The Grand Hotel Torquay, England

Agatha Christie, the world’s most popular mystery writer.

JACKIE: In David’s last column from England, I ended with a special travel tip. I’ll let him tell all:

DAVID: It’s one of those secrets we pick up on many of our travels and want to share with our readers. Called Renault Eurodrive, it’s a program you join before leaving the states. Very simple and economical. My Renault Megane Berline Privilege came with automatic transmission, air conditioning and all the bells and whistles —fully insured and raring to go. So away I went. This sleek baby was a thrill and a pleasure to drive with major new safety features and fun bits like the Renault card key. Use it to open the doors, then insert it into the dashboard and push a button to start the engine. High tech stuff, but easy to learn. I drove all around the New Forest for 3 carefree weeks, enjoying every ride. My first longish drive was from Milford on Sea to Torquay. Very smooth sailing; truly fun to drive — even when I ran into very heavy rain towards the end of my journey. More in future columns.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading Agatha Christie mysteries since I was 13 (please don’t ask how many years ago that was!). I’ve thrilled to her Hercule Poirot exploits and Miss Marple adventures on TV and movies. Now, I headed my leased Renault to the heart of the English Riviera: Torquay, the scene of many of Agatha’s exciting stories, and to the Grand Hotel where she spent her honeymoon.

I was met by a lady nicknamed Henry – Henrietta Lilley, PR & Marketing Manager — who plied me with good coffee and even better information about the hotel, its sisters in the Richardson Group (check their website please) and the popular tourist destination of Torquay and its neighbors.

The imposing Grand Hotel reigns over today’s stormy sea front like a dowager queen. 132 rooms over her four floors. Lifts (elevators), of course. One look and you can see why Miss Christie, the world’s most famous mystery writer, chose this elegant venue after becoming the wife of archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan. Today, you can sleep here, in the Agatha Christie Suite, and you can enjoy the splendid hotel with its up-to-the-minute features. The Grand boasts sea views, TV and DVD, fridge, robes and slippers – all the usual (luxury) suspects. There’s also a huge heated indoor pool with Jacuzzi, an outdoor pool, a sauna, gym, beauty clinic and care and service for your car.

Your own care and service is aptly attended to by a young and helpful staff at Reception and in the Gainsborough Restaurant presided over by Executive Chef Richard Hunt, twice winner of UK Chef of the Year Awards.

After my delicious dinner here, followed by an after dinner drink and piano music in the Compass Bar, I vote Chef Hunt another award – the “Yummy”! I ravished a rib of beef with horse-radish mash and savoy cabbage. This followed a starter of salmon served 3 ways: poached, tartar of smoked and ceviche.

My pudding course was apple crème brulee with cinnamon shortbread. Double yummy!

On my second day in Torquay, I was treated to a visit to Greenway, now a National Trust property and once the holiday home of Miss Christie herself — filled with many of her prized possessions. The house was closed for the season, but charming Elaine Ward took me on a special private tour with backstage glimpses tourists don’t normally see. Large as it is, Greenway is a warm, cozy country house, where Agatha and her husband lived for pleasure rather than work. Its setting is idyllic, far from traffic, by a gentle river. No murders here, but Agatha Christie’s spirit happily haunts this marvelous tourist destination.

Next came Torrey Abbey and the incredibly clever Poison Garden designed by incredibly adorable Gardener Ali Marshall. She has assembled potent plants that produced the means of murder in fully half of Agatha’s stories.

JACKIE: Torquay sounds like an un-missable stop — special attractions, the rolling sea and the truly Grand Hotel with all its marvelous features. When the sun shines and the rain moves on, maybe I’ll visit too. We’ll talk…

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