Ever since John Profumo first laid eyes on Christine Keeler as she basked in Cliveden’s pool, it’s been clear that this Berkshire boutique hotel was destined to be a Mr & Mrs Smith retreat of choice. As well as being a celebrated haunt for politicos and literati, this majestic neoclassical manor, with its air of faded grandeur, is the proud birthplace of the £100 club sandwich – worth every penny, we’re relieved to add.
One of England’s most infamous and distinguished historic homes
Fine French cuisine in a brace of gourmet eateries
Inspiring Berkshire greenery on the banks of the Thames
20 per cent off all spa treatments
In the know
A dapper ensemble for Mr Smith; something suitably decadent for his mistress. Leave your jeans at home.
Brush up on your Great Brit literature and bring something by George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling or Joyce Grenfell: they all spent time at Cliveden. On a more prosaic note, bring tipping change in case your car is given a clean.
Also need to know:
Pets are more than welcome – dog beds are available and the chef has prepared a special doggy menu for pampered pooches.Take a pleasure trip by river or air – Cliveden has a flotilla of boats and a fleet of helicopters you can hire. Cliveden has its own three-bedroom riverside guesthouse, Spring Cottage which comes equipped with a butler. This holiday house also has history: Profumo and friends frolicked here in the run-up to the huge political scandal in the Sixties.
Mr and Mrs Smith reviews
‘Follow the drive, past the water feature and we you can’t miss it,’ the National Trust gatekeeper tells us soon after we’ve turned off the Taplow Road and down brochure-pretty Berkshire country lanes. He isn’t kidding. A baby-faced angel rescuing a semi-naked stone dame is a fitting welcome to the ultimate country house hotel. The long, wide drive allows the view to sink in slowly and the horseshoe-shaped Italianate mansion at its end is breathtakingly beautiful, way beyond grand. Frankly, we are no longer Mr and Mrs Smith; we’ve just been made Lord and Lady.
An immaculately dressed footman with a suitably sophisticated French lilt waves us to a stop, and asks for the keys. Oh dear! Why hadn’t Monty the 10-year-old Saab been cleaned? Why had Mrs Smith spilled half a packet of crisps all over the centre console? And why-oh-why, was he parking it between two Aston Martins? We were both mildly horrified. Another polite man in a constricting eight-piece suit carries our bags and ushers us through the oak-panelled luxury of the great hall, past the three suits of armour and up the roomy staircase. Huge 18th-century portraits stare down at us, a Who’s Who of Anglo-American history, and I can’t help but think of the talking artworks in Harry Potter. I’m sure I can hear an oil-painting long-forgotten princess tut-tutting as we ascend.
Our calligraphied name has been added to the little brass holder on the door of the Gibson Superior Double Deluxe. And this is mid-range, apparently. With views back down the drive to the Fountain of Love water feature and to our left, the kind of clock tower that has graced many a silver screen. It’s reminiscent of a lifestyle once enjoyed by the Astors and now not many other than the Windsors or Wales, or whatever their surname is. Old-fashioned opulent English luxury in that chintz-and-blue-china-plates-on-the-wall way. Sotheby’s would have a field day. There is even an old writing desk where I can pen my review, and a make-up table for Mrs Smith, who has just thrown herself squealing onto the four-poster bed. (Later she is bitterly disappointed that the curtains are just for show and don’t actually close.) Elgar, naturally, is emanating from somewhere, and after inspection we discover it’s not from the walk-in wardrobe but from the modern radio in an antique console, now a tasteful 21st-century entertainment cabinet.
I pop down a level and sneak out onto a terrace for a crafty smoke. Terribly vulgar I know, but think of it as a tribute to Sir Winston, Cliveden’s most famous former resident. Palace of Versailles meets ‘The Draughtsman’s Contract’ in the palatial, manicured and staggeringly magnificent 376 acres of grounds. Beyond the trees lies the River Thames. It couldn’t be any more peaceful. The orange lights of London in the distance and the jumbo jets circling Heathrow don’t even taint the view, rather reinforce the fact that so close to the city, this is a haven, a retreat from the chaos. It’s a million miles away from the Capital and at least a hundred years apart.
