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My stay at Cliveden House luxury hotel (favourite of poets, players and princesses)

Throughout my own stay at Cliveden House luxury hotel, there was one question which I found almost impossible to answer. Would Cliveden still be as fabulous if it wasn’t, well, Cliveden? Would it seem as special if it were just a very nice 17th century country house in which Winston Churchill and Noel Coward hadn’t stayed, for example? Would its gardens still be as pretty if you weren’t thinking that Lady Astor had strolled these very grounds with George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin?

And would the beautiful outdoor swimming pool in the walled garden still be quite as marvellous to swim in if – well, you get the idea.

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This is the first sight of Cliveden and its bell tower as you come up the lengthy driveway
Cliveden’s impressive history

The thing about Cliveden is that it is almost impossible to judge it on its own merits by separating it from its quite incredible past. The Great Hall with its portraits and grand fireplace is stunning, but it feels even more so because you know that some of the most accomplished people in recent history have discussed art and politics over cocktails exactly where you are sitting.

It most recently hit the world headlines when Meghan Markle chose to spend the night before her wedding to Prince Harry and it would be nice to think she’ll get another chance to stay at Cliveden. While the luxury five-star Berkshire hotel with its 376 acres of stunning  countryside was no doubt a haven of calm for her before the madness of the big day itself, as a nervous bride-to-be I’m not sure how much she was able to take in of the hotel itself: its sumptuous rooms, its luxury spa, its fine-dining restaurant and most of all, the atmosphere of history and celebrity which is soaked into the very walls.

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Cliveden is set in 376 acres of countryside, including some impressive ornate gardens
‘That’ swimming pool

The swimming pool would be a talking point in its own right, but it is particularly amazing to swim in because you know it is where John Profumo met Christine Keeler and precipitated a whole chain of events which scandalised the nation and eventually led to the fall of the Government.

Cliveden House Meghan Markle Royal Wedding
Yes, it’s THAT swimming pool…

The gardens and the drive leading up to the house are spectacular enough anyway without the backdrop of history to set them off, but there is a thrill which sparkles through the very air at Cliveden which makes a visit there seem far more than just a night away in just any old stately home.

To book directly with the hotel, go to:  Cliveden House hotel
To compare the latest prices for Cliveden House hotel on: HotelsCombined – Expedia
To read more reviews and for the latest prices click here to go to Cliveden House Hotel on TripAdvisor

A night in the Prince of Wales Suite

I arrived one balmy summer’s evening, tyres crunching up the gravel drive to the house where Sebastian the footman (I loved typing that) was waving me in. He kindly parked my yellow Fiat, which looked somewhat out of place in such a grand setting, and I was shown to my room, or more accurately, set of rooms. We had been given the £1,500-a-night Prince of Wales suite, named after Frederick, the eldest son of George II and it was, as you’d expect, incredibly grand.

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Our personalised nameplate for the night

There was a huge entrance hall, in which a bottle of champagne was cheerfully chilling, a vast lounge with a spectacular view of the gardens, a bedroom ante-chamber, the bedroom itself and then a dark red bathroom decorated with intricate frescoes.

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Our view of the stunning gardens from the £1,500-a-night Prince of Wales suite

There was an antique writing desk, a dozen oil paintings on the walls, a decanter of port next to the tea-making facilities, endless robes and fluffy towels and best of all, it actually felt like genuine, lived-in room in a country house, rather than a brand-new but rather soulless room in a posh hotel.

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Hartwell House: a luxury stay with the Downton Abbey factor

As I walked around and around thinking that this really was the life, I switched the radio on and the song playing happened to be the theme tune to Brideshead Revisited. It seemed extremely appropriate.

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The lounge in the Prince of Wales suite – it’s smart but cosy and relaxing at the same time

My mum was my plus one for the night, and she was practically speechless. I wasn’t much more eloquent, wandering around saying things like ‘Wow!’ and ‘Look at this!’ until I decided to open the champagne and really get settled into the good life.

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Our rather impressive bath in the rather impressive bathroom
Cocktails and Cliveden’s past

Downstairs in the Great Hall we drank gin and tonics with Cliveden’s general manager Sue Williams (who has since gone to work her magic at the excellent Whatley Manor) and, surrounded by portraits and tapestries, discussed Cliveden’s amazing history. It was built in 1666 by George Villiers, the Second Duke of Buckingham, and passed down the line before being sold by the Duke of Westminster in 1893 to William Waldorf Astor, a wealthy American who had decided to make England his home.

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Cliveden at dusk

He later gave Cliveden to his son, the Second Viscount Astor, when he married Nancy Langhorne. It was thanks to Lady Astor and her love of gathering intellectuals and artists around her such as Lawrence of Arabia, Henry James, George Bernard Shaw, Amelia Earhart and the most notable politicians of the day such as Churchill and Macmillan that Cliveden became known for its parties and the Cliveden ‘set’.

