A shiver runs through the air at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair. People walk in and out of the lobby, genteel ladies wait for friends, and an assortment of different family members from different generations greet each other lavishly.
In the ground floor salon, you can see all this goings-on from table 9, which is just tucked away in the doorway. It’s a scene that’s barely changed since the 1920s, when eagle-eyed author Agatha Christie often sat here writing and getting inspiration for her chorus of characters.
And she not only based one of her novels, At Bertram’s Hotel, on the timeless loophole, but, drawn to the “plush coziness” as she described it, she also stayed here before embarking on a ten-month world tour in 1922.
Travel company Black Tomato has reimagined Agatha Christie’s ten-month world tour. The monumental journey allows visitors to see sights including South Africa’s Table Mountain (pictured), which the writer described as a ‘queer flat shape’
During the 40-night trip, guests will check in at 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 three-part journey. Co-founder Tom Marchant, conceived by travel company Black Tomato in collaboration with Christie’s great-grandson James Prichard, says the idea is to replicate her passion for storytelling through travel.
“I grew up with Agatha Christie, reading and watching her television dramas every Sunday with my family, a fun childhood ritual that opened up the world of travel for me,” says Marchant. “Even though we’re a century apart, we both see the world as a remarkable source of sparking creativity. Her adventure inspired some of her most beloved books.’
Based on archival material, including Christie’s diary and the letters she sent during her absence, the company has mapped out three journeys along the route she took.
You can follow Christie’s bush tram journeys 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 full 40-night expedition, which is divided into three ‘chapters’: South Africa, North America and Australia and New Zealand.
Christie’s journey was originally intended as a fact-finding mission for her husband Archie, who was a financial advisor to the forthcoming British Empire Exhibition of 1924. Christie, aged 32 at the time, intended to join him, despite it meaning they would have to leave behind their two-year-old daughter Rosalind. She describes in her book The Grand Tour that this would be her only chance to broaden her horizons: “I longed to see China and Japan and India and Hawaii, and many other places, but my dream remained, and would probably always stay. wishful thinking. We had never been people who played it safe, and now we were determined to see the world and risk what would happen on our return.’
Prichard describes his great-grandmother as fearless before her time, adding, “Early travels to Cairo and Paris whetted her appetite. I suspect she saw the trip she took with Archie as the ultimate travel opportunity, 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 who want the full experience can 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 (witnessescountyhall.com).
For even more insight into her life and times, you can also have Brown’s famous afternoon tea accompanied by British historian Lucy Worsley of Prichard, who promises to bring insider knowledge about the writer.
The idea for this new Grand Tour, Marchant says, was for travelers to experience the same key moments that Christie did, but reinterpreted for the modern age.
Chapter One takes visitors to South Africa, where you can sleep in the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel – just like Christie did – and also learn to surf, as she did, with Table Mountain as a stunning backdrop. “My memories of Cape Town are more vivid than other places,” Christie writes in her autobiography. ‘Table Mountain with its peculiar flat shape, the sun, the delicious peaches, the bathing – it was all wonderful.’
During her time in Hawaii, Christie is credited with being the first Western woman to learn to stand up on a surfboard. Pictured is Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, which is included in Black Tomato’s itinerary
A trek along Oahu’s sublime south shore—against the backdrop of the Ko’olau Mountains (above)—still looks much the same as when Christie visited it in 1922
Surf’s Up: Christie in Honolulu in 1922
From tours of the wineries in Franschhoek to a journey on the legendary Blue Train, with a stop at the old diamond mines of Kimberley, South Africa’s first leg aims to recapture a golden era 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 was the macaws: blue and red and green, flying across the sky in great clustering swarms … like flying jewels.”
This second chapter is an immersive 15 night adventure across the vast land. You can follow Christie’s bush tram journeys to the remote Dandenong Ranges, east of Melbourne, where she wrote about eating ‘twenty-three oranges – carefully selected from the trees around me’.
Moving on to New Zealand, which she described as “the most beautiful country I’ve 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 the west coast of America. In Honolulu she resumed her newfound passion for surfing, “rushing through the water at what appears to be a speed of two hundred miles an hour.”
Amazingly, during her time in Hawaii, the writer is credited with being the first Western woman to learn to stand up on a surfboard.
She also admired the ‘hibiscus hedges… oleanders, blue plumbago and big laburnum trees’ and ate ‘corn buns and small pieces of banana also fried’.
With a stay at the Moana Surfrider, a century on the same waves of Waikiki are within reach. A tour of Oahu’s sublime South Shore—against the backdrop of the Ko’olau Mountains—still looks much the same as when Christie visited it in 1922.
Finally, she visited Canada, with stops in Toronto, Ottawa and Banff. In addition to the modern-day equivalent trip to Niagara Falls—this time on a private flight—you can enjoy the highlights that touched Christie, including glacial Lake Minnewanka and the hot springs at Banff.
As a guest checking into the same historic hotels as Christie, it’s easy to experience the sense of staggering wonder she felt gazing at the clear lakes and towering trees of Banff and Alberta.
The tour stops in Canada where you will visit the glacial lake Minnewanka (pictured), another place the writer ‘touched’
At the time, it was the perfect fodder for a writer’s brain.
“It’s no surprise that her travels feature in so many titles, from Murder On The Orient Express to Death On The Nile; A Caribbean mystery comes to an end when the end comes,” says Prichard.
“For my great-grandmother, all life was potential content, and since travel was such a big part of her life, it’s no wonder it’s so common.
You will have the chance to experience thundering Niagara Falls (pictured) via private plane
“When her marriage later collapsed, one of the first things she did was travel.
“The fact that her reaction when her husband left her was to travel to Baghdad and beyond shows how fearless she was.
“To do this solo in the 1920s as a woman must have taken a rare courage and sense of adventure.”