Ever since John Profumo first laid eyes on Christine Keeler as she basked in Cliveden’s pool, it’s been clear that this Berkshire boutique hotel was destined to be a Mr & Mrs Smith retreat of choice. As well as being a celebrated haunt for politicos and literati, this majestic neoclassical manor, with its air of not-so-faded grandeur, has had decadence, scandal and intrigue bound up in its walls since the day it was built – to house the Duke of Buckingham’s mistress, no less.
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A half-bottle of champagne and a box of chocolates a stay
47 rooms, including 15 spacious suites. There’s also Spring Cottage, a freestanding summerhouse by the Thames that sleeps up to six.
11am. Later check-out is possible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £535.01, including tax at 12.5 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional room tax of £14.75 per person on check-out.
Breakfast is not usually included in room rates. An £18 National Trust donation a person (£6 per child) must be paid at check-out. For non-guests a donation of £7 at lunch or £2 at dinner is charged.
Take a pleasure trip by river – Cliveden has a flotilla of boats. Cliveden has its own three-bedroom riverside guesthouse, Spring Cottage, where you can request a butler to see to your whims for an extra charge. This holiday house also has history: Profumo and friends frolicked here in the run-up to the huge political scandal in the Sixties.
At the hotel
Pavilion spa, state-of-the-art Technogym gym, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, squash courts, boathouse with two boats, helipad, library, DVD/CD selection. In-room amenities: TV, DVD/CD player, roll-top baths, under-floor heating.
Our favourite rooms
Each one of Cliveden’s rooms – named after the illustrious personalities who have been part of the manor’s checkered history – has something uniquely appealing about it. But if forced to pick favourites, the Henry James suite, with its 10-mile view of rolling countryside from its marble bath tub, the Sutherland room with its palette of soft pastels and its astonishingly ornate chimneypiece, and the Chinese room, which is light, airy and impeccably styled in light golds, are all pretty special. Ask for a suite in the main house, overlooking the gardens, rather than rooms on the ground floor, which are located by the car park.
The Pavilion Spa boasts a heated indoor pool surrounded by loungers. The walled garden – the amorous arbour that kick-started the Profumo affair – is home to the heated outdoor pool, where waiters serve drinks and snacks to reclining guests.
Set in the rose- and lavender-filled gardens, the large, luxurious spa has both a heated indoor and an outdoor pool, a sauna, an aromatherapy steam room, an indoor Jacuzzi, outdoor hot tubs, seven treatment rooms all with water mattresses, and a manicure, pedicure and hair dressing studio. Take your pick of OSKIA's nutritional facials and beauty guru, Sarah Chapman's 'Skinesis' facial treatments; or try one of the hotel's own unique body therapies, which use Cliveden's own brand of body products to relax and rejuvenate. All therapies begin with a foot-bathing ritual while your therapist works out your particular needs. There's also a spa restaurant, should you get peckish between pampering sessions.
Brush up on your Great Brit literature and bring something by George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling or Joyce Grenfell: they all spent time at Cliveden. On a more prosaic note, bring tipping change in case your car is given a clean.
Pets are welcome in some Juniour Suites, most deluxe Doubles, and all Classic and Club rooms (but none with hot tubs) for £35 a night. Welcome treats and a dog bed will be provided, and a special meal from the chef's doggy menu can be served in-room. See more pet-friendly hotels in Berkshire.
Some rooms sleep up to two kids; under-sixes stay for free and six to 16 year-olds for £20 a night, plus breakfast. Babysitting is £8 an hour (£10 an hour after midnight), with a booking fee of £30 plus VAT. There's a kids' menu in the restaurant too.
Extra beds can brought into rooms for £60 a night, plus VAT, and children are welcome throughout the hotel. Babysitting can be arranged for £8 an hour (£10 an hour after midnight), with a booking fee of £30 plus VAT.
Babies and up - children of all ages welcomed and catered for.
A number of rooms and suites fit an extra bed or have a double sofabed; under-sixes stay free, six to 16 year-olds stay for £20 a night, plus breakfast. Spring Cottage sleeps up to six and the private butler will organise children's activities.
Cliveden's large gardens are owned by the National Trust and are beautifully maintained (look out for the famous Tortoise Fountain) and an ideal environment for playing hide and seek. Children are welcome to use the indoor and outdoor tennis courts. Staff can arrange helicopter rides for Little Lord Fauntleroys, or a drive in a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Children are welcome in the indoor and outdoor pools, from 9am to 10.pm and from 4pm to 5.30pm, with a parent; in July and August, children are welcome in the outdoor pool all day.
