A stately love affair
Berkshire's regal residence reveals secrets both old and new to Phoebe J. McDowell
At Cliveden House all traces of modernity are seemingly abandoned at the gates. As the Italianate mansion and gold-etched clock tower loom into view, even cars feel anachronistic; horses and carts would be more fitting. Butler, please? Once home to Nancy and Waldorf Astor, Cliveden was frequented by the smart set of the 20s and 30s: Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Ghandi. It also provided the backdrop to the infamous Profumo Affair. If the walls could speak, what tales they would tell?
Overlooking the River Thames, it's refreshing knowing that you’re not in London, but could be in under an hour. Only a handful of cars crunching up the gravel and a faint whisper of scandal break the monastic silence. Inside, the juxtaposition of old and new is flawless. Sympathetic restorations – it has been blazed to the ground on two occasions – pay homage to Cliveden’s heritage, while the service and facilities are everything you’d expect of a new age address. With cavernous fireplaces, a grand oak staircase, wood-panelled ceilings, suits of arms and walls adorned with sombre portraits, there’s something to steal your gaze at every turn – perhaps even one scantily clad Ms Keeler.
Named rather than numbered, all rooms are decidedly palatial and filled with antique curiosities, heavy chests, plump sofas and leather-embossed writing desks. Beds are of epic proportions and sash windows offer rousing views of the sprawling Berkshire countryside. Bathrooms harness the power of marble in the most resplendent of ways, begging to play just as big a part in your experience as the bedrooms. With a fireplace and glistening chandelier, the Buckingham Suite’s bathroom (hidden by a secret door) does just that.
The marriage of Cliveden House and Michelin-starred chef André Garrett is one that warrants fireworks. The dining room exudes opulence and grandeur and unsurprisingly, the former Galvin at Windows chef delivers on the expectations conjured from his name. Complex techniques executed with aplomb are a plenty, but his offerings – which include grilled Herdwick mutton cutlet and roast fillet of Turbot – are free from pretence. Nevertheless, dress to the nines – it wouldn’t feel right any other way.
Boasting two swimming pools, a pavilion spa, tennis courts, a boathouse and verdant walled gardens, there’s every component to recreate a scene from your favourite Austen novel (if you’re in need of inspiration, there’s a library full of her work, amongst illustrated histories of the wars and antique tattered classics). However, if Bond is more your muse, and helicopters more your mode of transport, there is of course a helipad.
We defy you not to be enamoured by Cliveden. Once the playground to high society mavericks and marvels, it now provides a lens into a bygone era, and is a true lesson in age-old luxury.