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The fireplace in the Great Hall with the John Singer Sargent portrait of Lady Astor in the far corner
From scandal to student digs

After the Profumo scandal which saw the Cliveden name dragged through the mud, the Astors decided it was time to depart. The house, which they had previously given to the National Trust on condition they could still live there, rather incongruously became on overseas campus for Stanford University, and students still return nowadays to check out their old digs.

In the late 1980s it was converted into a hotel and after several years languishing in obscurity, it was leased by property developers Ian and Richard Livingstone who have spent upwards of £20 million restoring it to its former glory.

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It’s all very Downton…the old servants’ bells, sadly no longer in use

After a quick tour of the house, including a newly-refurbished bust-lined hall, Lady Astor’s boudoir and the totally over-the-top French Dining Room based on Madame de Pompadour’s own, it was time for dinner in the terrace dining room. This is a light and airy long room overlooking the gardens – or parterre, as it is known – and has three chandeliers.

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Madame de Pompadour had a dining room very much like this one, apparently
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This is the more restrained guest dining room at Cliveden – just the three chandeliers
Dining at Cliveden

We started with the seared Isle of Skye scallops with pea shoot veloute, and crab with a basil bisque, coppa and melon, both of which were delicious.

The same applied to the main course of new season Devon lamb which came with lettuce, young garlic and an onion puree and boulangere potatoes, and it was all washed down by a very nice Portuguese red wine recommended by the sommelier. We finished off with mille-feuille with passion fruit, mango, fromage frais sorbet and I devoured most of the vast cheese board.

It was all rather sumptuous, but to be honest, sitting in the Cliveden dining room looking out onto acres of beautifully-kept gardens while the sun set over the Berkshire countryside, we could have eaten almost anything and been happy. There is something very calm and tranquil about Cliveden which makes you feel as if you have been transported back a century or two.

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It had been rather a nice evening…

We finished the wine and some petit fours back in the Great Hall before retiring to our sumptuous suite, where we stayed up until 2am playing Scrabble, unwilling to waste our stay here on something as dull as sleeping. The twin beds (there is usually a double there) were extremely comfortable, and I snoozed on till past eight. However my mother, too excited to sleep, was up and out at six, exploring the grounds and the rest of the house as I slept.

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The early-morning mist rolls down from Cliveden to the Thames in the distance
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Cliveden and its grounds look great from every angle
Time for a morning swim

I had just one plan for the morning – a swim in the pool. I was the only one in there and the refreshing dip in the morning sunshine was the perfect start to the day. Would it have been as good if it had been just any old pool? Probably – but the knowledge that I was swimming in one of the most famous pools in the country certainly gave it an edge. Cliveden has since totally revamped its spa building and even won best ‘new or back on the scene’ spa at the recent Conde Nast Johanssen awards so is going from strength to strength.

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I couldn’t resist an early-morning swim in the pool made famous by Christine Keeler

After breakfast back in the main restaurant, there was time just for a stroll across the terrace and around the grounds where the National Trust day trippers were already roaming, and then, extremely reluctantly, we said farewell.IMG_0248

Cliveden Meghan Markle Royal Wedding
A reluctant farewell to a remarkable hotel
Cliveden House Hotel, Clivedon Road, Taplow, Berkshire SL6 0JF
Phone: 01628 668561
Cliveden House is part of the Iconic Luxury Hotels group which also owns Chewton Glen and the Lygon Arms in the Cotswolds
Cliveden is part of Relais & Chateaux hotels
To book directly with the hotel, go to:  Cliveden House hotel
To compare the latest prices for Cliveden House hotel on: HotelsCombined – Expedia
To read more reviews and for the latest prices click here to go to Cliveden House Hotel onTripAdvisor
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Arranging a hotel and parking at Gatwick airport: testing the APH offer

Arranging a hotel and parking at Gatwick airport – or indeed  Heathrow, Luton or Stansted as well, I travel frequently from all of them – is always a major headache. This could be to do with the fact I usually leave it to the very last minute, pretty much just before I set off,  or sometimes the night before if I’m particularly organised. Either way, it’s usually a case of panic-Googling until I find something that looks not too expensive or too cheap (you read horror stories of cars being dumped in a field or driven for miles while the owner is away) and then just going for it.

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You won’t be short of choices when it comes to airport parking, but that could make it hard to know which option to go for
Organising airport parking

Continue reading Arranging a hotel and parking at Gatwick airport: testing the APH offer

The Montagu Arms, Beaulieu: a New Forest feast

The brochure for The Montagu Arms in the New Forest encourages guests to ‘take your cue from the ponies: graze, wander and enjoy the quiet.’ I did all three during my stay at this 200-year old hotel and emerged feeling as relaxed and content as the beautiful ponies which roamed freely around the surrounding roads and meadows.

The picturesque village of Beaulieu (fittingly, the name means ‘beautiful place’) is tiny, and seems to have more ponies than people living there. A handful of Georgian cottages line the few streets but it is certainly far less built-up than its New Forest neighbours such as Brockenhurst and Lymington.

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The welcoming entrance of The Montagu Arms

This means that The Montagu Arms, located right at the heart of the village, is quite a striking landmark, rivalled only by the 13th century Beaulieu Abbey Church which lies across the river.

