White House

“Despite the drab furnishings and hungry waiters, Herm's White House Hotel is full of potential.”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 31st May 2009.

I've found the hotel I'd like to buy. Except I can't, because a couple called John and Julia Singer have just bought it, and the island (Herm) on which it stands. They shouldn't, therefore, be blamed (not yet) for the shortcomings of its only hotel, and I fall to imagining what I might do if I were them.

There is so much that's captivating about it. The view, for a start. It's low tide, under a clear blue sky. Children are scampering on a lawn, beyond which pines and palms frame an immense expanse of watery sand, strewn with rocky outcrops dripping dry in the sun. The tides here are huge: the Channel doesn't so much recede as leg it almost back to Guernsey, visible three miles away.

And then there's the White House itself, a much-extended inn that makes a perfect hotel, with pretty central staircase and light, spacious, public rooms with open fires leading to a cosy bar, a conservatory and a beautifully sited, palm-fringed outdoor swimming pool that could, if the poolside furniture were changed, be on the Amalfi Coast.

And that's where I come in. Oh dear, the furniture. The matching sofas! The curtains! The pictures! The bathrooms! Drab isn't the word. There's divine old-fashioned and there's dismal old-fashioned: this is the latter.

White House aficionados will be grinding their teeth by now (60 per cent of guests are returnees). But I wouldn't change much, I promise, just redecorate to give the place the informal country house, rather than boarding-house, comfort it deserves. And I'd find waiters who could speak English, knew the difference between claret and rosé and weren't eating a bun while serving.

There must be big squashy sofas, piles of books, plenty of tables for the games of Scrabble and Monopoly that go on each evening. The bedrooms (many with balconies) and bathrooms, while simple, should echo their wonderful views. Nothing fancy; certainly no televisions or phones, as now, which is part of the hotel's charm. The amusing Seventies radio/baby listening consoles with just two stations, Radio 4 and Radio Guernsey, can certainly stay. On an island smothered in wild flowers I'll put fresh ones in each room. And perhaps glass containers for some of the tiny shells, coloured fuchsia to gold, that are found on Shell Beach, one of the loveliest stretches of sand I have seen.

Oh, and I'll open the hotel year round. It will be as cosy and welcoming in winter as it will be seaside fresh in summer.

Herm, an enchanting, self-sufficient time warp, is run as a business, the terms of its lease stipulating that the owners are "ready to welcome visitors and to cater for them". Sixty inhabitants live and work here; three of them now run Herm for the new owners. They are all incomers, but they love this special place and want nothing more than for it, and the White House, to flourish…but they do need outside help.

Herm Island, via Guernsey, Channel Islands (01481 722159; www.herm-island.com) Doubles from £170 for dinner, b & b). Not suitable for guests with disabilities. For further information, www.visitguernsey.com; flights: www.aurigny.com

The Hotel Guru verdict

2 out of 5

Try for a balcony, or the top "lookout" room

3 out of 5

Lacks a hands-on owner to pull it round

4 out of 5

Full marks once i've redecorated; a magical island

Food and drink
2 out of 5

Room for vast improvement

Value for money
3 out of 5

Current low prices are reasonable; upgrade and you might pay more

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