There’s a line in Pride and Prejudice where Jane Austen describes the complete awe Elizabeth Bennet felt the first time she saw Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate. “She had never seen a place where nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something.”
That’s exactly what it feels like arriving at Cliveden House, in Taplow, England.
You can’t see the house from the road, or even the first hundred feet of the driveway. But after a bend in the road, boom: a 47-room golden Palladian palace which abuts the River Thames. The cars that sit out front—Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Range Rovers—almost seem like anachronisms, their modern mechanics at odds with the grandeur of the 350-year-old home.
Over three centuries, the home’s seen a lot, including multiple owners, among them the Duke of Buckingham, the Prince of Wales, and Lord and Lady Astor. It’s also been subject to devastating fires, and multiple scandals—the most famous being the Profumo Affair, where a government official had an affair with a woman linked to a Russian spy on Cliveden grounds. The whole thing toppled the conservative government of Harold MacMillan, and even ensnared Prince Philip in the process (see: Season 2 of The Crown).
But nowadays, the home has taken on a second life: as a luxury hotel.
That’s the (non-scandalous) reason it is back in the spotlight today. After being taken over by management company London & Regional in 2012, the hotel underwent a massive, four-year renovation, that was only recently complete. (Since Cliveden is a Grade 1 historic building, it was a painstaking process—when this writer visited, a concierge joked that they needed “approval for every nail.” )
The renovations couldn't be better timed, considering the impending royal wedding. A mere 15 minutes away from Windsor Castle, Cliveden is sure to be the shoe-in hotel for many of the glamorous guests attending Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s May 19 nuptials.
To stay at Cliveden House is to stay in a different era. When you step in the door, you’re greeted by a rich palette of red and gold velvets, and oil paintings of British aristocrats that stare you right in the eye. If your room isn’t ready, black-vested concierges offer afternoon tea—or, for the more adventures types, a pair of wellies to explore the “grounds,” which in this case means 376 acres of idyllic English countryside.
It’s the pursuit of the quintessential country life, perhaps, that brings most people to Cliveden. It’s full of easter eggs like a roman sarcophagi, an amphitheater, a water garden, and the ground’s Parterre—a meticulously manicured lawn laid out in 1855. You can stay there for a week and still not uncover all its corners. During the warmer months, visitors can float down the river in antique boats. The concierge can arrange for lessons at the nearby, exclusive Emsworth Polo Grounds, where professional polo players will suit you up, set you on a horse, and teach you the rules of the game (with a sense of humor, too).
Inside, the suites aren’t just designed to make guests feel like a lord or lady—they were literally made for royalty. Take the Lady Astor suite: “This was Nancy Astor’s actual bedroom, occupying the southeast corner of the house, and has it’s own private outdoor terrace overlooking Duke’s lawn and the parterre,” Kevin Brooke, General Manager of Cliveden, says.
Spring Cottage, a three bedroom house on the property overlooking the river, was once a favorite haunt of Queen Victoria. “It was built by the Duchess of Sutherland as a venue for her to host Queen Victoria for afternoon tea. The Queen made regular visits along the Thames from Windsor castle. In the garden the grand curved stone steps and ornate balustrade next to the natural spring which flows into the river Thames complete a fairytale setting,” Brooke says.
Not everyone can be a royal, or a British blueblood. But with Cliveden, you can at least feel like one—even if only for a weekend.
Author - Elise Taylor, Vogue.