Cliveden is a majestic 17th century stately home in the heart of the Berkshire countryside. It has been entertaining guests for the past 350 years, including royalty, politicians and celebrities. Having been a hotel for nearly 30 years and recently undergone a mulitllillion pound rennovation it is now the ‘Best Hotel in England’ as awarded by the AA at the beginning of October 2015 and has just won, at the time of writing this review, 'Back on the scene' award from Conde Nast Johansens.
Cliveden is like no other five star luxury hotel. Being a Grade I listed building, owned by the National Trust and managed by a fine hotel company, guests at Cliveden are treated more like a ‘house guest’ rather than a ‘hotel client.’
Built by a man deeply and passionately in love, for his lover, it has the most beautiful romantic setting. Set atop a hill with spectacular vistas across the Thames valley and onwards.
The mansion is four storeys high with the entrance on the north side a full storey higher than the ground level on the south side. This unusual layout allows for amazing views at all sides of the property. From vantage points on the south side the stretch of the River Thames which meanders towards Windsor Castle can be seen. The castle is clearly visible from the roof terrace (unfortunately not accessible to the general public).
The name Cliveden derives from the tall chalk cliffs which rise above the river. The correct pronunciation of Cliveden is to not pronounce the ‘e’ after ‘v.’
Cliveden House eludes to the past and mystery. A unique one of a kind hotel in England where the past and present are intertwined together with ease. There are modern touchscreen tablets in the bedrooms which date back to the 16th century and an outdoor swimming pool from the 1950s in a garden created in the 1700s. This uniqueness which blends perfectly for the guests is truly remarkable.
Notable owners of Cliveden House, a Grade I listed property have included three Dukes, one Earl and a Prince. Cliveden has entertained many distinguished guests from artists (Charlie Chaplin), writers (George Bernard Shaw), politicians (Harold Macmillan), Presidents (Roosevelt) and even the Royal family. Every British Monarch since George I has visited and Queen Victoria was a very frequent guest.
The tradition of impeccable hospitality and extravagant entertainment has been and still is what makes staying at Cliveden a truly unique experience. An enchanting house with a ‘Joie de vivre’ an invitation to Cliveden was always sought after. The Cliveden’s visitor book is the ‘Who’s who of that period.’
When you drive into Cliveden your eyes are fixated on this colossal fountain of love, the largest of its kind in the county, from here it is a majestic drive along the tree-lined avenue up to Cliveden house.
The hotel has 44 rooms, including 9 suites, a summerhouse by the Thames, outdoor pool and hot tubs, spa and a range of sporting and leisure facilities. The award winning André Garrett Restaurant is complemented by private dining options in various historic rooms and the afternoon tea is fabulous.
The south facing facades and balustrades, iconic staircase and terraces dating back to 1666 are currently undergoing a major conservation project by the National Trust to protect this originality at a cost of £5 million and will be completed by 2017. Being a National Trust property, scheduled organised tours for their members occur twice a week on Thursday and Sunday afternoons.
Cliveden House is part of the Relais Chateaux group of 530 charming individualistic hotels and gourmet restaurants around the world. Conveniently located just five miles from Windsor Castle, twenty minutes from Heathrow and less than an hour from Central London it is easily accessible. Everyone who visits falls in love with Cliveden.
A house devoted to passion, politics, pursuit and pleasure! A visit to this notorious house is a must to discover it all for yourself!
Cliveden has been through two world wars and during WWII the Queen, Queen Mother and Princess Margaret all visited the hospital on site. It has also been through too two fires. The first was in 1795 due to the carelessness of a servant when lighting a fire. The second fire was in 1849, when the house was empty. The fault of the fire was down to poor workmanship of the builders. In fact, Queen Victoria saw the smoke from Windsor Castle and sent out her own fire engines immediately.