After a night’s slumber, we realise how well we slept in that big, dark room. To try and revive ourselves, and make the most for this new taste we’ve acquired for how the other half live, we order a decadent fresh truffle and chive omelette then, more spoilingly, head for the Pavilion Spa. I recognise the outdoor pool as being the legendary scene of the start of the Profumo affair; namely thanks to having seen the film ‘Scandal’ rather than having been a fly-on-the-wall at Sixties’ soirées. Well, if you are going to muck about, you might as well do it in style. The spa and my deep-tissue sports massage are a fantastic pick-me-up – only I was disappointed not to spot any Christine Keeler types splashing about in the plunge pool. Mind you, they’d have be part Eskimo to survive its temperature.
Refreshed and virtuous we explore the grounds. Mrs Smith is determined to find the grotto, which Mrs Smith spies plotted on a map in the gardens, but hidden in reality. We see a chap having a beer in the sun with the papers and my own treasure hunt reaches completion. It’s the private members club and I ask the waitress if we can luncheon here. Not only is the answer resoundingly to the affirmative, but there is some mirth as the kindly waitress even asks if we’d like our veggie burgers rare or medium.
Pre-prandial ablutions beckon and we discover that as a salute to its cheeky Profumo-party heritage, the bubble bath fits two easily. And at a squint I can even make out the statue spot-lit at the end of the drive. Sure, if I were to nitpick I might mention that the yellow paint just above the bath is mottled and chipping but that just adds to the charm of this country house hotel steeped in history, doesn’t it?
Having heard less-than-glowing reports about the award-winning, but pretentious Compleat Angler in Marlow, we decide to stay put at Cliveden and plump for dinner at the garden-view-augmented Terrace Restaurant. As a vegetarian, I understand why most great chefs scoff meat – it’s hard to do gourmet fine dining with root crops alone (and even tougher to charge the same price for Broccoli Tart as Oven Roasted Noisette of Balmoral Estate Venison) – but I admire their determination. We retreat to the sumptuous grand hall in front of the fire, which has been besieged by a raucous wedding party. This stately home certainly makes for good people-watching with a whisky in hand.
Sunday morning comes around too quickly and we pack up our bags in near silence and head out for one last walk through an undiscovered part of this National Trust property’s grounds. Down the 170 steps to the idyllic bend in the Thames, rowing boats are for hire, as is the cottage where the disgraced politician used to stay. On our way back through the crispy Autumn woods we try to find the blessed grotto and fail again.
This standard and quality of living should be savoured by anyone lucky enough to be able to book such a special luxury hotel – even if only for 48 hours. Cliveden House is a place to fall head over heels not just with the wife or mistress, but back in love with life. We watch the vast historical house vanish in our rear-view mirror, and soon we are back on the busy road towards the M4. The music swells, the credits roll, it starts to rain and my windscreen wipers have stopped working. Not quite the Hollywood ending we'd hoped for.
Cliveden House, Taplow, Berkshire, SL6 0JF, United Kingdom
6.2 mi / 9.9 km from city centre
- Valet parking
- Aerobics instruction
- Exercise gym
- Internet services
- Tennis court
- On-Site parking
- Concierge desk
- Room service
- Onsite laundry
The chandeliered, portrait-lined Terrace Dining Room offers contemporary French cuisine, with a fine line in Sunday lunch.
Grab a table beside the Terrace Dining Room’s French windows for the stunning views of the parterre. In Waldo’s, go for the added intimacy of a booth.
Both restaurants take last orders at 9.30pm, but there is some flexibility for hotel guests. Drinks and snacks are available 24 hours a day.
Full meals are available from 10am to 10pm and a snack menu can be served in-rooms throughout the night.
Classical piano music adds a sparkle to the atmosphere in the Great Hall three nights a week, where guests sup signature Cliveden champagne cocktails and marvel at the majestic staircase, imposing fireplace and delightfully vintage furnishings.