WHAT'S IT LIKE? Designed by architect Charles Barry – creator of London’s Houses of Parliament – and built in 1850 on the site of two previous houses, Cliveden (pronounced “Clivden”) is just as impressive now as it must have been in its heyday as a private house. The name comes from the chalk escarpment on top of which the house sits, and it is the views over the Thames and the fabulous gardens as much as the house which make the place special.
You pull into the hotel entrance (there is a separate entrance for visitors to the grounds, which are looked after by the National Trust), past the giant Fountain of Love statue – carved in marble and volcanic rock in Rome – and park in front of the building among the Aston Martins and Bentleys. Then the attentive service takes over. Once you have been escorted to your room, where check-in takes place, the first thing to do is walk through to see the view. The natural site was accentuated by massive earth movement in the 17th century to create the views, and they remain breathtaking.
Owned by Von Essen Hotels, Cliveden is the flagship property of a group specialising in country house hotels. On the basis of my Friday night stay, the leisure guests are split between those who are extremely rich, judging by the Aston Martins, Mercedes and BMWs parked out front, and those visiting for a special treat. It is also popular for high-level corporate meetings during the week, both for the day and for overnight stays.
WHERE IS IT? Set in 376 acres of National Trust grounds in Berkshire, with views over the Thames Valley. The hotel is 20 minutes from Heathrow and 40 minutes from London.
HOW MANY ROOMS? 39 rooms and suites.
ROOM FACILITIES Each room is distinctively decorated and furnished with period pieces and antiques. Rooms have a spacious bathroom, separate sitting area and working fireplace. At this level, it is all about superlatives and outdoing the conspicuous luxury of the competitors – but I’m willing to stake that the robes at Cliveden are heavier than those of any competing hotel.
RESTAURANT AND BAR Waldo’s Restaurant is the Michelin-starred restaurant under executive head chef Daniel Galmiche (three courses for £65), while on the ground floor is The Terrace Dining Room with views down to the Thames (three-course à la carte dinner from £53). The food was excellent, though perhaps the compulsory £4 per person charge to the National Trust might have been absorbed by the already hefty charge for the meal (service was not included). The wine list was daunting both in its length and the expense of the bottles, but I was impressed that the sommelier found us a sub-£30 bottle with good grace.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES For very private and exclusive meetings, there are few venues to match Cliveden. The French Dining Room, for instance, has panelling transported from Madame de Pompadour’s hunting lodge and features the “Astor Table” which can sit 30 guests. Previous diners include Chaplin, Churchill, Bernard Shaw and Roosevelt. There’s also The Cellar dining room, the Macmillan boardroom and the Churchill boardroom. Day delegate rates are from £112 per person, 24-hour rate from £394 per person. For £30,000 you can book Cliveden exclusively (providing you guarantee £15,000 spend on food and beverage).
LEISURE FACILITIES The Pavilion Spa’s outdoor heated 18-metre swimming pool is where Profumo first saw Christine Keeler. There is also an 18-metre indoor pool, two outdoor Canadian hot tubs, sauna and steam rooms, and a conservatory café in the summer months with poolside service. The hotel offers several spa packages. Other options include horse riding, golf, fishing, shooting and archery, or just ambling around the extensive grounds. In fine weather you can take a boat trip in one of the three boats available from the hotel.
VERDICT Extremely good, outstanding for a special break or discreet meeting place, and a suitable flagship property for the group.
PRICE A classic double costs from £347 including full English breakfast, plus £7.50 National Trust charge.