Renowned for elite misbehaviour and intrigues, the 350 year history of Cliveden has been very colourful. Starting with the first owner, the politician George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, one of the wealthiest men in England and a childhood friend of Charles II. His sole reason for purchasing Cliveden and building a fine residence in 1666 was so that he could stay there with his mistress Anna Maria, Countess of Shrewsbury, hunt which was his favourite pastime and entertain his friends.
He won her over a ‘duel for her honour’ which took place in the late 17th century with her husband the Earl of Shrewsbury. This victory has also been carved in the grounds of Cliveden between the mansion and the east wing, in the form of a rapler which was used and the date 1668 when it took place.
The current owner’s wife, Natalie Livingstone, has written an interesting book about the previous Mistresses of Cliveden, which has been used as a reference in this review to feature some quirks. Butler tours can be requested at any time from reception if you are keen to gain a further insight into Cliveden House.
Ownership has passed through seven individual families where the last family, the Astors, had a reign of 73 years with four generations. Each family redesigned certain sections of the property to make the ‘house’ their ‘home.’ Additional features to enhance the overall look of Cliveden were made and the master and mistress had their unique input in the structure, interiors and vast gardens and monuments.
Surprisingly the families were all linked to politics of their time and several were interrelated. Every mistress of the house was a society hostess in her own right and had to effectively manage the guests and servants. Here are some snippets from each family.
Duke of Buckingham
Originally built Cliveden on a 433 foot platform which broke convention of the time in terms of its location high up on a cliff as opposed to traditional secure flatter ground. The Duke’s foresight and appreciation of the location’s setting predates the infamous landscape designer for mansions and estates, Capability Brown.
2. Earl of Orkney
The Earl and Lady were the first to entertain the Royal family at Cliveden, namely George 1 in 1724 and then Queen Caroline in 1729. Countess Orkney, Elizabeth Villiers, was Duke of Buckingham’s cousin. The Earl, a victorious soldier wanted to showcase his victories and purchased these gigantic tapestries which hang in the Great Hall. Each has a name, Embuscade, Altaque & Campement and has Orkney’s court of arms at the centre with a border of the trophies of war. He added the East and West wings, Blenheim Pavilion and Octagon Temple. Gardens was his forte.
3. Frederick Prince of Wales
Never an owner, but leased Cliveden from the Orkney’s. His mistress Jane was Countess of Orkney’s aunt. He loved mixing with the locals and regularly drank with them at the inns, his local was just outside Cliveden, Feathers Inn which changed its name to ‘The Three Feathers’ after the Prince’s emblem. He was a keen musician and organised concerts at Cliveden in the amphitheatre he built. Regarded as the People’s Prince, to impress his guests for his love of Britain, he orchestrated the first ever performance of ‘Rule Britannia’ on 1st August 1740. He stayed at Cliveden for 14 years. Frederick and his wife Augusta were the Royals who pioneered the ‘Royal walkabout.’
4. Countesses of Orkney
In the only instance in British history the Earldom of Orkney passed down through three successive female generations. For over a century the Orkneys were the owners. It was in this period that the first fire at Cliveden occurred. As the damage was very costly to repair, Mary Orkney commissioned the Spring Cottage in 1813. A secluded oasis of comfort and elegance right on the River Thames. Rented by the infamous Dr Stephen Ward from 1956-1963. It was restored in 2012.
5. Sir George Warrender
A property heir, he rebuilt Cliveden to its former glory. He emphasised a form of relaxed hospitability for his guests at Cliveden, with only set timings for breakfast and dinner. At this time in the 1820s train links from London had opened making it easier for London’s elite to regularly escape to the charming countryside retreat.
6. Duke of Sutherland
Unfortunately soon after he bought Cliveden a fire broke out and it had to be rebuilt for the third time. The infamous architect of that time, Charles Barry, who also designed Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament used earlier designs and inspiration from Somerset House in London to create a magnificent Italianate Villa.
