When Downton Abbey the film opened in September, we were reminded of a time when everyone was polite and dressed for dinner. Oh to be Lady Mary Crawley and stay in an English country house for a day. Well, you can. Just 40 minutes from central London, overlooking the Thames Cliveden in Maidenhead offers the 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 friends and mistresses, it’s soiree appeal was cemented in 1893 when American millionaire, William Waldorf Astor gave it to his son as a wedding gift. His new bride Lady Nancy Astor became the socialite of the age with everyone seeking an invite to her dinners and her visitors’ book signed by Charles Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw, etc, is still Cliveden’s star attraction. Only 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 entering the Grand Hall, front of house manager Duarte De Arez Cintra offers a warm and personal greeting to ease us in, along with Champagne in the Orkney suite with its elegantly decorated sitting room, large bedroom and marble bathroom en-suite which was all ours for the night. Half expecting to see Bates the ladies maid by the bath, we put on towelling robes 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 and I recommend a full 60-minute body massage.
There’s much to see inside Cliveden with its 300 year old Belgian tapestries and Joshua Reynold paintings and amid the splendour there are lots of dogs. Lots. In keeping with the habits of the country set, Cliveden is dog friendly and they have full access to everywhere, except the dining rooms, but 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 a soufflé and cheese trolley. Delish!
There is a children’s club during school holidays supervised by a fully-trained nanny and with seasonal holidays 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 in time minus the aristocractic title. To paraphrase the words of 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 everyone leaves feeling like a Lady Mary and I hope to again.
Tel: 01628 668561