Cliveden House, Berkshire
01 March, 2019
"With a history of unapologetic debauchery, our Grade-I-listed stately home's most heinous of scandals shook the British parliament and played out on these very grounds."
So sets the tone for Cliveden, which you've probably heard of thanks to its cameo role as the backdrop for the start of the Profumo affair - 19-year-old model and alleged mistress to a Russian spy, Christine Keeler, met a young John Profumo here on a long hot summer's evening in 1961 - and the eye-wateringly magnificent mansion house with its sprawling gardens and impeccable service continues to woo well-heeled visitors today.
Renowned for Gatsby-esque parties thrown by Lord Astor, 21st-century Cliveden is the country-house hotel to trump all others; a place where starstruck young lovers join those who have stood the test of time for a weekend of wandering hand-in-hand through this illustrious pocket of history, whispers of the past beckoning them along wood-panelled corridors and down to the end of the garden for snatched moments that may change their lives forever.
What's for breakfast?
Taken beneath twinkling chandeliers and pastel frescoes in the cream and gilt dining room with sweeping views of the grounds, head to the buffet table which heaves under home-baked pastries, cold cuts, fruits, cereals and yoghurts, before turning your attention to a hot menu of eggs benny and the like. Whatever you plump for, be sure to order hollandaise sauce on the side - far from the bright-yellow gloopy stuff that arrives all too often, the light, frothy texture is evidence of its just-whisked state and it's simply sublime.
How about lunch and dinner?
For lunch, equestrian-themed Astor Grill set in the hotel grounds is a relaxed, brasserie-style affair serving up an all-day menu of salads, steaks and burgers - treat it as your pub following a brusque walk down to the River Thames. For dinner, play up to your scintillatingly glamorous surroundings with an outfit Nancy Astor would approve of (she famously stated: "I married beneath me. All women do.") and an extra spritz of your headiest fragrance. Then sashay to the dining room to make your way through a delightful menu that begins with yellowfin-tuna tartare, roasted-duck liver and black winter-truffle risotto before diving into beautiful fish courses - we can never resist dover sole - or perhaps a loin of roe-deer wellington to share. A stellar wine list is delivered by a smiling sommelier who guides guests from their first sip of sparkling through to their last swill of sauterne.
Is there a bar?
Yes. Dark, moody and lined with leather-bound volumes, order something stiff and seductive and imagine what Cliveden was like when Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria were visitors.
Things I should know
There's an open pantry on the first floor, stocked with homemade treats and digestifs, perfect for a midnight feast chez toi.
The spa is second-to-none, offering seven treatment rooms alongside a Technogym, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and tennis courts, a sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and al-fresco hot tubs. We're not sure if these count as amenities per se, but for winter you'll find firelit, armchair-filled sitting rooms galore, while summer calls for a boat trip and picnic.
Within a short walk I can find…
This isn't the place for a short walk. Grab a bottle and your companion, then head out into the manicured gardens and the woods beyond for an afternoon of frolicking that Lord Astor would be proud of.