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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.