Cliveden House, a wicked tale!

The former home of several Dukes, a Prince of Wales and Nancy Astor, now owned by the British National Trust, Cliveden is one of Britain’s grandest hotels in Buckinghamshire. Located in the heart of the English countryside, Cliveden is a luxury country house. The Italianate mansion isn’t the only draw, the grounds surrounding the estate feature manicured lawns and gardens, picturesque gazebos, and classic sculptures. The mansion was built in 1666 by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham and is decorated with antique furniture and period features. Sitting on 376 acres of National Trust grounds, means it is protected. Cliveden House has played host to every British monarch since George I and has been home to three Dukes, an Earl and Frederick Prince of Wales.

Royalty and politicians have cast their spell at this historic manor house. It was at Cliveden that infamous British politician, John Profumo, first laid eyes on Christine Keeler as she luxuriated in the garden pool on a sultry summer evening, the infamous phrase ‘the glance across the pool’ began the scandalous affair that almost toppled the government.
With a history of unapologetic naughtiness, the grand home was built by the Duke of Buckingham’s mistress, the Countess of Shrewsbury. Successive owners sculpted the gardens and landscape, sparing no expense to create a magnificent summer sanctuary.

Cliveden House indoor pool

The current house owes its elegant architecture to Sir Charles Barry, famous for designing the Palace of Westminster. One can imagine with such history, the reputation for finery is upheld in its current reign as a five-star hotel property. Below the balustrade roofline is an etched Latin inscription which continues around the four sides of the house and recalls its history; it was composed by the then prime minister William Ewart Gladstone. On the west front it reads: POSITA INGENIO OPERA CONSILIO CAROLI BARRY ARCHIT A MDCCCLI, which translated reads: “The work accomplished by the brilliant plan of architect Charles Barry in 1851.”

Cliveden House – afternoon tea.

Each one of Cliveden’s 38 rooms and 15 suites – cheekily named after the celebrated characters who have been part of the manor’s checkered history, has a reference adding intrigue and extraordinary charm. Suites furnished in authentic period furnishings are unusually spacious, room to laze and gaze. I loved my Winchester Suite in the main house, overlooking miles of manicured gardens and the spectacular view over the Parterre, all the way to the Thames. A grand corner room, with a cozy dressing room and sumptuous bath. Rooms are located in the main house or in two buildings to each side of the main home. I prefer a suite in the three-story mansion, but all rooms are exceptional. There’s also a freestanding summerhouse, Spring Cottage, by the Thames that sleeps up to six.

My oh so sweet suite! Cliveden House

My arrival was enhanced by the site of an elderly British gent ‘resting’ on a comfy overstuffed sofa, balancing a dainty teacup, cravat properly tucked. He could have been a left-over guest from times past. The grandeur of the foyer is the perfect spot for an after dinner prandial or mid-day cup of tea, whatever your fancy. Do sit and absorb the history and priceless antiques and paintings in this sumptuous space. The ceiling and walls are paneled in English oak, with Corinthian columns and swags of carved flowers for decoration, all by architect Frank Pearson. The staircase newel posts are ornamented with carved figures representing previous owners (e.g. Buckingham and Orkney) by W.S. Frith. Astor installed a large 16th-century fireplace, bought from a Burgundian chateau which was being pulled down. To the left of the fireplace is a portrait of Nancy, Lady Astor by the American portraitist John Singer Sargent. The room is furnished with 18th-century tapestries and invaluable suits of armor. Above the staircase is a painted ceiling by French artist Auguste Hervieu which depicts the Sutherlands’ children painted as the four seasons. Take your time wandering as there is something to gaze at in every nook and corner on every floor.

Cliveden House calling bells for staff

There are morning rooms, private dining rooms, a small office with a concealed panel for Mr. Astor’s gin and downstairs discover the wine room accentuated by a massive brick column and vaulted brick ceiling. An intimate underground cave, the Cellar Dining Room is perfect for a more informal setting. Its brick walls, mighty pillars and vaulted ceilings highlight its stake in history. It was once Lord Astor’s private wine cellar, making it ideal for wine tasting. It has been lovingly restored, remaining an unusual and atmospheric function room for smaller parties and private gatherings. 

Suite at Cliveden House

Hidden behind the brick walls of the garden and enveloped in tumbling scented roses and lavender, you will discover a tranquil oasis in the Cliveden Spa, where the glance across the pool defined history. The spa, which is a recent addition to the property is stunning. Enjoy seven treatment rooms along with The Studio for the perfect pampering afternoon. Relax poolside, with two choices in comfy loungers by the sublime heated indoor pool or wander into the garden to sunbathe at the last remaining listed outdoor pool in England.  State-of-the-art Technogym, infrared sauna and infused steam room, two outdoor hot tubs, Jacuzzi, a fitness studio with a daily class schedule, Tennis center including 1 indoor, 2 outdoor tennis courts, and nail spa. One could spend several indulgent days, traipsing from pool to spa treatments, and smashing balls on the clay. Peckish while pampering? Petite spa restaurant within the spa, mosey over in your bathrobe and spend a decadent day. Ghosts linger, I’m certain.