The Duchess was a very close friend of Queen Victoria, albeit 13 years older and she was also a Royal official. They both lost their respective partners in the same year 1861 and the grief stricken Queen chose the Duchess as her sole companion. The Queen visited Cliveden eight times between 1854-1891 and one year in fact used Cliveden for her sole use for a quiet period of ten days. She arrived with 90 people, 10 horses and 8 carriages. She carried with her 2 portraits of her beloved Prince Albert, one placed on an easel at the foot of her bed and a smaller one at the head of her bed. The Duchess and the Queen shared 31 years of friendship starting from the Queens accession.
In her later years a quirky ‘pushing stick’ was designed to help push the Duchess up the steep incline from the river. The Duchess was devoted to the anti-slavery movement of the 1860s and she had designed the Cliveden crest.
7. Duke of Westminster
The Duke was the Sutherland’s son-in-law who had spent his honeymoon at Cliveden and went on to buy it at the opportune time. After 25 years he had to sell it to an American due to financial reasons as he had various other estates around the country. Queen Victoria was disappointed with this sale as Cliveden was a place very close to her heart.
8. William Waldorf Astor
A wealthy American entrepreneur. He wasn’t a socialite in anyway. His interest was mainly as a collector of historical artefacts, sculpture, furniture and tapestries. His most notable purchase for Cliveden was the Louis XV wood-panelled room from a French Chateau near Paris, which is the French dining room.
It was in 1905 when William gifted this splendid Cliveden to his son Waldorf on his wedding day that the ‘Golden age’ of Cliveden began with Lady Nancy Astor at the realm. The centre of social and political influence especially when Nancy became the first female MP in 1919 at the age of 40 and would remain so for 25 years. She had a witty, controversial in Parliament which did not gel with Churchill at that time. Apparently the Astors had played a brokering role in negotiations between Hitler and British politicians.
Waldorf Astor gifted the Cliveden estate to the National Trust in 1942 due to the challenging expense bill for upkeep of the house. Common at that time for country house owners to gift their estates to the NT to overcome any inheritance liabilities. His agreement was that the Astor family could continue residing at Cliveden for as long as they wish too.
It was in 1961 that the ‘Profumo affair.’ Whilst being entertained by Bill Astor at Cliveden, John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, first set eyes on Christine Keeler, a 19 year old showgirl frolicking, in the outdoor pool. Christine at that time was having an affair with a Russian naval attaché and intelligence officer, Yevgeny Iranov. As can be only imagined, a huge scandal arose which is what Cliveden became associated with. Christine and John were to bring down the British government in 1964 and change the course of history.
In 1966, on the death of Bill, the third Viscount Astor, the Astor reign at Cliveden ended. Point to note that the classic ‘Waldorf salad’ is indeed named after this iconic Astor family. The current Lord Astor is PM David Cameron’s step father-in-law. His family had two bridesmaids at Prince William’s wedding.
10. Cliveden Lease
The National Trust in 1984 advertised Cliveden, for a lease tenure, as England’s finest stately home, 38,500 square feet with the only prerequisite that part of the house would be open for the public to view on two afternoons a week. This is currently in place on Thursdays and Sundays at 3pm via a pre-booked ticketing scheme for National Trust members. In 1986 Cliveden opened for the first time as a hotel. The current lease is now with the Livingstone Brothers (2012), the first Jewish owners of such a fine property.
When visiting Cliveden House, a walk around is essential to grasp the full magnitude of the culture and history of this mystical house.
The main mansion rooms and public rooms have been completely refurbished in April 2015. Being a National Trust treasure, the Cliveden interior design team had to be passionate about their vision in order to retain the historic essence of Cliveden’s charm.
The mulit-million pound refurbishment was a great success and Mario Nicolaou and his team who promised ‘a little bit of fabulousness’ was true to his word. The original colours of purple, gold, emerald green and crimson have been maintained. Silks, velvets and brocade appear in many parts of the interiors. Flemish tapestries, oriental rugs and marquetry furniture feature prominently.
