You could be forgiven for thinking that the British love affair with Agatha Christie came to an end in 2013. ITV brought the curtain down on its long-running Poirot series, having filmed every novel to feature the detective, and also wrapped up its successful Miss Marple reboot. With the author’s back catalogue well and truly exhausted by TV and film, it felt like the Christie casebook might finally be closing.
Yet, just two years later, the Christie machine has once again sprung back into life. This time, the baton is back with the BBC, whose recent Partners in Crime series – a stylish adaptation of the lesser-known Tommy and Tuppence stories, starring David Walliams – aired over the summer, ahead of the 125th anniversary of the author’s birth on 15 September.
It’s an anniversary that’s being enthusiastically marked across the country, as pubs, guesthouses and hotels with even the flimsiest Christie links put on events and offer themed packages. And for those inspired to follow in the author’s footsteps, there’s no shortage of options – Christie travelled extensively, and wrote and set many novels in her favourite hotels.
The place with the greatest concentration of Christie connections is Devon, particularly Torquay, where you’ll find a trail of sites related to the writer, many of which are participating in the International Agatha Christie Festival (agathachristiefestival.com), which begins today and reaches its denouement next Saturday with a grand ball at Greenway, her holiday home.
Torquay also makes an ideal starting point for a Christie-themed tour of the county, taking in other key spots, such as Brixham, Dartmoor, and Burgh Island – an isolated slice of 1930s glamour, on an island cut off from the Devon mainland in high tide. The Burgh Island Hotel’s possibilities as a murder scene were not wasted on the author (01548 810514;burghisland.com). The property inspired two novels, Evil Under the Sun and her masterpiece And Then There Were None, and rooms, named after figures such as Noël Coward and Fruity Metcalfe, are available from £310, including breakfast.
Plenty of hotels beyond Devon also boast Christie connections, and evoke that inter-war era when most of her best work was set.
The Midland Hotel on Morecambe Bay (01524 424 000;englishlakes.co.uk) provides guests with a very Christie-esque environment – an Art Deco masterpiece and location for the Poirot episode Double Sin. Doubles from £132, including breakfast. At the top end of the price spectrum there’s Brown’s Hotel (020 7493 6020; roccofortehotels.com) in London’s Mayfair, which still serves afternoon tea in its wood-panelled English Tea Room, and offers doubles from £532, including breakfast. Christie was a regular here, and used it as the inspiration for her dubious, late-period Marple thriller, At Bertram’s Hotel. Brown’s is serving a special Agatha Christie-themed tea every day until the end of the month (£45pp).
From here it’s a mile to St Martin’s Theatre on the edge of Covent Garden, home of long-running Christie-whodunnit The Mousetrap (08444 99 1515; the-mousetrap.co.uk).
Christie set many of her 66 mystery novels abroad. A keen traveller, she accompanied her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, on digs across the Middle East. While two of her favourite countries, Syria and Iraq, are sadly now out of bounds, it’s easy enough to follow the Christie trail to places such as Petra, Egypt and Istanbul.
Or head to Barbados, where the Coral Reef Club (00 1 246 422 2372; coralreefbarbados.com), a country house set in 12 acres of tropical gardens, was the inspiration behind the Miss Marple adventure A Caribbean Mystery. Doubles start at $456 (£304), including breakfast.
Picking up Christie’s scent couldn’t be easier in Torquay. Just head to the seafront, where you’ll find the Agatha Christie Mile (bit.ly/ChristieMile) – a series of sites with strong links to the author, bookended by two of her favourite hotels.
At its western end sits the Grand Hotel (0800 005 2244;grandtorquay.co.uk), where she spent her wedding night with first husband Archie Christie on Christmas Eve 1914. The hotel, which has an Agatha Christie Suite, offers doubles from £69, including breakfast. And at other end of the mile, the Imperial Hotel (01803 294 301; thehotelcollection.co.uk) features in three of Christie’s novels, albeit under different names. It has doubles for £89 including breakfast.
