A grand Gothic getaway on the most noble waterway in the land, Oakley Court may be set in a historic building, but the stuffiness stays at the door. Instead, guests are invited to treat this stately pile as their own – choosing the vinyl for the record player, taking tea wherever one pleases and drinking at any time desired. The riverside has its own micro Soho House, with an ice-rink every winter, mini marquees by the water and heaters to ensure no amusement is curtailed by the temperature. And just in case that doesn’t sound fun enough: in the summer months you'll find a Jeremy Deller-designed bouncy castle the size and shape of Stonehenge (yes, really). The Druids would be proud.
11am, but flexible for an hour (longer for a fee), subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £295.00, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates don’t usually include breakfast.
The River House is a collaboration with Soho House, which means Dirty Burgers and Picante beverages have made it to Berkshire, along with the proudest moment in the owner’s art collection: a life-size Stonehenge in bouncy-castle form by Jeremy Deller, open in the summer months.
The River House closes during the colder months, but a winter alternative is currently in the works.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, record-players in the lounges, seasonal ice-rink, tennis courts, gym, bicycles to borrow, fitness classes, sculpture garden, Stonehenge-shaped bouncy castle (summer only). In rooms: Roberts radio, Smeg kettle, Nespresso coffee machine, smart Sky TV with casting, Cowshed bath products, cocktail station, and minibar with free snacks and soft drinks.
Our favourite rooms
The cheery Boathouse rooms have a perky pink and green palette, but it has to be private quarters in the Gothic Mansion House, for bigger-than-emperor-size beds and sunken bathrooms in the tower itself (Rapunzel-ready room 114), gentlemen’s-club-worthy wood-panelling (room 103) and an enormous green chandelier (room 102).
There’s a heated pool in the spa and gym outhouse, with an outdoor one due for summer 2022. Swimming hours are 7am to 8pm.
The wellness area currently includes two types of sauna (one infrared), a steam room and a Jacuzzi – but a full spa out in the grounds will be up and running by next summer.
Books to read beside one of the many fireplaces, sensible shoes for treading the Thames Path, a boat to berth at Bray Marina and vinyl records for any aspiring DJs to soundtrack everyone’s evening.
The ground-floor lounges, dining areas and bars are accessible, and there are some rooms adapted for disabled guests in the outbuilding that houses the gym and pool.
Dogs are very welcome at the hotel – all of the bedrooms, grounds and dining areas are pet-friendly except the Parlour. For £25 a night attendant canines are treated to a package that includes a bed and treats. See more pet-friendly hotels in Windsor.
All ages are welcome, and there’s lots to keep little Smiths happy, including entertainers at the River House at weekends and (in the summer) a to-scale inflatable version of Stonehenge.
Babies and up.
The Boathouse Large Rooms are a family-friendly option, and connecting rooms are possible in both the Mansion House and Boathouse Wing. Extra beds can be added to all rooms at no extra cost.
Entertainers from Storystockcircus pitch up at the River House to keep kids happy most weekends, and the inflatable Stonehenge-shaped bouncy castle is not just for children.
Both of the restaurants and the room-service menu have children-friendly options.
The hotel is taking steps to reduce its use of plastic, water and energy, as well as waste – and local suppliers are used for as much of the produce as possible. There’s a walled garden in the grounds supplying the kitchen, too.
There are too many cosy corners to choose from (and six fireside seats to shotgun).
To the manor born. In a turn of events for the usually dapper gentry, no suits are allowed at the River House (nor fun-obstructing laptops).
The hotel operates more like a house, with food available whenever and wherever you want it – guests can take their pick from cosy lounges with fireplaces and low sofas, cushion-scattered, Moroccan-style tents and riverside marquees at the water’s edge, and the closest-thing-to-formal the Parlour. The all-day menu includes pistachio, pesto and mortadella pizzas, toasties and salads, with the brief but delicious dinner menu featuring dishes such as grilled squid with ink risotto and chilli, bream and beetroot, and steak with truffle mash and oyster mushrooms. Breakfast begins in the way all mornings should (especially those of the hungover variety): first things first, the waiter takes your probably elaborate drinks order (coffee, juice, water, smoothie, soda…). Choose from porridge with estate honey, avocado on seeded bread and kale from the garden with poached eggs.
There’s a wood-panelled bar in the main house that’s open around the clock and another down on the waterfront that calls time at 11pm.
Official (but flexible) breakfast hours are 7am to 11am. An all-day menu is available between 11am and 10pm, with the set dinner menu served from 6pm until 10pm. Afternoon tea is from noon to 4pm.
Hot meals can be delivered to your room from breakfast until 10pm, after which point it’s cold snacks only.
This Gothic getaway is on the banks of the river Thames, between Bray and Windsor in the Berkshire countryside.
London Heathrow is the closest airport, a 20-minute drive away. The hotel can arrange transfers on request.
There are many options for arriving by rail, including the line between London Waterloo and Windsor & Eton Riverside. Guests can also arrive at the stations in Slough (to which there are 13-minute services from London Paddington) and Maidenhead. Transfers from any of these stations cost between £10 and £15.
Wheels will come in handy for exploring the bucolic Berkshire surroundings, not least for getting to the fine-dining enclave of Bray with ease. Windsor is just over 10 minutes away by car. There are five car parks at the hotel, and parking is free.
Worth getting out of bed for
The river-front setting requires at least one attempt to tackle the Thames Path – you’ll pass Bray Studios (where David Bowie and co rehearsed for Freddie Mercury’s memorial concert in 1992), Eton College’s sporting lake and, eventually, reach Windsor Castle. The full route to the Queen’s favourite fortress will take around two hours, or guests can borrow one of the bicycles lined up outside for a quicker trip (45 minutes).
Bray may be a village, but it crams in an unreasonable amount of world-famous, super-fine-dining restaurants, including Alain Roux’s The Waterside Inn, Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and Tom Kerridge’s The Hand and Flowers. For something more casual, head into Windsor, where every cuisine imaginable is served somewhere.
Country rambles get rewarded with a Great British pub at The Greene Oak, a mile away, where it’s Christmas every Sunday (the roasts are served with pigs in blankets whatever week it is).
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this historic hotel in Berkshire and unpacked their Barbours and breeches, a full account of their riverside break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Oakley Court in Windsor…
Holding court on the banks of the Thames since 1859, this stately stay has arrived in the 21st century with a little help from the Eagle & Hodges design studio. Soho House may have beach houses and farmhouses all over the world, but this is its first honorary river house – the hotel’s 35 acres include a collaboration with everyone’s favourite members’ club in the shape of a river-edge deck with a tent and heated mini marquees for drinks until dark. In winter, the area is glazed over into an ice-rink and pop-up stalls instead. The grounds are set to soon feature a spa, outdoor pool, sculpture garden and Jeremy Deller’s Sacrilege: an inflatable life-size version of Stonehenge for kids (and adults) to jump on. Inside, the grand Gothic house is yours to treat as your own: there are six fireplaces in the various residents-only sitting areas, a 24-hour bar and record players where you get to choose the vinyl. And you’ll be greeted with just-baked cookies in brown paper bags, free snacks and soft drinks in your hamper and minibar, and fresh milk (no terrible UHT pods) in the fridge just to make sure you really feel at home.