The décor is mainly European influence especially from Italy and France and has some English traditions. The Great hall has original tapestries, art work and a 13th century French renaissance fireplace. Even the chesterfield reception desk is placed discreetly so as to blend in with the rest of the room.
As with any stately home, there are numerous oil paintings of portraits of past owners. The most notable is that of Lady Nancy Astor, the last great mistress of Cliveden, which takes pride of place in the Great Hall.
Lady Astor was a mistress who was keen to have the latest equipment of the time installed in the house. Cliveden was the first UK home to have central heating.
Each of the main rooms had a pull cord with wiring that was attached to a bell in the basement. This master board of 27 bells can still be seen with the individual labels.
The staircase and landing was made of walnut. The carved figures on the staircase posts were to represent those associated with Cliveden’s history. The first is that of the Duke of Buckingham and his mistress Anna Maria, the first owners of Cliveden. There were to be seven families who owned Clivden successively.
The spectacular painting on the ceiling above the staircase was commissioned by the Duchess of Sutherland and depicts the ‘Four seasons’ as represented by her four children.
Cliveden is a unique setting of timeless extravagance and extraordinary refinement. This is most noted in the bedrooms. Each of the rooms are individually decorated with beautiful rich furnishings and antiques. A colourful array of a variety of textures from satins and silks to linen and chenille.
The rooms are named after famous visitors of the mansion, such as Churchill and Chaplin and those associated with its history such as Barry the architect and Lee, the butler of Waldorf Astor. The largest room at Cliveden is the Lady Astor suite which has its own private terrace on the east side of the house.
Anomalous London stayed in the Gibson room which overlooked the majestic drive and onto the Fountain of Love! It also had its very own cute little hallway with a console mirror. The reversible door tags at Cliveden are very apt and read, 'Exploring the Estate' and 'Enjoying the moment.'
The idyllic lighting in the room is from five pairs of ornate lamps (Vaughan) placed appropriately around the huge room. Ranging from gold, brass, jade and crystal, the soft lighting gives an ambient, cosy feel to the room.
The colour scheme in the Gibson was jade, light brown and magenta and the silk curtains hung well with swags, tails and tassels. The Jade fabric wall paper was a perfect base for the quirky gold framed paintings which depict bygone eras, family portraits and scenic river scenes.
This tradition of every room having a visitor’s book has been maintained when the hotel first opened in 1986. It is lovely to read previous guests comments about their experiences at Cliveden. A majority of them had chosen this magical place to celebrate a birthday or anniversary.
A great surprise to see at such a venue was a touchscreen ‘tablet’. Yes, an interactive tablet which allows you to access all the hotel information and services at a touch of a button and even have your room tray picked up at a time convenient to you. This was tested with a request for ‘ASAP’ and the tray was picked up within 5 minutes! The tablet also has a vast array of movies with over 25 for kids and 100+ for adults. If you wish to book a spa treatment this can also be done.
A lovely welcome drink of Madeira in a bespoke crystal decanter and crystal glasses. Madeira is a fortified Portuguese wine made in the Madeira Islands, usually very sweet in taste (similar to Tia Maria) and is great as an aperitif. It has a unique wine making process where the wine is heated to 60 degrees for an extended period of time deliberately exposing the wine to oxidation thus making it robust so that it can last longer once opened.
The bathroom is fully marbled and has bespoke washbasins featuring the iconic Cliveden crest.
The large window brings in plenty of daylight. Asprey toiletries, the Purple Water range, had a pleasant unique fragrance that lingers for the whole day.
The shower itself has two settings a rain shower or jet shower and the large bath is the perfect size to indulge in a bubble bath!
For all residents of the Mansion there is a large terrace on the first floor on the west side. From here the stunning views of the parterre, river and across the county can be admired. Perfect to watch beautiful sunsets with a cocktail in hand.
