When Downton Abbey the film opened in September, we were reminded of a time when good manners were the norm and everyone dressed for dinner.
Oh to be Lady Mary Crawley and stay in an English country house for just one day.
Well,you can. Just 40 minutes from central London, overlooking the Thames Cliveden in Maidenhead offers that privilege.
The history of the house is as verdant as the 376 acres of National Trust gardens that surround it.
Built in 1666 by the Duke of Buckingham to entertain his friends and mistresses, it’s appeal for soirees was cemented in 1893 when American millionaire, William Waldorf Astor gave it to his son as a wedding present and his new bride Lady Nancy Astor became the socialite of the age.
Everyone sought an invitation to her dinner parties and her visitors’ book signed by Charles Chaplin , George Bernard Shaw and royalty is still Cliveden’s star attraction. Only Sir Winston Churchill couldn’t eat at her over-crowded table. “Nancy Astor should invite less guests “ he blustered !
Cliveden is imposing as you pass through the iron gates along the magnificent tree lined avenue, but on entering the Grand Hall, a warm and personal greeting from Front of House Manager Duarte De Arez Cintra put us at our ease. So did the Champagne in the “ Orkney suite “ with its elegantly decorated sitting room, large bedroom and marble bathroom en-suite which was ours for the night.
Half expecting to see Bates the ladies maid by the bath, we put on towelling robes and slippers to cross the court yard and enter the spa which was renovated in 2017. In restful tones of beige and cream with an outside heated pool and two large hot tubs, the spa also has a gym, a sauna and classes. Lord Grantham would love it. There’s much to view inside Cliveden with its 300 year old Belgian tapestries and Joshua Reynold paintings and amidst all this splendour we were surprised to see lots of dogs. In keeping with the habits of the country set, Cliveden is a dog friendly house with full access for the animals to every room and grounds, but not the dining rooms .
That said they do have their own “ doggie menu. The menu for humans created by Head Chef Paul O’Neil is outstanding and we had Black truffle risotto ( the house speciality ) followed by delicious stone sea bass with sides of cabbage and chestnuts and potatoes Lyonnaise . To finish an amazing soufflé and the cheese trolley .The next morning the rain had stopped and after scrambled eggs with salmon, we took a walk through the woodlands to Spring Cottage, notorious for its part in the Profumo Scandal. That the chance meeting in 1961 between showgirl Christine Keeler and John Profumo, then Secretary of State for War took place in these picture-book surroundings is part of Cliveden’s appeal along with its appearance in The Beatles’ film Help. If the walls could talk Cliveden would have its own podcast.
During the summer months you can hire motor boats with a pre packed picnic and cruise along the Thames to Windsor . Another lovely birthday treat! There is a children’s club during school holidays supervised by a fully trained nanny and with seasonal holidays fast approaching, the house’s two and three day packages are tempting – and you can bring the pooch. A break at this exquisite stately home is like travelling back to the age of aristocracy ,but a title is not required. To paraphrase the words of frequent visitor George Bernard Shaw: “The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated.” The joy of Cliveden is that I left feeling like Lady Mary and hope to again.
www.clivedenhouse.co.uk/tel: 01628 668561