Children are allowed in the restaurant at all times. There's a kids' menu, serving staples like lasagne, spaghetti bolognese and home-made chicken nuggets (from around £7.50).
Babysitting can be arranged from £12.50 an hour. Please give at least 24 hours' notice.
No need to pack
There are DVD players in every room, and lots of child-friendly DVDs to borrow. Ask at reception to borrow a selection of toys and board games.
There are plenty of high chairs available in the restaurant.
Grab a table beside the Cliveden Dining Room’s French windows, for the stunning views of the parterre.
A dapper ensemble for Mr Smith; something suitably decadent for his mistress. Leave your jeans at home.
The chandeliered, portrait-lined Cliveden Dining Room serves up a seasonally changing menu of elevated local fare. Mains include dishes such as wild roe deer with salt-baked beetroot, acorn squash gnocchi and Cornish turbot with artichokes; there’s also an evening tasting menu for those with decision fatigue. And for dessert? Decadent Maracaibo chocolate parfaits and velvety cheesecakes, of course. A less-formal gastropub-style menu is overseen by the head chef in The Astor Grill – a more casual yet cosmopolitan eatery (formerly Lord Astor's stable block). Dishes such as grilled sea bream with haricot beans and the cheese-topped Astor Burger with Monterey Jack, house relish and spiced slaw hail from both sides of the Atlantic, much like the aristocratic family.
Classical piano music adds a sparkle to the atmosphere in the Great Hall three nights a week, where guests sup signature Cliveden champagne cocktails and marvel at the majestic staircase, imposing fireplace and delightfully vintage furnishings.
Both restaurants take last orders at 9.30pm, but there is some flexibility for hotel guests. Drinks and snacks are available 24 hours a day.
Full meals are available from 10am to 10pm and a snack menu can be served in-rooms throughout the night.
Land at London Heathrow and you'll be a 20-minute drive from Cliveden House. Gatwick's a little further (it should take 50 minutes).
The nearest station is Burnham, around four miles away. Trains from London Paddington take 30 minutes.
To get to the hotel on wheels, you’ll need to leave the M40 at Junction 2 and the M4 at Junction 7. From central London, the drive should take 40 minutes. From Maidenhead, take the A4 towards Slough.
Worth getting out of bed for
There are plenty of leisurely pursuits onsite: a soothing spin through the spa, a spot of tennis or squash, boats to borrow for a row along picturesque Cliveden Reach. The secluded pool (where the Profumo affair played out) is ideal for lazy summer afternoons and the magnificent grounds go on and on. Or curl up in one of the library’s squashy sofas – perhaps with something leather-bound by Rudyard Kipling or Henry James, who were both close with former owner Viscount Waldorf Astor.
Cliveden is enviably close to the foodie village of Bray, home to the legendary Heston Blumenthal eatery the Fat Duck, where theatrical mutli-course meals include famed oddities such as snail porridge and hot/iced tea. The Hind's Head is Heston's more traditional gastropub, where Earl Grey-tea-smoked salmon and oxtail and kidney pudding can be enjoyed in 15th-century surrounds. The Roux brothers whip up fine French fare at The Waterside Inn, which you'll find at the end of a pretty lane, and L'Ortolan's elegant Gallic menus are worth a slightly further drive.
‘Follow the drive, past the water feature and we you can’t miss it,’ the National Trust gatekeeper tells us soon after we’ve turned off the Taplow Road and down brochure-pretty Berkshire country lanes. He isn’t kidding. A baby-faced angel rescuing a semi-naked stone dame is a fitting welcome to the ultimate country house hotel. The long, wide drive allows the view to sink in slowly and the horseshoe-shaped Italianate mansion at its end is breathtakingly beautiful, way beyond grand. Frankly, we are no longer Mr and Mrs Smith; we’ve just been made Lord and Lady.
An immaculately dressed footman with a suitably sophisticated French lilt waves us to a stop, and asks for the keys. Oh dear! Why hadn’t Monty the 10-year-old Saab been cleaned? Why had Mrs Smith spilled half a packet of crisps all over the centre console? And why-oh-why, was he parking it between two Aston Martins? We were both mildly horrified. Another polite man in a constricting eight-piece suit carries our bags and ushers us through the oak-panelled luxury of the great hall, past the three suits of armour and up the roomy staircase. Huge 18th-century portraits stare down at us, a Who’s Who of Anglo-American history, and I can’t help but think of the talking artworks in Harry Potter. I’m sure I can hear an oil-painting long-forgotten princess tut-tutting as we ascend.