There is an ‘Honesty Bar’ on the first floor for guests who would like to help themeselves to a drink to have on the terrace. Honesty is required as the guests need to account for what they have consumed!
The impressive dining room has pride of place in the Mansion, formerly the drawing room of previous owners. Three remarkable chandeliers combined with the pale green and luxurious gold colour scheme makes the grand room strikingly beautiful. Two large portraits of mistresses of Cliveden’s past hang at either end of the room overlooking the diners. This is quite apt as these ladies were always the perfect hostesses at their parties. Two seater tables are placed by the huge bay windows with the most amazing draped silk curtains which create the effect of sitting in the royal box at the theatre. The centre tables are for larger groups.
André Garrett is the king of the newly refurbished kitchen at Cliveden. After leaving the heights of Mayfair he is now the master of his own destiny. His attention to detail and necessity for the freshest of seasonal produce has enabled him to create a fascinating British menu which features culinary classics with a twist and signature dishes presented with finesse. There is a three course A la Carte and eight course Tasting menu on offer and with an exceptional wine list, dining at Andre Garrett is a delightful experience.
Afternoon tea is served in the Great Hall where it feels like you are being entertained by a very wealthy host in their drawing room. Anomalous London had the Valrhona chocolate afternoon tea which offers a great selection of chocolate treats from the milk, white and dark chocolate collection of this French chocolatier.
Served in bespoke fine bone china, the tea set has the original ribbon design, commissioned for Lady Astor, the last mistress of Cliveden. The teapots are kept on a side table to free space on the table and is topped up for you periodically. The scones are served delicously warm and crisp so best to start with these with homemade jam and Devonshire clotted cream. The sandwiches have the traditional fillings each with a twist. In addition to the sandwiches two savoury extras are given, a warm sausage roll and a mini quiche tart which were all delightful.
It is recommended to have the dark chocolatae treats last as they have a deep, rich flavour. Chocolate roulade is a swiss roll with a crispy surface and gold sprinkles, white chocolate raspberry tartlet was deliciously crisp, white chocolate cheesecake was my favourite, with a fine crisp base and a white chocolate truffle on top, yum! For the dark collection, the two layered jaffa cakes was quirky, a mint chocolate tartlet which has a very smooth texture again with a crisp base and finally a rich tiramisu cup.
Anomalous London created a fun video clip about the afternoon tea experience at Cliveden which can be viewed here.
The sizes of all these treats are larger than average and by all means do get these packed if you cannot manage to indulge in them at your sitting.
The best chocolate afternoon tea at the best hotel in England!
The heated outdoor swimming pool was created by Bill Astor in the 1950s. Found behind a discreet door in between the herbaceous border in the forecourt, this tranquil setting within the walled garden is just sublime. There are plenty of sun loungers and even a quirky copper swing to sit and relax in admiring the surrounding beauty.
Swimming in this pool is extra special for obvious reasons as this is where the whole drama of the Proformo affair started. The recent two hot tubs added at the end of the pool are perfectly placed where you can admire the majestic clock tower. The Spa pavilion was built in 1990 as a stucco building. The Pavilion spa is due to be totally refurbished in 2016.
At Cliveden there are two vintage launches which are over a century old!
The Suzy Ann, which Anomalous had the luxury to experience is 104 years old. This is not at all obvious when sitting in the boat as everything is maintained so well.
Head down to the mini jetty from the Mansion by foot, through the woodlands. However on the way back you may want to request the hotel chauffeur to pick you up as it’s a steep incline.
The skipper guides the boat upstream towards Cookham lock and Marlow. At some points in the River the depth is twelve foot. Downstream you pass Cliveden reach where you can have a great vista of Cliveden on the top of the hill.
This is probably the cleanest stretch of the River Thames with beautiful scenery. Have a look at Anomalous London's short video clip here.
Various Hollywood movies and even Bollywood (Yaadein) have used Cliveden House as the perfect backdrop.
