A chill hangs in the air at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair. People come and go in the lobby, distinguished ladies await friends and a mix of relatives from different generations greet each other enthusiastically.
In the ground floor drawing room, you can watch all this going on from table 9, which is hidden just behind the door. It’s a scene that hasn’t changed much since the 1920s, when eagle-eyed author Agatha Christie often sat here to write and find inspiration for her chorus of characters.
And not only has she referenced one of her novels, In Bertram’s Hotel, to the timeless hideaway, but, drawn by its “plush coziness,” as she described it, she stayed here before embarking on a ten-month tour around the globe started in 1922.
Travel company Black Tomato has reimagined Agatha Christie’s ten-month trip around the world. The monumental journey allows visitors to see landmarks such as South Africa’s Table Mountain (pictured), which the author described as having a “strangely flat shape”.
During the 40-day journey, guests will check into the same historic hotels as Christie, such as the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town (above).
It’s been 100 years since she embarked on her “Grand Tour,” and now Christie fans can do the same with an epic journey in three parts. Conceived by travel company Black Tomato in collaboration with Christie’s great-grandson James Prichard, co-founder Tom Marchant says the idea is to reproduce her passion for storytelling through travel.
“I grew up with Agatha Christie, reading and watching her television dramas with my family every Sunday, a leisurely childhood ritual that opened me to the world of travel,” says Marchant. “Though a century apart, we both see the world as a remarkable source to nurture creativity. Their adventure inspired some of their most popular books.”
Based on archival footage, including Christie’s diary and the letters she sent while she was away, the company has planned three trips that follow her route.
You can follow Christie’s journeys on the bush tram to Australia’s remote Dandenong Ranges (pictured), where she wrote about eating “twenty-three oranges – carefully selected from the trees around me”.
You can do part of the journey or the entire 40-night expedition, which is divided into three “chapters”: South Africa, North America, and Australia and New Zealand.
Christie’s trip was originally intended as a fact-finding mission for her husband Archie, who was financial adviser to the forthcoming British Empire Exhibition of 1924. Christie, then 32, wanted to join him, although it meant they would have to walk behind their two-year-old daughter, Rosalind. She describes in her book The Grand Tour that this would be her only opportunity to broaden her horizons: “I longed to see China and Japan and India and Hawaii and many other places, but my dream stayed and probably always would stay , wishful thinking. We had never been people to play it safe and now we were determined to see the world and risk what would happen when we returned.’
Prichard describes his great-grandmother as fearless for her time, adding: “Early trips to Cairo and Paris whetted her appetite. I suspect she viewed the trip she took with Archie as the ultimate travel opportunity and not just something she had to do to support her husband.
Best: In New Zealand, you can visit the same wilderness landscapes of Rotorua, Nelson and Hokitika (above) that Christie fell in love with
Those wanting the full experience might start with a stay at Brown’s Hotel. From here you can explore the writer’s London on a private walking tour and see one of Christie’s plays come to life with tickets to Witness For The Prosecution at County Hall (witnesscountyhall.com).
For even more insight into her life and times, you can also arrange Brown’s famous afternoon tea in the company of British historian Lucy Worsley or Prichard, who promises to provide inside knowledge of the novelist.
The idea for this new Grand Tour, Marchant says, was for travelers to experience the same meaningful moments as Christie, but reinterpreted for the modern age.
Chapter One takes visitors to South Africa, where you can stay at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel – just like Christie – and also learn to surf like she did, with Table Mountain as a stunning backdrop. “My memories of Cape Town are more vivid than any other place,” writes Christie in her autobiography. “Table Mountain with its strangely flat shape, the sunshine, the delicious peaches, the bathing – it was all wonderful.”
While in Hawaii, Christie is said to have become the first western woman to learn how to stand on a surfboard. Pictured is Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, which is included on Black Tomato’s itinerary
A journey along Oahu’s lofty South Shore—with the backdrop of the Ko’olau Mountains (above)—still looks the same as it did when Christie visited in 1922
Surf’s up: Christie in Honolulu in 1922
From tours of the wineries in Franschhoek to a ride on the legendary Blue Train stopping at the Kimberley’s ancient diamond mines, the South African season aims to recapture a golden age of travel.
As Christie sailed on to arrive in Australia, she was immediately struck by the landscape of “giant tree ferns” and “tropical jungle foliage.” She added, “The other thing that was exciting were the macaws: blue and red and green, flying through the air in great flocks… like flying jewels.”
This second chapter is a captivating 15-night adventure across the vast land. You can follow Christie’s journeys on the bush tram to the remote Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, where she wrote about eating “twenty-three oranges – carefully selected from the trees around me”.
Continuing on to New Zealand, which she described as “the most beautiful country I have ever seen”, you can visit the same wilderness landscapes of Rotorua, Nelson and Hokitika that she fell in love with.
From the mountains and volcanoes of New Zealand, Christie sailed across the Pacific to Hawaii and America’s west coast. In Honolulu, she resumed her newfound passion for surfing, “speeding through the water at an apparent speed of two hundred miles per hour.”
Amazingly, during her time in Hawaii, the author is credited with being the first western woman to learn how to stand on a surfboard.
She also admired the “hibiscus hedges…oleanders, blue plumbago, and big laburnum” and ate “cornballs and little bits of banana, also fried.”
A stay at the Moana Surfrider puts a century of surfing the same waves of Waikiki at your fingertips. A journey along Oahu’s lofty South Shore—with the Ko’olau Mountains as a backdrop—still looks the same as it did when Christie visited in 1922.
Eventually she visited Canada with stops in Toronto, Ottawa and Banff. Along with the modern-day equivalent of Niagara Falls—this time with a private flight—you can enjoy the highlights that touched Christie, including glacial Lake Minnewanka and Banff Hot Springs.
As a guest checking into the same historic hotels as Christie, it’s easy to experience the sense of dizzying wonder she felt as she gazed out at the clear lakes and towering trees of Banff and Alberta.
The tour ends in Canada, where you will visit glacial lake Minnewanka (pictured), another place that “touched” the writer
Back then, it was perfect fodder for a writer’s brain.
“It’s no surprise that her travels appear in so many titles, from Murder On The Orient Express to Death On The Nile; A Caribbean Mystery to Death Comes As The End,” says Prichard.
“For my great-grandmother, all life was potential content, and with travel being such a big part of her life, it’s not surprising that it happens so often.
You have the opportunity to experience the thundering Niagara Falls (pictured) by private plane
“Later when her marriage fell apart, one of her first things was to travel.
“The fact that she was to travel to Baghdad and beyond in response to her husband leaving her shows how fearless she was.
“Doing this solo as a woman in the 1920s must have taken a rare courage and sense of adventure.”
The Grand Tour costs from £5,350 per person for the ten night leg in South Africa. Price on request for Afternoon Tea with Lucy Worsley or James Prichard, subject to availability (blacktomato.com). For more information on Christie’s autobiography and The Grand Tour, visit christiearchivetrust.org.