Monday, 4 August 2008
Cliveden is sometimes described as the best hotel in the world. I don't know enough places which might fall into that category to judge, but it's certainly the finest I've ever visited. The glorious Italianate facade which greets you at the end of the magnificent drive is spectacular, but intimate - and indeed Cliveden still feels like a large country house rather than an hotel. An additional wing overlooking the famous swimming pool adds a number of more standard-sized rooms, but if you stay, take one of the rooms in the main house with their beautiful views across the front garden down towards the Thames.
You enter through the main hall - a marvellous panelled room dominated by a huge fireplace and hung with tapestries - and the original portrait of Nancy Astor. It's a perfect place for tea - or drinks before dinner.
You can have dinner in the Terrace dining room overlooking the garden, and it’s now done up like a pudding in an overrich terracotta but still lacks intimacy. Moreover, the chef still seems to think that the type of nouvelle cuisine where you need a golf trolley to find your way to disparate scraps of food on a vast plate is 'le mode’.. The 'haute cuisine' restaurant Waldo's in the cellars is more interesting and there are some fascinating portraits and photographs in the corridors - including a fine one of Christine Keeler. Breakfast can also be taken communally at a huge table in a magnificent room at the end of the house, just as it was when a private home - but now, only if you book for a large party.
The pool area behind a lovely old wall has been converted in to a full spa with a heated indoor pool, but it's still very easy to imagine the the beginnings of the famous Profumo / Keeler scandal there (for those too young to know about such things, there's a brief summary here)
Despite the grandeur of the house and its associations, it's marvellously relaxed and one quickly settles in to the lifestyle. Surrounded by a large park and formal gardens which are beautifully looked after by the National Trust, there is much to see before returning to the comfort of a chair by the fire in the library to contemplate starting some scandals of your own.