Forever known as a place of political scandal and intrigue, Cliveden House ticks all the boxes for an unforgettable mini-moon, as Demelza Rayner discovers…
Cliveden isn't your average honeymoon hotel – for starters this magnificent Italiante mansion is the master of first impressions, with its pristine National Trust gardens, imposing sculptures and breathtaking countryside views. At one end of the drive sits the Fountain of Love – the inspiration for the water feature in the recent film adaptation of Cinderella and just one indicator that this prestigious property is perfect for newlyweds. Originally privately owned – one time by William Waldorf Astor, the richest man in America – Cliveden has hosted its fair share of high society gatherings over the years. It was also the venue for the infamous 'Profumo affair', which contributed to the collapse of the Conservative government at the time. Needless to say, if the walls could talk, they'd certainly have a lot to say!
Live like a King
Now owned by the National Trust, Cliveden is run as a historic hotel boasting a range of luxurious rooms and suites. Each one is individually named after a celebration in history and ours – The Buckingham Suite – was named after a duel fought between the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Shrewsbury, leaving the Earl of Shrewsbury dead and the Duke of Buckingham victorious. All wood panelling, oil paintings and traditional furnishings – the building's history seeps out of every surface. However, rather than being dark and gloomy, the high ceilings and enormous windows ensure that light floods into the room, highlighting its stately furniture. A visitor's book on the desk drew my eye and I was delighted to see that the comedian David Baddiel was a recent guest, however, nothing compared to the dignitaries, politicians and members of the royal family who would have once stayed here! The room was certainly impressive, but it was the views from the window that truly elevated the experience. In the foreground immaculate formal gardens and acres of woodland caught the eye, while in the background the river Thames could be seen snaking its way through the beautiful Berkshire countryside. My husband and I were so busy admiring the accommodation that we initially overlooked the chilled half bottle of Tattinger champagne and box of chocolate truffles – a lovely touch if you're honeymooning at Cliveden, and certainly a wonderful welcome for two time-poor, sleep-deprived working parents such as ourselves!
So spa, so good
We could have easily spent the rest of the afternoon admiring the room, glass of champagne in hand, but the spa was calling! Last year it underwent a multi-million pound renovation to double the treatment rooms, create a new spa restaurant and lounge, and build a stylish glazed walkway. The result is a tranquil, stylish retreat dedicated to wellness and relaxation. A real coup for the spa is its partnership with Sarah Chapman – a global beauty influencer specialising in unique award-winning facials from her Chelsea clinic. Indeed, my 60-minute Skinesis® facial was unlike any other I've experienced. Described as 'gymnastics for the face' it comprises pinching and rolling movements across the skin that, while aren't uncomfortable, are a completely new sensation for someone used to a more soothing routine! The results spoke for themselves though and I left with glowing skin that had been sculpted and lifted – I can see why it's such a celebrity favourite! After the treatment, it was time to relax by the indoor pool, glass of fruit-infused water in hand, before taking a quick dip to justify the evening meal to come! As day turned to night, the two hot tubs in the courtyard outside beckoned and we dashed through the chilly air before immersing ourselves in the steaming bubbles! Stars twinkled in the inky sky above, the outdoor pool glistened a mesmerising aqua and the opulent gold faces of the 30-metre clock tower shone in the moonlight – as far as romantic moments go – this has to be a highlight!
Couples staying in the suites have 24-hour access to the 'Butler's Kitchen', boasting complimentary soft drinks, beer and wine, along with a range of snacks. Rather than filling up on sweet treats, we saved ourselves for the evening meal at the hotel's fine dining restaurant headed up by the talented André Garrett. His signature tasting menu focuses on fresh seasonal ingredients and contained such gems as Portland crab with avocado and lemon, locally stalked fallow dear with watercress and chestnut, and peanut butter parfait with toffee, chocolate and honeycomb. Each dish was a miniature work of art, delighting the eyes as well as the tastebuds, while the knowledgeable sommelier ensured the matching wines enhanced the flavour further. By night guests can admire the opulence of the room, with its stunning chandeliers, while at breakfast the tables by the window make the most of the far-reaching views.
Out and about
Following an eight-course tasting menu for dinner, and a hearty full English breakfast the next morning, a long stroll through the estate was just the thing to keep indigestion at bay! It's no wonder that Cliveden is such a magnet for visitors to its gardens each year – we explored the fabulous Long Garden, with its immaculate topiary birds, embraced our inner-child by getting lost in the giant yew tree maze, walked over bridges in the wonderful water garden and then wandered through the woodland to the Duke of Sutherland's Statue with superb views back to the mansion house. As experiences go, a stay at Cliveden transports its guests to another world – one where political scandal is in the past, and the focus is now firmly on guest satisfaction and romance. Contact Cliveden www.clivedenhouse.co.uk