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.

Heckfield Place – Inspired Estate

Travel Dispatch – Heckfield Place, most U.S. travelers lack a several hundred-year-old charming countryside manor for a weekend escape, the fringes of London are chockablock with choices and we recommend staying at several for various reasons. My travel mantra – each of us has a unique fingerprint and thus the proper hotel or manor house may be suitable for one but not another. We solve the mystery.

Heckfield Place, Hampshire England

An inspired 19th Century estate, Heckfield Place is the very latest in countryside lodgings, albeit fairly close to London, but far enough removed, residing amidst 400 glorious acres of secluded Hampshire grounds. Formal garden terraces and provocatively described ‘pleasure grounds’ truly feel like a private park. The epitome of Georgian excellence, gently evolving for over 250 years, the property consists of walled landscaped gardens, an organic farm and extensive woods. Dig out your wardrobe for country pursuits: wellies and tweeds and your herringbone woolen flat cap. Boots and slickers are available for guest use in the mudroom. Brilliant British countryside at is best, activities include farm and orchard tours, fly fishing, classes, cinema, horseback riding nearby, clay pigeon shooting. Discover the gardens and the hidden historic follies with one of the residential experts.

Heckfield Place, Hampshire UK

Every month a selection of courses is offered in the ancient crafts and pursuits of happiness: create and connect to craft, this month it’s rush weaving and paper making. Upcoming essential oils with scent creators; master class in wooden spoon carving; oenophiles offered a tutorial tasting with senior sommelier; speaker events, circuit training; for kids: mud and guts outdoor activities. A plush screening room offers a curated program of films, speaker events a full program called The Assembly, the events are also open to the locals, a lovely gesture, making everyone feel welcome in this grand manor home.

Heckfield Place, Hampshire UK Screening Room

Billionaire owner, Gerald Chan, has filled Heckfield Place with his personal 20th Century British art collection – a stop in your tracks painting around every corner, Persian rugs, original wood burning fireplaces, light flooded morning rooms, long inviting hallways and several casual rooms for reading, scratching away at a crossword puzzle or perhaps catching up on your needlepoint or drum away on your laptop. Needlepoint, yes, there were two guests stitching away in the morning room – I queried if they were ‘props’, but no, a couple of Michigander ladies at leisure! Stop and sit at a round table with an in progress wooden puzzle. Massive works of art pop off of darkly painted lime plaster walls, a dramatic effect adding punch even in hallways. After over 12 years of restoration, nothing was left to chance at Heckfield Place.

The ambience is elegant, yet homey and enormously comfortable, period antiques mixed with contemporary mid-century furnishings. Imagine plush sofas you sink into, corners peppered with comfy wing back chairs and tables set for working or afternoon tea, crackly wood burning fireplaces – a stately historic home rendered comfy for 21st Century guests. My leisurely enchanting morning consisted of views of spring ranunculus just beginning to pop through the soil, perfect fresh mint tea served alongside an orange infused muffin.

Heckfield Place, Hampshire UK

Each signature room tells its own story, offering a connection to Heckfield history, a late Georgian Mansion. The rooms are split between the main house and the Corridors, reflecting the flawless design of Ben Thompson, who trained under Ilse Crawford, illustrating the understated brilliance of British interior design. Heckfield Place has 45 bedrooms in total, spread about comfortably in the modern wing aptly named The Corridors and upstairs in the main house. I loved both. The website photos don’t say enough about some of the rooms, including The Long Room. In reality, it is an upstairs apartment with generous terrace and 180-degree views, a fireplace, fully functioning kitchen and dining room – a superb spot for multi-generations to gather.

Heckfield Place, Hampshire UK The Long Room
Heckfield Place, Hampshire UK The Long Room

The emphasis on self-sustainability has been essential to the reimagining of the estate. From the website description: here it begins with the soil. The kitchen garden, greenhouses, and over 700 apple and plum trees in the ancient orchard on the five-acre farm supply vegetables, milk, cheese, fruit, honey, and flowers to two on-site restaurants, Hearth and Marle. The restaurants are at the helm of celebrated chef and culinary director Skye Gyngell. Menus will rotate according to the season’s bounty. At the main restaurant, Marle, Gyngell devises a menu of just five daily-changing main dishes. A light filled room that feels more like an aerie greenhouse provides gorgeous views to augment the divine dining. I swooned over charred calcots withe Romesco and soured cream. We enjoyed Dover sole napped in grilled cucumber and a light Béarnaise sauce, fresh crunchy asparagus and of course, who can resist a custard tart with nutmeg for dessert?

Heckfield Place, Hampshire UK

The Little Bothy spa offers three spaces for personal training, yoga, and Pilates classes. Offering all-natural products from the Wildsmith Skin range. William Wildsmith, a noted 18th Century horticulturalist created the arboretum on property. A perfect place to unwind and invigorate after a day of exploring the grounds, the lakes and the walled gardens in the Hampshire heartlands. A full-size spa and swimming pool are under construction and will be open this summer.

When the sun sets, follow me to the Moon Bar. Nestled in the center of the mansion, inspired by the lunar phases, Moon Bar Cocktails are unique to Heckfield in concept, presentation and most importantly in flavor. A unique list of handcrafted cocktails uses liquors, tinctures and infusions created with fresh ingredients from the Home Farm and gardens. The spirits range from exceptional classics to incredibly rare small batch discoveries. May I suggest a Peach Leaf Spritz? A pre-dinner cocktail is essential here or in one of the other comfy sitting rooms, really no request is denied for a snack, lunch tea or cocktail in all of the public rooms. I found sipping a bubbly under the enormous sparkling ancient disco ball in the Moon Bar magical.

Best sipped after sunset.

Historic hotel lovers, Jane Austen Junkies, laidback luxury leisure seekers, beauty disciples, wanderers and garden aficionados will all be enchanted at Heckfield Place. The property is barely 40 minutes from Heathrow. Jane Austen did once live down the road in nearby Chawton, the charming bucolic villages that surround the property set the stage for the arrival. Bring a bag of books, or peruse the library shelves, so many comfy quiet rooms for indulgence.

Heckfield Place, Hampshire UK Terrace dining from Marle
Heckfield Place, Hampshire Marble shower
Heckfield Place, soaker
Heckfield Place, Hampshire. My suite in The Corridors

Once is not enough, I will be back to be scrubbed and pampered at the new Summer Spa! Heckfield Place is a trifecta combination of Gerald Chan’s obsession with perfection, GM luminary Olivia Richli (multiple Aman openings over 18 years) and Michelin chef Skye Gyngell. Highly recommend!

Heckfield Place, Hearth Dining
Heckfield Place, Hampshire guest sitting room
Heckfield Place, Hampshire UK Gardens
Heckfield Place, Hampshire UK

Heckfield Place offers the luxury of an elegant estate home without stuffiness, multiple sun dappled rooms for leisurely languid afternoons, a luxurious spa, lakes and tree studded acres for roaming and hiking.