Contrary to its appearance, Cliveden is not in the least bit stuck up as Suzanne Baum discovers on a spa day visit
As a fan of Downtown Abbey I couldn’t help reflecting on the British costume drama as we made our way from London to Cliveden House. Having forgotten to check before we left home if there was a dress code, I was slightly concerned that my husband’s torn chinos would look out of place.
It even crossed my mind that our car was not classy enough and my hand luggage was Gap and not Gucci. How wrong I was! Yes there is an air of classiness about the hotel but this is totally unreflective of the visitor and more part of the charm of Cliveden.
The Relais&Chateaux 17th century stately home may have an air of grandeur about it but it is in fact very informal. When the new Jewish owners bought the house in 2012 -after it had been put up for sale by Von Essen Hotels, it was in need of a facelift. The London-based property tycoons, who are fiercely secret, set about refurbishing the hotel and since their takeover have helped bring it back to its former glory.
On the day my husband Lewis and I visited we were relieved to see no sign of any Edwardian inspired costumes. The majority of guests I spotted were dressed rather casually -although there were a few groups of glammed-up ladies enjoying afternoon tea. Most people seemed to be gathered in hushed whispers despite the vastness of the entrance hall so I was somewhat relieved I had left my three unruly kids behind. However, the hotel general manager Sue Williams pointed out that although families are frequent guests, numbers were on the up for dog-owners who were choosing to take a break with their four legged friends.
Without kids in tow the first thing that struck me was the sheer peacefulness of the hotel grounds. It really is a place of serenity. I was even conscious of the noise our car wheels were making on the long gravelled driveway that leads up to the hotel. As the grounds belong to the National Trust, they are also open to visitors not staying at the hotel so it was hard not to feel a tiny bit smug as we drove past them.
The hotel is best known for being the setting of the Profumo Affair-which led to one of the greatest political scandals of the 20th century. It has also played host to guests that have included every British monarch since George I as well as Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill and many other well-known names. Each of the hotel’s 38 rooms is named after its former guests.
What struck me, from exploring the hotel, is that it is has a very masculine feel; dark wooden panelling, heavy drapes and lavish furnishings are everywhere. And staying true to its historic past, the house- which gained notoriety as the home of Waldorf and Nancy Astor-has sombre portraits of the former owners hung in the entrance hall.
Even the hotels Pavillion spa is steeped in history as this is where the affair between the then war minister Jack Profumo and 19-year-old Christine Keeler began in July 1961. It felt rather exciting and a bit unnerving swimming in the listed pool where the scandal began. I tried to voice my thoughts to my husband sitting on a nearby deckchair only to be drowned out by the hotels looming clock tower that seems to chime every 15 minutes. “Probably a good thing no one heard you,” was my husband’s response!
Unlike the main hotel, the spa-that has an indoor pool, hot tubs, gymnasium and steam room- has a very airy feel. The spa rooms are calming and the treatments my husband and I had were blissful. In the hands of the spa manageress I knew I was onto a good thing when I managed to fall asleep during my facial. Not only did my skin feel well-nourished and cleansed but the therapist managed to de-stress me through massaging my neck and shoulders. When asked how his massage was after emerging from the spa my husband just about managed to give me a dreary-eyed smile and thumbs up before nodding off on the sun lounger.
The only disadvantage in feeling so relaxed was that we didn’t have the energy to leave the spa to explore the 376 acres of formal gardens and parkland. In fact, there’s so much more to discover at the hotel that we didn’t get round to; the dining, afternoon tea river cruises, woodland trial and maze to name just a few.
There’s always next time I joke, as my husband rolls his eyes at me…. be it either from his post spa slumber sleep or the fact he’s thinking of the cost! Yes it is expensive but if you want a slice of true luxury, Cliveden House does not disappoint!
Rooms at the Cliveden House Relais & Châteaux are priced from £252-678 and suites from £660-2064 per night on a B&B basis and including VAT. All prices quoted are subject to availability and valid to December 31 2014.
For reservations at Cliveden call Relais & Châteaux: 00 800 2000 00 02 (toll free) or visit the website at: www.relaischateaux.com