If you’re a fan of English history and fancy a mini-break to fulfil aristocratic aspirations, then look no further than Cliveden House in Berkshire.
Overlooking the Thames River before it rolls into London, the original Cliveden House was built in 1666 by the Duke of Buckingham – although it has burnt down twice since then. It was much later, at the very beginning of the 20thcentury however, when the American-born Nancy Langhorne became the home’s most famous resident.
It was at the house where Nancy married Viscount Astor, whose father had bought the property in 1893. Nancy would go on to become the first woman to take a seat in the House of Commons in 1919, and entertained guests such as Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Henry James and President Roosevelt at Cliveden.
The Astor family donated the house to National Trust in 1942 but remained residents until 1969 when it became part of an American university campus. It was during the interim years that the Profumo Affair was kick-started by someone spotting a topless showgirl in Cliveden’s garden (you can even buy a DVD about it in the gift shop).
The house as it stands now is one of the finest five star hotels in the country. Still steeped in history, its most famous recent guest was Meghan Markle, who stayed here with her mother the night before her wedding to Prince Harry.
Arriving through the parkland, past the picnicking day trippers, you feel the sense of history that weighs down on the surroundings – but upon entering the hotel you’re made to feel every bit as important as each historic visitor.
Inside the 38 bedrooms are crammed with priceless antiques and the wood-panelled walls are covered in oil paintings that feel like they’ve been hanging there for centuries. It is plush without being stuffy, and very Farrow & Ball.
There is also Spring Cottage, a small house in the ground which guests can stay in while admiring the ducks swimming past on the riverbank. This was Queen Victoria’s residence once – yet another royal seal of approval. The best bit is the complete privacy – it can be self-catering, or you can have a chef to come and prepare your meals.
And with such history at Cliveden it is little surprise that the warm and friendly staff love to tell you about the house’s history, whether it is Lord Astor’s secret whisky cabinet, or how, more recently, Cliveden was the star of its own Channel 4 series which documented the great and the good descending on the property for lavish affairs.
The hotel also has a brilliant spa, with an indoor pool surrounded by columns and a outdoor pool bordered with lavender beds and hot tubs. The treatment rooms are equally as pretty, and everything from facials to massages are on offer for ultimate pampering.
For drink, there is a bar with an impressive selection of whiskies, and one of the most extensive wine cellars in the country (with bottles costing upwards of four thousand pounds).
And for food, guests can enjoy a casual lunch in the Astor Grill, serving up British classics with a hearty sense of un-pretentiousness, or the chandelier-lit Cliveden Dining Room, which serves a menu inspired by seasonal locally sourced food and offers dishes such as beef wellington or wild halibut. It’s fine dining at its finest.
But – the best bit about Cliveden for this writer – is how dog friendly it is. That doesn’t just mean they’re tolerated, but they're encouraged. Four-legged friends are given their own beds, with bowls and leads, welcomed in the bar, and in the restaurant they can chose from a range of freshly prepared dishes on the hotel’s very own doggy menu. If it is good enough for centuries of British royalty, then it is good enough for mans' best friend.
Words by Toby Mellors