There are country house hotels - and then there’s Cliveden. This National Trust property, dating back to the late 17th century and set among 376 verdant acres on the banks of the Thames in Berkshire, is truly something special. Meghan Markle stayed the night before her wedding so it really is fit for royalty.
- Rachel Cranshaw, Senior Content Editor
In peaceful, rolling countryside only an hour’s drive from London. It’s extremely popular as a National Trust property, so the grounds do get busy; draw the blinds during opening hours if on the ground floor to avoid feeling too exposed. The proximity to the Thames is lovely.
Style and Character
The history of this Grade I listed stately home is quite something and pops out from around every corner. Priceless tapestries and suits of armour from the 18th century greet guests upon entering the darkly dramatic, red-toned Great Hall. Portraits line the walls, along with stone busts, while chandeliers and elaborate floral displays add lighter touches.
The wonderfully ornate French Dining Room was transported from France’s Château d'Asnières in 1897, which gives some idea of the general scale of grandeur here. Wander below stairs and you’ll see the original bells that were used to summon staff. Despite the building’s size, there are only 48 rooms, so even at capacity it doesn’t feel crowded. The hotel is privately owned, part of Relais & Chateaux, and a sister property to Hampshire’s Chewton Glen.
Service and Facilities
A huge amount of investment is clearly put into training here; staff members are experienced and highly intuitive, yet friendly and not stuffy (even generally younger ones). Individual personalities are nurtured; you’ll meet a range of memorable characters. Nothing is too much trouble and constant suggestions for convenience are made, for instance when we arrived early and our room wasn’t yet ready, spa staff checked on progress and offered to have our bags sent over.
The outdoor pool – where the infamous Profumo Affair started – is a real boon in summer, set on a lawn and surrounded by loungers, with two hot tubs. Inside, the spa includes an indoor pool and hot tub, an orangerie-style room for relaxing, and treatments. The gym overlooks the outdoor pool. There’s a boot cupboard (concealed behind a secret panel, of course) for exploring the varied grounds, which include a maze and water garden and are a huge attraction. Once the day's visitors have departed (or before they've arrived), you'll have the vast, magnificent tree-lined parterre at the rear of the house all to yourself.
From spring to autumn, you'd be hard pressed to find a lovelier way to spend a sunny late afternoon than cruising down the Thames on one of the hotel's vintage boats with a glass of champagne (departing 5pm and 6pm April-August; 4pm and 5pm September and October; £60 pp).
- Fitness centre
- Room service
- Steam room/hammam
- Tennis court
Design is similar throughout room categories (from Club, Classic and Deluxe to a wide range of suites, and Spring Cottage) but colour schemes differ. Ours, the Mountbatten suite, used to be the billiards room and is accordingly huge. It’s traditional, but many touches keep things up to date, including slick light marble bathrooms. You’ll find beautiful antique furniture, plenty of panelling and more paintings, and all rooms feel characterful.
There are lots of different features throughout rooms so ask if you want a four-poster bed, working fireplace, freestanding bathtub or even an outdoor hot tub. Even the smallest entry-level (Club) room is a reasonable size, and among the more contemporary of the accommodation, with fewer patterns.
There are Nespresso machines and tea facilities, though no fridges, but these are available on request and fresh milk can be brought up. Salon-quality hairdryers, Asprey toiletries, Roberts iPhone docks and large televisions are also provided. Higher category rooms also afford access to a homely honesty bar, from which guests can help themselves to wine, beer, soft drinks and snacks.
Food and Drink
Formal dining here has modern flourishes. Start with an aperitif in the residents’ lounge, and catch sunset on the terrace if you can - try the Cliveden 66 (£24), served in a coupe and made with Veuve Clicquot and 24 carat gold. A black truffle risotto (£18) to start was warming and creamy yet held back from being overly rich, while twice-baked cheese soufflé (£16) was every bit as fluffy and flavoursome as one could hope for.
There’s a good range of fish for mains (from £36); my velvety halibut was kept light with fresh, seasonal veg. The showstopper is the beef Wellington for two (£80), perfectly rare and enveloped in golden, flaky pastry. Try the banana, peanut and caramel dessert (£14); like a grown-up Snickers. The wine list is extensive, so seeking help is advisable. Small glasses are available from as little as £6.50, and fine wines are also available by the glass. Vegetarian and vegan menus are available, as well as tasting menus.
Afternoon tea is served in the main restaurant and Great Hall (12-2.30pm Monday to Saturday and 2.15-4.30pm Sunday; from £40), while the Astor Grill offers more informal dining (salads; burgers etc).
Breakfast is served in the French dining room; a buffet with cereals, yogurt, fruit, breads and pastries, juices (including green), meats, salmon and cheeses, plus cooked options.
Value for Money
Double (Club) rooms from £445 Sunday-Thursday; or from £475 Friday and Saturday, year-round, plus £10 National Trust fee. Expensive, certainly, but a cut above its contemporaries. Buffet breakfast £20; or £25 including cooked items. Free Wi-Fi.
Access for guests with disabilities?
The National Trust website has detailed information regarding access to the grounds, however the house itself is not wheelchair-accessible owing to its historic nature; there are a number of steps and stairs throughout. Ground-floor rooms are available though, so those with limited mobility should enquire with the hotel.
Yes, very; I saw lots of families, and despite the grandeur of the house, there's a definite unfussiness, as well as oodles of space to let off steam (including a play trail and the Storybook Play Den for little ones), so boisterous children won't raise eyebrows (though under-16s are only allowed in the swimming pools at certain times).
Children stay for free in their parents' rooms during school holidays. Games, toys and DVDs are available to borrow in the house; children are wecome in the restaurant from 6-8pm (or all evening in the Astor Grill), with a special menu offered. Well-behaved dogs over the age of one are welcome in certain rooms.