Lord Astor’s private wine cellar, Cliveden House

Cliveden has always been at the center of political and social life. However, it was while Nancy and Waldorf Astor lived here during the first half of the twentieth century that Cliveden became famous for its lavish hospitality and glamorous guests. The Astor’s entertained a diverse mix of people from Lloyd George and Winston Churchill to George Bernard Shaw, Ghandi and Henry Ford. Imagine the stories the staff could share.

Several gardens overlook the River Thames, including the Japanese Water Garden, the six-acre Parterre garden, and the Rose Garden, in which 900 roses bloom during the summer. In the Cliveden Boathouse on the River Thames, you will find a lovingly restored flotilla of vintage wooden launches. Picture book images for one of the most luxurious boat trips on one of the most beautiful stretches of the Thames imaginable. Pack your straw boater, staff can curate multiple decadent Journeys – pop the champers while cruising to Henley, sail down the lazy river indulging in a luxurious picnic or nibble on creamy butter biscuits in a glorious afternoon tea party – all require little effort and result in sheer pleasure.

The library shelves are stocked with great titles from many authors who have graced the halls and suites: George Bernard Shaw and Rudyard Kipling; amble downstairs to the halls containing black and white photos of the varied guests including Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill. Lady Astor collected celebrities as one might collect priceless paintings.

Cliveden House Screening Room

The bedrooms and suites are beautifully furnished with walls festooned in luxurious coverings and classic art; creature comforts include comfy velvet sofas, and one of the most heavenly cloud-like beds I’ve ever fallen into! Bathrooms are fabulously large, trimmed in cool white marble and offer massive soaking tubs.

Walk the hills, float down the river, but do leave room for a delectable dinner. Mosey downstairs to the grand foyer for a tipple and absorb the history. I recommend reading The Mistresses of Cliveden: Three Centuries of Scandal, Power and Intrigue, before arriving – the walls may whisper.

Cliveden House garden
Cliveden House The French Dining Room

I could easily stay a week, if you can’t linger, do add on a night or two before boarding the long flight across the pond. Fit for Royalty, be you a royal or a commoner, I guarantee you will swoon.

Staycation Rancho Valencia Resort – For Serious Consideration

Who knew such an indulgence existed, just an hour flight away and a few miles from the surf and sandy beach?  But why leave when you have the amenities of a Forbes Five Star Resort? Clients have raved about Rancho Valencia Resort, I needed to mosey down the sunny coast and see for myself. In the cozy hamlet of Rancho Santa Fe, exactly 32 minutes from the San Diego airport, Rancho Valencia is tucked into a canyon on 40 manicured acres of gentle undulating hills, citrus trees and tropical jungle landscaping.

Rancho Valencia Resort

Small by most resort standards, with 49 authentic casitas, my suite had over 1300 square feet plus an enchanting walled courtyard accented by bougainvillea vines and fragrant hibiscus, a plunge pool and puebla style fireplace. A true sense of authentic style radiates throughout the resort. Although La Jolla and Del Mar are minutes away, there is no reason to leave unless you are like me and must stroll a beach if one is nearby. Lunch at the beach, a sandy saunter, toes dipped into the warm Pacific and scoot back to the spa and secluded terrace.

Imagine afternoons of sunbathing, hours of quiet catching up, ripe figs and chilled cocktails, and of course noshing on the Southern California favorite, guacamole or creamy avocado any way you desire. Fresh squeezed OJ at the door served with your morning papers? Include a carafe of coffee and wake up in perfect harmony with the sunrise. Butlers won’t ring or buzz, a stealth buggy delivers all to your snug hacienda suite.

Although we saw many cars around the property, we rarely saw any other guests. Seclusion is guaranteed, especially beneficial when delectable afternoon naps seem the norm. Suites are tastefully decorated with handcrafted Mexican furnishings, puebla style fireplaces, brightly colored pavers and tiles. Many of the suites can be connected to create two-bedroom casitas. However, there are also a couple of 3-bedroom Villas on property with outdoor terraces, your own private compound with private Villa pool and clubhouse. Among the room and Villa options, there is also a private three-bedroom, 5000 square foot adobe style hacienda with full kitchen, garden and pool.

Fountains and fireplaces abound in the public areas, providing soothing sounds of trickling water and warm comfy spots for pre-dinner prandials. Post nap, do wander the lush grounds overgrown with flowering shrubs, olive trees and in spring, the intoxicating perfumed citrus blossoms. It’s truly heavenly. In the evening dine outdoors amid the fragrant orange and lemon trees, the swaying palms and tropical foliage. Massive Bird of Paradise plants displayed magnificent blossoms as large as a magnolia flower, truly enhanced tropicals!