For Cinderella, the gardens were used for the gardens of Versailles. The mansion was used as the Royal Palace and the gilded water tower clock face is the clock shown at midnight!
In Sherlock Holmes the French dining room was used as a bedroom scene.
Wind & Willows is based on Cliveden House.
Other notable movies include Help, the Beatles movie; Carry on don’t lose your head; Mrs Henderson’s Presents and Thunder Birds.
The 376 acre Cliveden estate is meticulously maintained by the National Trust. The gardens are Grade I listed so expect to be amazed. Gardens of a country estate were regarded to be a sense of pride for the owners and were also used to display military achievements. At Cliveden, Blenheim Pavilion was built in 1727 with military trophies carved in it.
The main mansion had a noteworthy European influence in design and so were the gardens which was favoured by the Duke of Buckingham. The French influence of long straight avenues and fanciful parterres, the Italian influence of the mansion positioned in the centre of the gardens, cascading terraces and strict symmetry and the Dutch influence of walls and hedges to section the gardens. However, the Earl of Orkney created some English influence and used Elms to border the parterre and made modest, natural plans to the gardens.
There is such a variety of gardens to discover at Cliveden and each can satisfy a different emotion one may have. There is also plenty for kids to enjoy such as the Yew Maze and play trai with Clive's Den. The woodlands have been well planned with clear walkways and shaded paths throughout the estate and also include a fitness trail for adults.
The Parterre is a beautiful 1000 foot stretch of the perfect garden and is bordered by a double row of elm trees. Duchess of Sutherland introduced flowerbeds on the parterre. Her gardener, John Fleming’s designed the unique wedge shape in 1855 which still remains today. He segregated flowers by colour and this style became an international sensation in the 1890s.
The Parterre was not in bloom during Anomalous London’s visit but usually there is a colourful display of over 12,000 bulbs. When seen from the terraces the connecting link to the parterre is the circular garden at the end. Fleming also planted amass of spring flowers in the woodlands and today Cliveden is renowned for its bluebell display.
Each owner of the Cliveden estate added various monuments and statues. The most notable are shared below with images. The others worth mentioning so that on a walkabout on the estate can be sought are:
Sarcophagi – in front of the yew hedges in the forecourt by Duke of Buckingham.
Duke of Sutherland marble statue - by the Dukes seat in the woodlands. This location has the best view of the mansion and standing on the terraces it can be seen clearly.
Dove Court by Duke of Westminster.
26 alcoves beneath the south terrace each has a statue.
Blenheim Pavilion by Earl of Orkney.
Octagon Temple on the west side of the Parterre right on the edge of the cliff above the River by Earl of Orkney.
The Entabulture of the mansion is a Latin inscription by William Gladstone, a close friend of the Duchess of Sutherland and is to be read from the north side and end on the west side. There are four inscriptions which read as follows:
1. Constructed upon foundations laid long before by George Villiers Duke of Buckingham in Charles the Second’s reign
2. Completed in the year of our Lord 1851 when Victoria had been Queen by God’s Grace for 14 years
3. Restored by George, Duke of Sutherland and Harriet his wife on the site where two house had previously been burnt down
4. Built by the skill, devotion and design of the architect Charles Barry in 1851.
•Condé Nast Traveller - Back on the Scene 2016
•Condé Nast Traveller - Top 25 Hotels in Europe: Readers' Choice Awards 2015
•AA Hotel of the Year England 2015-2016
-•Good Hotel Guide Editor's Choice 2016 awards for Garden Hotels
•Waitrose Good Food Guide 2016 - awarded 18/50
•Good Food Guide 2015 - Best Newcomer
•Taste of London 2014 - Best Dessert
•Square Meal Guide 2015 - 8th Best UK restaurant
•AA Notable wine list
•AA 5 Red Star Hotel
•Travel & Leisure - Top Ten Best Small Hotels (fewer than 40 rooms) in the World 2012
•The Gold List - Condé Nast Traveller readers awards 2010