettle and tea and coffee but no mini-bar and although a mini-bar isn't important I would have liked a small refrigerator to keep bottled water in-as they do in most foreign hotels and then I suggest getting rid of the trouser press! Does anybody really use them? The room was clean illustrating a very competent house-keeping team; there were good smellies in the bathroom and a power shower as well as a bath ? thank goodness- and speakers in the bathroom just in case. We had booked for Dinner, Bed and Breakfast inclusive and guests are asked not to wear jeans and trainers to dinner which is fair enough, although this didn't mean dressing up in any way. The Gainsborough Restaurant has a coveted AA Rosette for the cuisine and we did think that as our dinner was included in the price there would be a limited choice. We were wrong yet again. We relaxed with an aperitif in The Compass Bar and as it reached 7.00 pm the lights went on in Torbay and lit up the sky for as far as we could see-very pretty and twinkley. The restaurant is large and beautifully designed and decorated and again the atmosphere was warm and inviting and not starchy and unwelcoming and hushed as in many superior older hotels. We were given two menus. One was the A La Carte and the other the Table d'Hote. The Table de Hote was priced at twenty pounds for three courses and this was included in our tariff. Individual dishes were available from the A la Carte with an added supplement to the Table d'&
#72;ote but there was no need to look any further as the dishes offered on the inclusive menu were just what we wanted. There were fish dishes, lamb, pates, fowl with interesting and unusual first courses and tremendous desserts. All the food was exquisitely cooked and presented and tasted delicious. All the food is fresh and locally sourced and seasonal. The waiting staff were highly professional, efficient and polite and we couldn't believe that such wonderful meals were included in the price. If we could find cooking of such high quality locally then we would expect to pay at least thirty pounds per head. Breakfast was equally delightful. There was a well presented buffet for the usual cereals, juices yoghurts, fruits, croissants, cheeses and cold meats plus a well maintained hot buffet with everything from black pudding to scrambled eggs. We ordered fresh kippers (and they were fresh) and Finnan haddock from the menu and marvelled at the quality of our break in The Grand Hotel Torquay. So what did we pay? The double room, dinner bed and breakfast was £120.00 a night for two. Take into account the superb restaurant meal that was priced at £40.00 for two plus the comfort, cleanliness and the facilities then if you think about it-we have paid £60.00 in the recent past for a double room in a pub, and that's without dinner and such comfortable surroundings. However, I have just visited the Richardson Group's hotel website and late availability informs me that April midweek breaks are being offered for £49.00 per person and May breaks for £59.00 per person per day to include dinner, bed and breakfast also, for minimum of two night and excluding Bank Holidays. The Grand Hotel rates vary for low/mid and high season but we will certainly be booking a late availability break in the near future. Next time we will book directly via
the Richardson Group/The Grand Hotel website as there is a Freephone number and by talking directly to reception we may well be able to negotiate a room with a sea view and a balcony. From, wherever the visitor is travelling The Grand, Torquay Devon is easy to reach. The train station is one minute away, the M5 is a pleasant dual carriageway drive away and Exeter and Plymouth airports are a thirty five minute drive and The Grand will arrange taxis from the airports. We consider we have found a wonderful hotel to spend those short breaks and intend to visit the other four hotels belonging to this group. They are at St Mawes, Fowey, Lake Windemere and Padstow and the real gem for those with plenty of pennies, a 90 ft Yatch that cruises the English coast, Jersey, France, Cowes, the Isles of Scilly and more for anything up to £16.500 per person! Agatha Christie certainly had taste and style.