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The hotel is just a few steps from the Beaulieu river which forms a beautiful lake – ideal for a country walk

The hotel’s charming and traditional exterior is replicated inside: this is no modern boutique venue but old-fashioned in the nicest sense of the word- the reception is oak-lined, the lounge with its view of the pretty garden was full of people enjoying afternoon tea and the overall atmosphere is of quiet refinement. Continue reading The Montagu Arms, Beaulieu: a New Forest feast

My stay at The Marylebone: a room with a view and a seriously nice roof terrace

A definite perk of reviewing luxury hotels is that ‘wow!’ feeling when you walk into a hotel bedroom for the first time and find something completely unexpected. Unlocking the door to my suite at The Marylebone in central London was one of those moments.

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Perfect for people-watching or sun-bathing…

It wasn’t sparked by the private staircase to my door off the main corridor, the wacky green circular coffee table or even the huge mirror which I later discovered was actually a television screen, but by discovering that I had my very own roof terrace.

Now it’s rare enough to find a room with a balcony in London but this was a proper terrace, decked out in the style of a ski chalet with wooden walls, cosy sofas with lots of cushions and a roaring (electric) fire, over which was another vast TV screen. A retractable roof and sides meant you could enjoy sun-bathing in a heatwave or stay warm in the winter, and while a view over the rooftops of central London are never going to match the Alps or rolling Tuscan hills, it was great fun seeing London from a totally new angle. Continue reading My stay at The Marylebone: a room with a view and a seriously nice roof terrace

Rockliffe Hall Darlington, County Durham – a relaxing spa escape

After being trapped in for hours in Bank Holiday roadworks hell, the five-star hotel Rockliffe Hall Darlington in in County Durham was a more than welcome sight. Set in 375 acres of parkland, the original building dates from the 1800s, but over the years the 61-room hotel has been extended to include a highly-rated 50,000 ft spa and three restaurants, two of which overlook its 18-hole Championship golf course.

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The rather lovely view from my bedroom

Thanks to the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the A1, my visit turned out to be a flying one, with no time for a round of golf or even a stroll round the lush-looking gardens.

Check the latest price on for Rockliffe Hall here
Compare latest prices for Rockliffe Hall click here
To read more reviews go to Rockliffe Hall on TripAdviser here

However I could admire them from my vast hotel room, which had a huge bed, massive amounts of storage space, a separate bath and shower and French windows which opened out onto my very own patio.

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The bedrooms are huge, with one or two King-sized beds

The rest of the hotel was equally spacious, with huge, carpeted corridors leading the way to the spa in one direction and the hotel bar in the other. Continue reading Rockliffe Hall Darlington, County Durham – a relaxing spa escape

A cooling terrace (and a cocktail or two) at The Bloomsbury, London

When it’s hot in the city, your first instinct might be to run for the hills (or the coast) but just steps from the sweltering heat of Tottenham Court Road tube station, The Bloomsbury hotel is a great spot in which to cool down.

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The Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury hotel is a lovely spot whatever the weather

Its hidden secret is the Dalloway Terrace which runs along the side of the hotel: from the outside it doesn’t look like anything special, but those who ascend the steps will find a lovely two-tiered terrace with lush plants  – the perfect place in which to shelter from the boiling sun and enjoy afternoon tea, a cocktail or two, or even an al fresco dinner as night descends.

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The grand lobby of the Bloomsbury hotel

Having endured a sweltering Tube journey across town, I was somewhat surprised to be asked: ‘Would you like a hot towel?’ when I checked in at reception. Rather than risk over-heating, I accepted a cooling mint water instead from the water coolers in the lobby and headed up to my room, a studio suite, which was on the fifth floor. Continue reading A cooling terrace (and a cocktail or two) at The Bloomsbury, London

The Gore Hotel: history, luxury and some rock and roll cocktails

My bedroom at The Gore hotel in Kensington was definitely one with the ‘wow’ factor. There were oil-paintings and gilt-edged mirrors and the bed itself was so vast and so high it felt as if I needed a footstool to climb aboard.

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My bedroom was rather grand (number 11, first floor)

The epic theme continued into the bathroom which was decked out in a pink marble effect with pillars, a high ceiling and a loo which was more like a throne – possibly something that Gandalf might use. It didn’t look the most comfortable of seats but was certainly one of the most memorable conveniences I’ve seen in a hotel room – or anywhere else, for that matter.

While some hotels try and emulate the look and feel of a historic country house, the Gore hotel, which opened in 1892, can’t help but feel seeped in history. Many of its paintings and furniture date back to the 19th or early 20th century, although it certainly doesn’t feel tired or dated.

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The Judy Garland suite, complete with red slippers

It has 50 individually-designed bedrooms, ranging from classic doubles to junior suites such as the Judy Garland (named after one of its famous guests), Dame Nellie and its top suite, the Tudor Room, has its own fireplace, minstrel’s gallery and 15th century four-poster bed. Continue reading The Gore Hotel: history, luxury and some rock and roll cocktails