If walls could speak, we would be on the edge of our seats to hear the scurrilous secrets buried in the brickwork of Cliveden.
For 350 years this iconic stately home has played a pivotal role in British history: it has housed an earl, three countesses and two dukes, a prince and the Viscounts Astor and, today, its legacy lives on as one of the world’s finest luxury hotels. Nestled deep in the heart of the Berkshire countryside, surrounded by 376 acres of National Trust gardens and woodland, this Grade I listed estate has a truly captivating past, peppered with unapologetic debauchery and scandal, and more than one real love story.
There have been duels (fought to the death), two devastating fires, 55-carat diamonds… but it was the Profumo affair that threw Cliveden in to national prominence: the rumoured 19-year-old mistress of a suspected Russian spy and an up-and-coming Conservative Secretary of State for War, married to a well-known actress – you simply could not make it up.
Centuries of lavish parties have been frequented by the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Lawrence of Arabia, Kipling… the list is exhaustive. In short everyone who is anyone, from literary stars and thespians to politicians and royals.
Today, following a meticulous four-year restoration project, Cliveden has been returned to its former glory. Each of the 47 guestrooms and suites (all named after characters in its history) have been brought back to glorious life – not an easy task considering the demands of such a heritage project.
The elements were all there, of course – the high oak-panelled ceilings, the majestic fireplace in the Great Hall and Nancy Astor, forever glancing over her shoulder in John Singer Sargent’s portrait, not to mention a divine series of tapestries that dominate the entrance hall (given to the Earl of Orkney by the Duke of Marlborough for his services at the Battle of Blenheim). All in all, a quietly grand scheme that has united past and present, with subtle twists.
The first thing that greets visitors at the end of the long gravel drive is the Fountain of Love, carved from marble and volcanic rock. This suitably dramatic, 19th-century love token was given to Lady Astor by the first Lord Astor, and features a large Carrara marble shell, supporting three life-sized female nudes, attended by Cupid.
On arrival, guests can choose to mosey down the Thames on one of Cliveden’s vintage launches, navigating the exact stretch of river where children’s classic The Wind in the Willows was penned. No doubt author Kenneth Grahame had Cliveden in mind when he conceived the grandeur of Toad Hall. The formal parterre gardens would be next on our list, followed by the vast maze, with its 1,100 yew trees.
Or, perhaps, an eye-opening Butler’s Tour to explore the winding corridors of the house and learn its darkest secrets. For somewhere to hide there is Spring Cottage, ‘a peach of a place, ripe for clandestine weekends,’ according to Sophie Dahl. This haven of pastoral bliss on the banks of the river – originally built as a summerhouse for Queen Victoria – is the perfect romantic retreat.
Cliveden has long been associated with exceptional dinner parties and these days are no different. André Garrett at Cliveden has been voted among the Top 20 UK restaurants by the Waitrose Good Food Guide and the Square Meal Guide. Placing significant emphasis on the provenance of his English ingredients, he is a culinary genius reworking long-forgotten classics, as well as adding a number of his own signature creations.
The newly opened Astor Grill provides an informal dining room based in the former Duke of Westminster’s stables and with the reopening, following the total restoration of the delightful garden spa at Cliveden, whose outdoor pool caused such a stir in the 1960s, the scene is complete for the next chapter of Cliveden’s colourful history.
Yet to be written but one thing is for sure, its refined decadence will make for a memorable background whatever the storyline. ‘Create your own moment in history at Cliveden,’ they tell us. We can only hope to live up to the legacy of its previous occupants
CLIVEDEN HOUSE TAPLOW, BERKSHIRE SL6 0JF +44 (0)1628 668561