Our calligraphied name has been added to the little brass holder on the door of the Gibson Superior Double Deluxe. And this is mid-range, apparently. With views back down the drive to the Fountain of Love water feature and to our left, the kind of clock tower that has graced many a silver screen. It’s reminiscent of a lifestyle once enjoyed by the Astors and now not many other than the Windsors or Wales, or whatever their surname is. Old-fashioned opulent English luxury in that chintz-and-blue-china-plates-on-the-wall way. Sotheby’s would have a field day. There is even an old writing desk where I can pen my review, and a make-up table for Mrs Smith, who has just thrown herself squealing onto the four-poster bed. (Later she is bitterly disappointed that the curtains are just for show and don’t actually close.) Elgar, naturally, is emanating from somewhere, and after inspection we discover it’s not from the walk-in wardrobe but from the modern radio in an antique console, now a tasteful 21st-century entertainment cabinet.
I pop down a level and sneak out onto a terrace for a crafty smoke. Terribly vulgar I know, but think of it as a tribute to Sir Winston, Cliveden’s most famous former resident. Palace of Versailles meets ‘The Draughtsman’s Contract’ in the palatial, manicured and staggeringly magnificent 376 acres of grounds. Beyond the trees lies the River Thames. It couldn’t be any more peaceful. The orange lights of London in the distance and the jumbo jets circling Heathrow don’t even taint the view, rather reinforce the fact that so close to the city, this is a haven, a retreat from the chaos. It’s a million miles away from the Capital and at least a hundred years apart.
After a night’s slumber, we realise how well we slept in that big, dark room. To try and revive ourselves, and make the most for this new taste we’ve acquired for how the other half live, we order a decadent fresh truffle and chive omelette then, more spoilingly, head for the Pavilion Spa. I recognise the outdoor pool as being the legendary scene of the start of the Profumo affair; namely thanks to having seen the film ‘Scandal’ rather than having been a fly-on-the-wall at Sixties’ soirées. Well, if you are going to muck about, you might as well do it in style. The spa and my deep-tissue sports massage are a fantastic pick-me-up – only I was disappointed not to spot any Christine Keeler types splashing about in the plunge pool. Mind you, they’d have be part Eskimo to survive its temperature.
Refreshed and virtuous we explore the grounds. Mrs Smith is determined to find the grotto, which Mrs Smith spies plotted on a map in the gardens, but hidden in reality. We see a chap having a beer in the sun with the papers and my own treasure hunt reaches completion. It’s the private members club and I ask the waitress if we can luncheon here. Not only is the answer resoundingly to the affirmative, but there is some mirth as the kindly waitress even asks if we’d like our veggie burgers rare or medium.
Pre-prandial ablutions beckon and we discover that as a salute to its cheeky Profumo-party heritage, the bubble bath fits two easily. And at a squint I can even make out the statue spot-lit at the end of the drive. Sure, if I were to nitpick I might mention that the yellow paint just above the bath is mottled and chipping but that just adds to the charm of this country house hotel steeped in history, doesn’t it?
Having heard less-than-glowing reports about the award-winning, but pretentious Compleat Angler in Marlow, we decide to stay put at Cliveden and plump for dinner at the garden-view-augmented Terrace Restaurant. As a vegetarian, I understand why most great chefs scoff meat – it’s hard to do gourmet fine dining with root crops alone (and even tougher to charge the same price for Broccoli Tart as Oven Roasted Noisette of Balmoral Estate Venison) – but I admire their determination. We retreat to the sumptuous grand hall in front of the fire, which has been besieged by a raucous wedding party. This stately home certainly makes for good people-watching with a whisky in hand.
Sunday morning comes around too quickly and we pack up our bags in near silence and head out for one last walk through an undiscovered part of this National Trust property’s grounds. Down the 170 steps to the idyllic bend in the Thames, rowing boats are for hire, as is the cottage where the disgraced politician used to stay. On our way back through the crispy Autumn woods we try to find the blessed grotto and fail again.
This standard and quality of living should be savoured by anyone lucky enough to be able to book such a special luxury hotel – even if only for 48 hours. Cliveden House is a place to fall head over heels not just with the wife or mistress, but back in love with life. We watch the vast historical house vanish in our rear-view mirror, and soon we are back on the busy road towards the M4. The music swells, the credits roll, it starts to rain and my windscreen wipers have stopped working. Not quite the Hollywood ending we'd hoped for.