You may have heard of Cliveden House in Berkshire – it’s reputation precedes it. Not only did Meghan Markle stay there pre-wedding, but it has seen its fair share of scandal. And that aside, it’s a dreamy place to visit…
Ok, get ready for this. Cliveden was built in the 1660s by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham for his mistress, Anna Maria, the Countess of Shrewsbury. Sir Charles Barry, who designed the Palace of Westminster, designed the main house in the 1850s, after the two former main houses on the site burnt down.
Then in the 20th century, Nancy Astor – first female MP – and her husband lived there, hosting everyone from Winston Churchill to Ghandhi. Scandal erupted in the 1960s over the Profumo Affair. John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, met a call girl named Christine Keeler at Lord Astor’s (Nancy’s son) midsummer party, at Cliveden’s swimming pool. As Christine was also romantically lined to a Soviet naval attaché, it nearly caused a governmental collapse.
Fast forward to the present day. Cliveden has been a hotel since the ’80s and I’m here with my husband to celebrate our two-year wedding anniversary.
The entrance is extremely grand, a long driveway leading to the large and gorgeous house. The lobby area is dark, with plenty of dark wood and burgundy tones that befits its stately past. Ceilings are high but staff are so friendly that it is far from stuffy.
There are 38 of them, and each is named for an illustrious guest who has stayed here in the past: Prime Ministers, kings and more. Ours, a junior suite called Sutherland, has Asprey bath products, an amazing moulded ceiling, a beautiful working marble fireplace (porters will light it on demand) and a gold accented bed complete with canopy. There’s a handy iPad from which you can order room service and of course a Nespresso machine. It manages to be both delightfully opulent and cosy.
There’s a range of options when it comes to dining here. The main dining room is a formal affair where dinner and breakfast are served. Come evening time, there are white tablecloths, candles and delicious fresh sourdough. The room has amazing chandeliers, floor to ceiling curtains, gold mouldings and pale grey walls. With its smoked glass mirrors and comfortable pale velvet teal chairs it is quintessentially English and traditional, with a menu to match: venison, beef wellington, cheese soufflé, Dover sole served grilled or meunière. For pudding, there’s a wonderful salted caramel soufflé alongside options like blackberry mousse and dark chocolate tart. There’s the ubiquitous cheese trolley, and the far less ubiquitous but oh-so-fun sweetie trolley, with marshmallows, chocolate buttons and the like.
In the morning, you realise why all the chairs face outwards. The manicured grounds going down to the Thames are simply stunning to look at. The buffet is supplemented by a hearty menu of American pancakes, kedgeree, omelette Arnold Bennett and more.
More casual eating options are the spa kitchen – think salads and granola – and the Grill, where we have lunch. It has an equestrian theme, with horse statues, saddles on bar stools, window blinds depicting jockeys and cosy navy oversized banquettes. It’s warm and cosy and fare is hearty – fish and chips, burgers and steaks, salads and nibbly bits.
Cliveden Spa was refurbed in 2017 and has the first and only listed outdoor pool in Britain, aka the Profumo Pool, set within a pretty walled garden. There’s also an indoor pool, along with an outdoor jacuzzi , a shop stocking Heidi Klein, Oskia and Sarah Chapman, a gym and gorgeous treatments.
It’s home to Sarah Chapman’s first Skinesis Spa outside London and also has its own Cliveden Body Collection. Expect treatments like the Rose Garden Experience, ideal for emotionally and physically tired souls, and The Garden Oasis Purifying Experience, designed to stimulate the natural detoxifying process. Fragrances are inspired by two of Cliveden’s most famous ladies, Nancy Astor and Anna Maria.
There’s also Signature Nail Treatments, with own brand polish. The names and colours of the nail polishes reflect the history of the spa – think Madame Pompadour and Scandal.
The grounds here are rave-worthy. They’re truly stunning and also vast: like, 376 acres of National Trust land. This includes a sculpture garden, war memorial garden, a path that goes down to the Thames and heaps of stunning woodland to roam. Whatever you do, go for a walk.
Cliveden is just 45 minutes from London, but a world away. A truly excellent hotel, it delivers all you could want from a night (or two? or seven?) away. It has a sense of occasion, a sense of history, true beauty and is a wonderful place to spend time.
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Charlotte is a London girl through and through. She sweats through spin and puffs through Pilates to justify trying the latest restaurants and devouring copious amounts of sweet potato fries, burrata and bread – preferably on holiday. Her favourite destinations include Italy, the Maldives and anywhere where the sun’s shining and there’s a strong breakfast buffet. She’s obsessed with walking, visiting farmers’ markets and reading. She’s also learning to cook. Wish her (and her husband) luck.