Contributor/ Alexander Larman
Best Known For
In a culture where any old dilapidated manor house can stick on a bit of Farrow & Ball and call itself a country house hotel, it pays to remember that Cliveden was in many regards the original and the best. However after a lengthy period of neglect, it was beginning to look a rather glum anachronism, outpaced by its flashier and more stylish peers. Thankfully, the owners of Chewton Glen have taken it over and began a lengthy process of refurbishment and revitalisation. Welcome to the 21st century.
The Good Stuff
While it still has all the antique charm that is commensurate with its unique status as the National Trust property that you can stay in, the phoenix-like resurrection that it has undergone means that Cliveden now feels thoroughly modern in all its amenities. Sumptuously furnished bedrooms feature everything from dressing rooms and enormous marble bathrooms to decanters of Madeira and fruit platters, while the standard of food and drink has risen sharply under the aegis of its excellent new chef, Andre Garrett.
Somewhere between an old-school stately home and a thoroughly modern luxury hotel, aided by the charming and friendly staff who all behave as if it’s their own personal pleasure to welcome you into the inner sanctum for a few days. There is history by the bucketload here – most famously, Cliveden was the home of the Profumo Affair – but there’s also some amusingly risqué details, which the so-called ‘Butler’s Tour’ will reveal in great measure.
Inside the Hotel – 10/10
The newly refurbished rooms in the main house are genuinely breathtaking, offering views of Cliveden’s grand main drive and the surrounding locale, just as the panoramas inside are no less impressive. This is not a place comfortable with the concept of cutting corners; no figures are available for the cost of the recent work (which next turns its attention to the spa), but one can confidently expect a sum in the millions. None of this would count for anything were the operation a less slick one, but the feeling of rest and relaxation that even a short stay can engender here is magnificently soothing.
Ditching the previous brasserie/fine dining set-up for something more focused, Garrett’s cooking, in the sumptuous dining room (once the main drawing room and host of many a lavish party) concentrates on seasonal ingredients prepared in fine Anglo-French style; anyone who experienced his fireworks while he was head chef at his previous berth at Galvin at Windows will know what to expect. A show-stopping fillet of beef with snail persillade and Lincolnshire Poacher mash demonstrates why he and his restaurant have just been awarded accolades by many publications – although oddly not Michelin yet. No doubt this will come. The on-point sommelier is a similarly fine addition to the hotel, dealing with tricky pairing requests with expertise and no little charm.
Outside the Hotel – 9/10
One of the many charms of staying at Cliveden, at least when the weather is clement, is being able to wander round the finely maintained grounds of a National Trust house out of hours, and the many gardens, lawns and concealed chapels that await you mean that you never have quite long enough to enjoy yourself. Those in the mood for something more relaxing can saunter over to one of the Canadian hot tubs, which daring spirits have been known to drink champagne in on a cold autumnal evening. The spa, which is pleasant but far from cutting-edge, will be overhauled by the end of 2016.
The hotel sits proudly atop the Thames, and those with plenty of time (and money) at their disposal should go for a jaunt down the river in one of the vintage boats. Those with even more time and money should head to Bray, where lunch or dinner at The Fat Duck or The Waterside Inn offers a luxurious culinary experience.
Image courtesy of Cliveden House