Cliveden House: High Living, Scandal & Seduction In Berkshire

Mhairi Mann

31 October 2017

Once home to the Astor dynasty, the luxurious Cliveden House hotel harnesses heritage, comfort and splendour with famed gardens and a sparkling new spa

31 October 2017 | Mhairi Mann

Few hotels evoke scandal and intrigue quite like Cliveden House. This luxurious stately home was once the stage for legendary aristocratic parties and political controversy, with a vivacious cast made up of Nancy Astor, Christine Keeler, Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill.

Cliveden House was built by the Duke of Buckingham in 1666 as both a hunting home and a hideaway for his mistress, Anna Maria, Countess of Shrewsbury. The Duke and Duchess of Sutherland moved into Cliveden in 1849, the same year that the house suffered a disastrous fire. The house was rebuilt by architect Charles Barry, also responsible for Westminster Abbey.

Barry’s grand, Italianate architecture and the Duke of Sutherland's gregarious aplomb together attracted a glamourous and wealthy crowd during the 19th century. William Waldorf Astor then purchased the house in 1893 and the infamous Cliveden Set was born, led by Astor’s notorious daughter Nancy. Lavish parties brought the likes of Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Ghandi and Queen Victoria. It was at Cliveden House that John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, met model Christine Keeler in 1961, leading to a scandalous affair that would result in the end of Profumo’s career and Harold MacMillian’s government.

The infamous stately home was gifted to the National Trust in 1942 and opened as a hotel in 1985, changing hands in 2012. Behind the iconic, neoclassical façade lie 38 suites and rooms; a glamourous yet cosy bar and a palatial, gilded dining room, flourished with Italianate glamour.

Today Cliveden House is far a less scandalous place, attracting urban sophisticates and an international set seeking a slice of real-life Downton Abbey drama, amid 365 rural acres of National Trust-owned plummy parkland. Supercars roll up the driveaway while spa-goers in dressing gowns dart across the manicured lawns. Relics of Cliveden’s past pepper the corridors: original wall panels, suits of armour and ornate marble busts. Rooms - each one named after an esteemed former guest - match sumptuous velvet and mid-century details with state-of-the-art contemporary comforts, with glistening marble bathrooms.

On a Sunday afternoon, the relaxed, rustic Astor Grill (once a stable for Lord Astor’s horses) is warmly buzzing with families and weekending couples in tweed and shearling. Here, enjoy Anglo-American classics, Britain's best truffle triple-cooked chips and a considered wine list. Once finished, burn off lunch with a stroll through the hotel’s famed and impeccably landscaped gardens. 

While this iconic outdoor pool remains unaltered since Keeler’s history-defining moment, the surrounding spa has undergone a sparkling facelift. It has reopened this year with a heated indoor pool, sauna, steam room, fitness centre and treatment rooms, all wrapped up in glossy brick and marble. 

The sybaritic spa has exclusively partnered with London's revered facialist Sarah Chapman on a concise menu of age-defying facials. The extensive menu also features rejuvenating treatments using Oskia, renowned for its nutritional approach to skincare. The new spa marks the completion of a multi-million-pound renovation and, like the rest of the hotel, it has been inspired by the strong and remarkable women that flavour Cliveden’s illustrious past. Cliveden House offers Italianate splendour, which has been impeccably modernised without diluting its magic. 

Dinner at the André Garrett serves contemporary French cuisine, amid opulent crystal chandeliers and plush velvet furnishings for a meal that is both dramatic and delicious. Nancy Astor would have certainly approved.