Home Hotel reviewsCountry house hotels Historic hotel stay at Cliveden House hotel, Berkshire

Historic hotel stay at Cliveden House hotel, Berkshire

This five star luxury hotel has 376 acres of National Trust grounds and was the site of the Profumo scandal

by Sarah Bridge
cliveden house hotel

A stay at Cliveden

Throughout my stay at Cliveden House hotel, there was one question which I found almost impossible to answer. Would this luxury hotel in Berkshire be as memorable a hotel stay if it wasn’t, well, at Cliveden?

The thing about Cliveden, which is undoubtedly one of the best luxury hotels in the country, is that it is almost impossible to judge it on its own merits by separating it from its quite incredible past.

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Cliveden House hotel and bell tower

This is the first sight of Cliveden and its clock tower as you come up the lengthy driveway

The Great Hall with its portraits and grand fireplace is stunning, but it feels even more so because you know that some of the most accomplished people in recent history have discussed art and politics over cocktails exactly where you are sitting.

Would it seem as special if it were just a very nice luxury country house hotel in which Winston Churchill and Noel Coward hadn’t stayed, for example? And would its beautiful 376 acres of National Trust gardens and views of the River Thames still be as pretty if you weren’t thinking that Lady Astor had strolled these acres with George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin?

And would the hotel’s beautiful outdoor swimming pool in the walled garden still be quite as marvellous to swim in if it hadn’t sparked off the Profumo Affair? Now that it is even more famous as hotel where Meghan Markle stayed before she married Prince Harry, a whole new generation of celebrity fairy dust has been sprinkled over Cliveden.

Cliveden House gardens

Cliveden is set in 376 acres of countryside, including some impressive ornate gardens

Cliveden House spa and swimming pool

Cliveden’s pool would be a talking point in its own right, but it is particularly amazing to swim in because you know it is where John Profumo met Christine Keeler and precipitated a whole chain of events which scandalised the nation and eventually led to the fall of the Government.

swimming pool at Cliveden House spa

Yes, it’s THAT swimming pool…

The gardens and the drive leading up to the house are spectacular enough anyway without the backdrop of history to set them off, but there is a thrill which sparkles through the very air at Cliveden which makes a visit there seem far more than just a night away in a stately home.

Book Cliveden on Booking.com

Visit Cliveden on Tripadvisor

Arriving at Cliveden House

I arrived one balmy summer’s evening, tyres crunching up the gravel drive to the house where Sebastian the footman (I loved typing that) was waving me in. He kindly parked my yellow Fiat, which looked somewhat out of place in such a grand setting, and I was shown to my room, or more accurately, set of rooms. We had been given the £1,500-a-night Prince of Wales suite, named after Frederick, the eldest son of George II and it was, as you’d expect, incredibly grand.

Cliveden House Prince of Wales suite sign

Our personalised nameplate for the night

The Prince of Wales Suite at Cliveden

There was a huge entrance hall, in which a bottle of champagne was cheerfully chilling, a vast lounge with a spectacular view of the gardens, a bedroom ante-chamber, the bedroom itself and then a dark red bathroom decorated with intricate frescoes.

view of the gardens at Cliveden House

Our view of the stunning gardens from the £1,500-a-night Prince of Wales suite

There was an antique writing desk, a dozen oil paintings on the walls, a decanter of port next to the tea-making facilities, endless robes and fluffy towels and best of all, it actually felt like genuine, lived-in room in a country house, rather than a brand-new but rather soulless room in a posh hotel.

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As I walked around and around thinking that this really was the life, I switched the radio on and the song playing happened to be the theme tune to Brideshead Revisited. It seemed extremely appropriate.

lounge in the Prince of Wales suite at Cliveden House

The lounge in the Prince of Wales suite – it’s smart but cosy and relaxing at the same time

My mum was my plus one for the night, and she was practically speechless. I wasn’t much more eloquent, wandering around saying things like ‘Wow!’ and ‘Look at this!’ until I decided to open the champagne and really get settled into the good life.

bathroom in the Prince of Wales suite Cliveden

Our rather impressive bath in the rather impressive bathroom

Cliveden House history

Downstairs in the Great Hall we drank gin and tonics with Cliveden’s general manager Sue Williams (who has since gone to work her magic at the excellent Whatley Manor) and, surrounded by portraits and tapestries, discussed Cliveden’s amazing history.

It was built in 1666 by George Villiers, the Second Duke of Buckingham, and passed down the line before being sold by the Duke of Westminster in 1893 to William Waldorf Astor, a wealthy American who had decided to make England his home.