Rancho Valencia Resort

Dining – When we arrived after 1 pm, our late lunch at The Pony Room terrace left us desiring just nibbles for dinner. We struggled to tear ourselves from our terrace, a cozy cocoon with comfy furnishings which stimulated snoozing. But wander, we did. Chit chat and cocktails in the arrival courtyard and amble to The Pony Room for rustic fresh salads and yummy tapas. The restaurant has an extensive list of craft tequilas and unique cocktails, dine alfresco on one of the flower filled terraces dotted with fire pits overlooking the professional Croquet Court. As Rancho Valencia is a Relais & Chateaux property, we knew to limit snacking on day two in order to enjoy the signature restaurant Veladora.  We weren’t disappointed! 

Veladora serves lunch on a terrace or inside in an authentic Hacienda style building, a roaring fireplace, antiques and flickering candles set the stage for scrumptious meals. Taking inspiration from Rancho Valencia’s Mediterranean influences, Veladora serves fresh, handcrafted and simply delicious Coastal Ranch cuisine. Seasonal ingredients take center stage on a menu with so many choices, I was disappointed we didn’t dine twice. So many temptations from unique pairings of seafood, poultry and a variety of meats. Sample slow poached Maine lobster with a lemon vinaigrette, burratta cheese and pickled and roasted beets with avocado. I almost missed George’s Bank Scallops with black risotto, summer truffle, English pea agnolotti topped with tiny nasturtium leaves, it was divine! If Johnny is serving, have him describe the menu items, he has an extensive knowledge on the preparation and ingredients – creating a background story on each dish, truly bringing the menu alive!  The choices are abundant. And abundantly delicious. A private wine cellar with vaulted brick ceiling is downstairs for private dinners or tastings.

Rancho Valencia Resort

Activities – So many choices, if you must be amused: idyllic afternoons in whites smacking croquet balls while sipping Pimms Cup, sound at all enticing? Or make it a spectator sport curled up in the white Adirondack chairs. Tennis is renowned and a primary activity; the club is staffed with former champions and the property is ranked as California’s #1 tennis hotel by Tennis Magazine. Fresh towels and refreshing iced lemon water are provided courtside. Tennis clinics are on available for all ages and ability. Guests can enjoy access to over 80 golf courses including The Farms and Torrey Pines.

Complimentary professional bikes are lined up outside reception, the gentle hills and long stretches of open country road will provide a superb workout. Or ride downhill to the beach and call for a haul out later! Yoga pavilion, state of the art fitness center and a full service gorgeous spa. Kids pool and adult pool.

Rancho Valencia Resort

Rancho Valencia’s Wellness Collective is designed to give you the tools to cultivate sustainable change in your overall health and wellbeing. Seeking calmness, and a new look at personal wellness? Fairly new, The Wellness Collective, voted as the Best New Wellness Program in Organic Spa Magazine has three night minimum stay for a wellness retreat. Combining a robust calendar of intimate workshops, enlightening lectures and activities,. Based on the cutting-edge science of epigenetics, this award-winning program was created by an expert team of specialists in epigenetics, health, wellness and preventative medicine. A truly unique wellness experience unlike any other, the Collective is available in the form of packages and retreats.

Rancho Valencia Resort

The Spa, last but not least. The spa is a destination of its own. Tucked away in a spectacular lush garden setting, the rambling adobe buildings are accentuated by colorful patterned pottery, rustic wooden doors, reflecting pools, a heated salt water pool and perky cabanas and loungers. A true wellness retreat, herbal remedies from the garden flowers are offered in spa treatments. The invigorating combination of herbs, flowers, oils and minerals provide an overall blissful relaxing experience. Pad into the spa, steam or sauna first and head to your salon, a patio door opens to bird song and the trickling of an outdoor fountain – expect to be transported! My masseuse was remarkable, after my massage, he wasn’t kidding when he said he would be outside to lead me from my spa Journey – I was noodle like, completely relaxed and in need of navigation to the shade of the umbrella decked cabanas.

Rancho Valencia Resort has been validated by extensive assessments as a Forbes Five Star Resort. I whole heartily agree. Service was impeccable and gracious, the cozy casitas are restorative retreats, napping is guaranteed. A broad range of activity options, creature comforts, fresh organic dining, if you need to escape, the beach is right down the road, other than a toe dip in the Pacific, why depart Paradise?

Rancho Valencia Resort

My upcoming knee replacement prevented my tennis game from improving, however I see it as the perfect excuse to return! My farewell swag bag included a Rancho Valencia Resort tennis ball, someone was paying attention!

Rancho Valencia Resort
Rancho Valencia Resort

Stacation is always a life improvement, documented as a stress reliever!