It takes a lot of imagination to turn a wall into an attractive walkway – but, says the gal, look above. At Cliveden, by the River Thames near Taplow, 15 minutes’ from Heathrow, the mediaeval walled garden that is a feature of a number of historic English stately homes. Set in 376 acres owned and managed by the National Trust, Cliveden is truly a memorable building. It was a wedding present in 1905 for Waldorf Astor’s American bride, Nancy Langhorne, who had come to England, with her son Bobby Shaw, to seek her fortune (she sure found that fortune, and fame, says the gal). As well as being the lady of what is now this superb 42-room luxury hotel, she became the first female Member of Parliament, as MP for Plymouth – she held this responsibility 1919-1945.
There are so many fascinating stories about this place. The walled garden, which originally would have been used to grow peaches and other delicate fruits, has a highly-preserved, heated year-round swimming pool, around which a later MP and defence minister, John Profumo, and several subsequently notorious ladies cavorted. The pool will be a feature of what will be the enhanced Cliveden Spa, opening this June with seven treatment rooms (English products), a fabulous gym with all-wall windows, and a casual eating venue with pizzas and salads. The walkway, shown above, offers a convenient covered access from the spa complex to the main buildings, so essential in England’s temperamental weather. All this is being masterminded by Andrew Stembridge.
Although he is based, as GM, at Chewton Glen Hampshire, 90 minutes’ drive away in the New Forest, he is also boss of Cliveden (which has a new GM, Kevin Brooke, who came from Aman’s Montenegro resort), and Lygon Arms in Broadway. All are personally owned by Ian Livingstone, who as a day job runs, with his brother, the mighty London & Regional, L&R, with a portfolio that includes Fairmonts in Barbados and Monte Carlo and more Hiltons worldwide than I have had sleepless nights in my whole young life. Andrew Stembridge was born in Edinburgh, into a foodie family, and his love of suitable cuisine shows through in all his hotels. Lygon Arms is evolving its restaurant to a grill, at Chewton Glen there is a new kitchen cooking school, and here at Cliveden there is already fine dining and casual.
We lunched casual, in Astor Grill, where its past as stables is recalled by green leather, wood-backed banquettes for four that seem like horse boxes. I loved the way bread is a simple, already half-sliced round loaf, sourdough at its best, served on a wood platter with a slab of butter and a butter knife, said to be a sign of a gentleman. I then loved the superfood salad we both chose. It arrived quickly, looked good and tasted delicious, and I left this luxury hotel, walking through some of its parkland to my parked car, with more than a usual spring in my step.