Cliveden House hotel review: Where Italianate splendour reigns supreme 

Undoubtedly one of England’s finest — and most expansive — country house hotels, Cliveden is steeped in history, glamour and political scandal, but is it resting on its heritage laurels? Emma Earnshaw pays a visit to find out.

It was a glorious early summer’s day (before winter rudely interrupted July), when we rolled up the long gravel drive, passing the lavish fountain that set the tone for a stay at one of Britain’s most well-known and luxurious country house hotels. The Grade I-listed Italianate mansion that is Cliveden.

This vast 17th century house might fill a vista, or two, but at first glance it was the water tower that demanded our attention. Towering above the hotel to the right hand side and adorned with a giant, golden clock face, it looked, in the sun’s full glare as if it was ablaze. An unfortunate image, perhaps, given that Cliveden, which was first built in 1666, had to be reconstructed by Charles Barry for its then owner, the 2nd Duke of Sutherland, in 1851 after a fire wreaked havoc.

The house has since taken on many guises — home to an earl, two dukes and the Astors (more on them later), Stanford University and, in 1985, a hotel. At present, it’s owned by the National Trust and leased to Iconic Luxury Hotels portfolio (Chewton Glen, The Mayfair Townhouse and more). It’s the sort of history — full of big names and bigger parties, charismatic personalities and scandalous affairs — that seeps from the walls, permeating the 346 acres of Berkshire countryside.

Parked — next to several pristine Bentleys; thank God we didn’t bring the mud-splattered and very old Golf) — we stepped into the Grand Hall, which doubles as the lobby — a mass of Gothic, dark wood panelling, dramatic paintings, tapestries and suits of armour. It made Downton Abbey look like its poor relation.

The rooms

Cliveden’s Lord Astor suite

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Cliveden has 47 rooms — none of which look alike — as well as Spring Cottage, a charming summer house that sits on a riverbank. They’re named after illustrious guests, including every British monarch since George I. We stayed in the Duke of Westminster suite, our names added, temporarily, to the reassuringly heavy door, behind which lay a room so large, decadent and dripping with regal elegance that we were rendered speechless.

It had all the usual modern luxuries we’ve come to expect from a proper hotel — the marble bathroom, a dressing room and gargantuan bed — but it was also tastefully furnished with 6ft-high original oil paintings, heirloom wallpapers and quirky antiques. In short, it felt more like a stately home than a stately hotel.

What really stole the show, though, was the view. The scene unfolds as if it designed bespoke for Cliveden. Our very own oil painting stretching off into the distance for miles. And despite a few cranes to the west, I doubt the view has changed for centuries — and nor would you ever wish it to, for this is the English countryside shown at its best. The Parterre (above; the formal garden with inch-perfect flower displays, designed in 1855 by John Fleming) and immediately beneath you. Ancient trees, parkland and a serene sweep of the River Thames beyond.

Eating and drinking

Guests can enjoy pre-dinner drinks on a small and secluded terrace off the first floor of the house, or inside the Library Bar.  There’s an extensive drinks menu, but the signatures are ‘The Profumo’ (Cliveden, of course,  is where John Profumo, the then Secretary of State, met Christine Keeler) and ‘The Prince of Wales’.

For indulgent formal dining, you can’t beat the Dining Room, originally the Drawing Room. It’s airy and palatial with colossal chandeliers and pristine white linen tableclothes. Under the careful eye of head chef Christopher Hannon, the food — and the service — was infallible. For something more relaxed there’s the Astor Grill — located inside the old stables. It serves up a mixture of British and American fare (a subtle nod to Cliveden’s one-time American owner, William Waldorf Astor).

There’s also afternoon tea and the Butler’s Pantry — where guests can scurry off to if they’re in need of a midnight snack or on-the go afternoon coffee or beer.

How they’ll keep you busy

Entertaining is a part of Cliveden’s DNA, but relaxation hasn’t been overlooked. There’s the infamous swimming pool… — which might be the only Grade I-listed pool in the UK — two roomy hot tubs, copious sun loungers and table-attentive service. The spa was refurbished to a high level back in 2017 — with spacious saunas, an indoor pool, jacuzzi and treatment rooms that come with warm water massage beds.

There’s also seasonal foraging classes, art lessons, archery and axe throwing — as well as laser and clay shooting.

What else to do while you’re there

With the Thames almost lapping at your toes, it would be rude not to go messing about in boats and Cliveden has a fleet that more than caters for all, whether you want to go on a skippered cruise, self-drive pootle or a romantic row. The highlight is the beautifully restored Liddesdale — Lady Astor’s canoe boat.

The hotel is also conveniently close to Royal Ascot, Henley Royal Regatta, Windsor Great Park and Guards Polo Club which all come alive in the summer season.

Who is it for

Guests who are looking for an elegant and spoiling British break that offers opulence and intrigue in the grandest of settings. It’s worth noting that you can also bring your dog.

For such an imposing and notable establishment, there’s no air of stuffiness and, refreshingly, children and families are welcome, too. During the summer holidays, children stay for free and can make the most of the outdoors in the maze and woodlands, and games in the water gardens.

What gives it the ‘wow’ factor

The grounds and unspoilt views, and unsurprisingly this is the second most visited National Trust (NT) property in the UK.

The one thing we’d change

Because it’s such a popular NT destination, the grounds can get incredibly busy — so, if you don’t like crowds, definitely opt for a mid-week stay.

There are some messy cables and clumsy air conditioning units on show, that aren’t in keeping with such a setting — but we known only too well how tricky it is so combine modern modern conveniences with listed period properties.

Rooms at Cliveden House from £455 a night. Call 01628 66856 or visit for more information and to book