Other highlights of the Mile include Torre Abbey, home to the Agatha Christie’s Potent Plants display, inspired by the poisons used in her novels; the Torquay Museum, which has a dedicated Christie gallery; the pretty Princess Gardens, which feature in The ABC Murders; and Beacon Cove, where a teenage Agatha narrowly avoided drowning.
Down the Nile
Death on the Nile is one of Christie’s most popular mysteries, thanks largely to the 1978 film, which cast Peter Ustinov as Poirot. The book was partly written in the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, now part of the Sofitel chain (00 20 97 231 60 00; sofitel-legend.com/aswan). This riverside spa property, which was also a location for the Ustinov movie, has doubles from £108 including breakfast.
From there, follow the example of both Christie and Poirot by boarding the Steam Ship Sudan (steam-ship-sudan.com), upon which the novel was both partly written and set. Built in 1885 for King Fouad, this intimate, two-deck steamship takes guests from Aswan to Luxor, the route Christie took in 1933. It even has an Agatha Christie suite and an Hercule Poirot cabin. a four-day journey north, from Aswan to Luxor, starts at €950pp, from October to May, and €690pp from July to September in a double standard cabin.
The Pera Palace in Istanbul (00 90 212 377 4000; jumeirah.com) was one of Christie’s favourites – she often stopped here on her regular jaunts to the Middle East. Now operated by the Jumeirah group, it still makes much of its links to the author, with its Agatha Restaurant apparently inspired by the “mystery and romance” of the novel Murder on the Orient Express. Doubles are available from €235, B&B, while on 22-24 October the hotel is celebrating the 125th anniversary of Christie’s birth by running the Black Week crime fiction festival.
If you time your visit to Istanbul correctly, you can retrace Hercule Poirot’s most famous fictional journey, by taking the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (0845 077 2222; belmond.com) from Istanbul to Venice. This five-night trip runs only once a year (next departure, 2 September 2016) and costs from £5,870pp.
Greenway in Brixham, Devon, was Christie’s holiday home for 20 years and is now a National Trust propertyHoliday home
Greenway (nationaltrust.org.uk/greenway), near Brixham, Devon, was Christie’s holiday home for 20 years and is now a National Trust property. It still houses many of her possessions and collections, and next Saturday it will host the Greenway Ball – the climax of this week’s International Agatha Christie Festival. Admission to Greenway costs £9.90. There are several ways to reach it, including by ferry from Dartmouth, but perhaps the most romantic option is to take the steam train from Paignton and Kingswear to Greenway Halt (01803 555872;dartmouthrailriver.co.uk).
Visitors to Greenway looking for accommodation should consider Moorlands House, nearby on Dartmoor (0345 470 8558; moorlandshouse.co.uk), which offers B&B doubles from £69. Not only does it offer great views of the moor, it’s where Christie is said to have written her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
In 1926, Christie disappeared for 11 days following the break-up of her first marriage. Her disappearance fascinated the public and made the national press. She was eventually discovered staying in the Old Swan in Harrogate (08446 932 964,classiclodges.co.uk), which has doubles from £100, B&B, and runs murder mystery events. A fully-themed weekend costs £199pp.
The extent to which she explored Harrogate is a matter of speculation, but visitors to this handsome North Yorkshire spa town will find much of it unchanged since the days of Christie’s visit. The Turkish Baths and Health Spa (01423 556 746;turkishbathsharrogate.co.uk), Betty’s café (0800 456 1919; ), the Royal Hall, Harrogate Theatre (01423 502 116;harrogatetheatre.co.uk) and the Valley Gardens are all much as she would have found them 90 years ago.
While many of Christie’s favourite Middle Eastern destinations are no longer safe to visit, Iran is now back on the map.
The writer came here with her second husband during their impromptu honeymoon in 1931, and this summer the Foreign Office lifted its long-standing warning against non-essential travel to the country.
The majority of Iran has now been declared safe to visit (excluding some areas on the borders with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan). Wild Frontiers Travel (020 7736 3968;wildfrontierstravel.com) offers a 10-day full-board Persian Explorer tour, taking in Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan, all of which were visited by the newlyweds. From £2,045pp, excluding international flights.