Jo Fletcher-Cross gets a taste of luxurious country house living with a generous slice of history
Country house spa retreats are no rarity in England but this is genuinely something special. Originally commissioned by the second Duke of Buckingham, George Villers, for his mistress (Anna, Countess of Shrewsbury), who moved into the house in 1666, it’s since housed a Prince of Wales, three countesses, two dukes and the Astors — and was the setting for the infamous Profumo affair. The Cliveden Estate is now managed by the National Trust and during the day, visitors troop past to admire the stunning architecture and sprawling 365-acre gardens. Once they’ve left though, hotel guests have it all to themselves: it’s very easy to imagine yourself as lady of the manor. During a stroll around the grounds, we stumbled across a wonderful exhibition about the ladies of Cliveden, Misrepresented, which will continue in various forms throughout 2018.
Recently reopened after an extensive renovation, the new spa at Cliveden is gorgeous. Built around the existing outdoor pool (which is, incidentally, where John Profumo first met Christine Keeler, then the 19-year-old mistress of a suspected Russian spy), there are light-filled glass corridors and a bright, elegant relaxation area. Even if the weather isn’t quite right for outdoor swimming, there are two outdoor hot tubs — the perfect spot for relaxing with a glass of champagne while admiring the huge clocktower. There’s also an indoor pool, fitness studio, Technogym, infrared sauna and infused steam room, Jacuzzi and a fitness studio with a programme of classes. Tennis fans can enjoy the two outdoor and one indoor court. The Spa Kitchen offers a light, healthy menu. I didn’t take advantage of that though since I was too busy relaxing in the Jacuzzi.
I had a 60-minute Cliveden warm oil massage, where I was offered a choice of fragrances. I went for Anna Maria — named after the first mistress of Cliveden, blended from rosehip, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, evening primrose and calendula oils, and perfumed with black rose and cedarwood. It was a fairly standard massage, though my therapist, Amber, listened carefully to my requests and did an excellent job of working out my shoulder tension. I felt deeply relaxed afterwards and my skin smelled wonderful. I wasn’t terribly taken with the water mattresses on the treatment beds — I kept thinking I was going to roll off every time I adjusted my position but, filled as they were with warm water, they did keep me feeling very cosy.
There are 38 rooms and suites, each named after someone from Cliveden’s past. We stayed in the Vanderbilt suite, which was exceptionally spacious and grand yet still tasteful. An entrance room with writing desk led to a living area with a lovely fireplace, enormous chandelier, comfortable sofa and chairs, a large TV and a coffee table strewn with books about the history of the house. The bedroom had opulent silk wallpaper and a comfy, squishy bed bedecked in crisp white linen. The bathroom was extremely large with lots of grey marble, a huge bath and a separate powerful shower. A tablet in the room provided information not just about the usual hotel services, but also about the decorating choices in each room plus plenty of interesting history and local information.
The Andre Garrett restaurant is a delight, decorated in creams, greens and gold, with powder blue-velvety tub chairs setting the tone — sit back, relax and don’t worry about being challenged too much. Dinner was utterly delicious with a slight, comforting hint of nursery food — asparagus with coddled egg, smooth mashed potato, a peanut butter parfait that was rather like a fancy deconstructed Snickers bar. Service was friendly and not overbearing and the atmosphere, which I’d worried might be a little stuffy, was warm and convivial. Breakfast is also served in the restaurant — try and get a table by the window for a stunning view over the parterre. We were served perfect eggs Benedict and exceptionally good fresh orange juice, alongside an excellent selection of meats, fruit, bread and pastries.
We also had lunch in the Astor Grill, which is a lovely, cosy spot in what I think was an old stable — there’s certainly an equestrian theme, with jockeys jumping all over the blinds and wooden horse models. Booths are upholstered in teal leather and it all feels rather like a very upmarket diner. An Astor fizz — a delicious, elderflower-based champagne cocktail — started things off very well, followed by a surprisingly good burger. I was a bit envious of my friend’s lobster and fries, though. Service, again, was completely charming.
The absolute epitome of luxurious country house living, while managing to still feel friendly and cosy. Perfection.
The 60-minute Cliveden warm oil massage is £90.
Rooms start from £445
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