Cliveden at dusk

Cliveden at dusk

He later gave Cliveden to his son, the Second Viscount Astor, when he married Nancy Langhorne. It was thanks to Lady Astor and her love of gathering intellectuals and artists around her such as Lawrence of Arabia, Henry James, George Bernard Shaw, Amelia Earhart and the most notable politicians of the day such as Churchill and Macmillan that Cliveden became known for its parties and the Cliveden ‘set’.

 fireplace in the Great Hall at cliveden house hotel

The fireplace in the Great Hall with the John Singer Sargent portrait of Lady Astor in the far corner

From scandal to student digs

After the Profumo scandal which saw the Cliveden name dragged through the mud, the Astors decided it was time to depart. The house, which they had previously given to the National Trust on condition they could still live there, rather incongruously became on overseas campus for Stanford University, and students still return nowadays to check out their old digs.

In the late 1980s it was converted into a hotel and after several years languishing in obscurity, it was leased by property developers Ian and Richard Livingstone who have spent upwards of £20 million restoring it to its former glory.

servants' bells at cliveden

It’s all very Downton…the old servants’ bells, sadly no longer in use

After a quick tour of the house, including a newly-refurbished bust-lined hall, Lady Astor’s boudoir and the totally over-the-top French Dining Room based on Madame de Pompadour’s own, it was time for dinner in the terrace dining room. This is a light and airy long room overlooking the gardens – or parterre, as it is known – and has three chandeliers.

French dining room at Cliveden House hotel

Madame de Pompadour had a dining room very much like this one, apparently

guest dining room at Cliveden

This is the more restrained guest dining room at Cliveden – just the three chandeliers

Cliveden House restaurant

We started with the seared Isle of Skye scallops with pea shoot veloute, and crab with a basil bisque, coppa and melon, both of which were delicious.

The same applied to the main course of new season Devon lamb which came with lettuce, young garlic and an onion puree and boulangere potatoes, and it was all washed down by a very nice Portuguese red wine recommended by the sommelier. We finished off with mille-feuille with passion fruit, mango, fromage frais sorbet and I devoured most of the vast cheese board.

It was all rather sumptuous, but to be honest, sitting in Cliveden’s restaurant looking out onto acres of beautifully-kept National Trust gardens while the sun set over the Berkshire countryside, we could have eaten almost anything and been happy. There is something very calm and tranquil about Cliveden which makes you feel as if you have been transported back a century or two.

cliveden house wine

It had been rather a nice evening…

We finished the wine and some petit fours back in the Great Hall before retiring to our sumptuous suite, where we stayed up until 2am playing Scrabble, unwilling to waste our stay here on something as dull as sleeping.

The twin beds (there is usually a double there) were extremely comfortable, and I snoozed on till past eight. However my mother, too excited to sleep, was up and out at six, exploring the grounds and the rest of the house as I slept.

cliveden house gardens at dawn

The early-morning mist rolls down from Cliveden to the River Thames in the distance

Cliveden clock tower

Cliveden and its grounds look great from every angle

A morning swim in at Cliveden spa

I had just one plan for the morning – a swim in the pool. I was the only one in there and the refreshing dip in the morning sunshine was the perfect start to the day. Would it have been as good if it had been just any old pool? Probably – but the knowledge that I was swimming in one of the most famous pools in the country certainly gave it an edge. Cliveden spa has since been totally redesigned and even won best ‘new or back on the scene’ spa at the Conde Nast Johanssen awards so is going from strength to strength.

Cliveden spa swimming pool

I couldn’t resist an early-morning swim in the pool made famous by Christine Keeler

After breakfast back in the main restaurant, there was time just for a stroll across the terrace and around the grounds where the National Trust member were already roaming, and then, extremely reluctantly, we said farewell.

Cliveden in the sunshine

A reluctant farewell to a remarkable hotel

Hotel information and to book Cliveden House hotel

Cliveden House Hotel, Clivedon Road, Taplow, Berkshire SL6 0JF

Book Cliveden on Booking.com

Visit Cliveden on Tripadvisor

Cliveden is part the luxury hotel group Iconic Luxury Hotels. Check out my reviews of other Iconic Luxury Hotels Chewton Glen – luxury from spa to treehouse; Luxury in the Cotswolds at Lygon Arms, Broadway; A central London stay at The Mayfair Townhouse

Other hotels with top spas include: Whatley Manor hotel and spa; Pennyhill Park: a luxury Surrey hotel; Lucknam Park luxury hotel near Bath; A West Sussex spa hotel stay at South Lodge

If you like reading reviews of luxury hotels then you’ll also love these luxury hotels in London: A relaxing spa break at the Corinthia Hotel; A lion-sized bite of luxury at One Aldwych; A five-star slice of luxury at The Stafford hotel

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