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GLORIOUS CLIVEDEN by Maggie O'Sullivan

Posted in HOTELS + VILLAS By The Travelwrap Company

This morning I woke up in the Duke of Sutherland’s bed. The Duke of Sutherland wasn’t in it. He’s been dead for more than 150 years. And, as the receptionist who had shown me my room, remarked cheerfully, “It’s a new mattress…”

I went to Cliveden not expecting very much. When I last visited five or six years ago it was all rather depressing. After 300 years at the heart of English society, this once great house had completely lost its sparkle. But this time, even as I crunched up the long, white drive toward the Italianate mansion, I could see that things had changed. From the vast panelled entrance hall, filled with guests chatting happily over afternoon tea, and perfumed by fresh flowers, it was clear that this was a house transformed. But also one which the Duke of Sutherland, the Duke of Westminster and William and Nancy Astor, to name but a few of its illustrious former owners, would recognise.

And it’s all largely thanks to Chewton Glen, which took over the management of Cliveden House two years ago. It hasn’t been easy. The 376 acres of Grade I-listed formal gardens and parkland in which the house stands were given to the National Trust in 1942. So, too, a great many of the contents. Every improvement the hotel has made has had to be approved by the NT. But the NT does its fair share, too, constantly carrying out projects on and around the estate and currently working to conserve the sweeping, 350-year-old staircase leading from the house’s south terrace to the beautiful gardens.

Each of Cliveden’s 38 rooms and suites is named after someone from the house’s past and furnished accordingly. The finest are the two parterre suites – The Lady Astor and The Prince of Wales – on the first floor of the main house, with fabulous views over the gardens. But I loved my ‘Sutherland’ junior suite, on the ground floor of the newly restored East Wing, just as much. Like all of the rooms, it managed to be both supremely comfortable and luxurious while still feeling like a bedroom in a very grand private house. That’s something most country house hotels aim for, of course - but very few actually achieve. And very comfortable the Duke of Sutherland’s bed was, too.

Other spoiling facilities include a wonderful restaurant presided over by award-winning chef André Garrett; a gorgeous spa with indoor and outdoor pool; and a little flotilla of vintage launches offering champagne cruises on the Thames. I didn’t have time for a cruise, but I did spend a pleasant hour wandering through the woods and down to the boathouse.

Of course, despite its long history (it’s first incarnation was as a rural love nest for the second Duke of Buckingham in 1666), Cliveden will always be remembered as the setting for the scandalous Profumo Affair. Spring Cottage, which Christine Keeler shared with Stephen Ward and a Russian spy, is still there and available to rent; so is the pool in which Keeler and Conservative MP John Profumo famously cavorted (it’s now part of the swish new spa). You can buy a DVD of ‘Scandal’, the film about the affair, in the hotel shop, but I found the scandal caused by the house’s original owner – who shot his lover’s husband in a duel on Putney Heath – much more interesting. There’s no DVD, of course, but portraits of Buckingham and his lover, Lady Shrewsbury, hang next to each other in the hall. How that would have caused a few raised eyebrows, back in the day.

The hotel's motto is "Nothing ordinary ever happened here, nor could it”. Quite so.

Further information, Cliveden House and National Trust

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