Cliveden House, UK

This hotel review has been a long time coming because, frankly, I had a terrible time at Cliveden.

Obnoxious property developers gatecrashing our table and the worst food poisoning I’ve ever had contributed to a pretty bad night out. But it wasn’t all bad; Cliveden House is iconic, after all. It’s the grandest dame of all. It’s famously louche with a history studded with glamorous scandal. The National Trust gardens are resplendent. Meg stayed here the night before her royal wedding. It’s indulgent and should have been the treat of my life, being a lover of silly poshness, nice hotels and getting dressed up for dinner.

We parked our Peugeot 3008 next to a Bentley and took in the majesty of it all. There’s a Singer Sargent hanging in the reception hall. I relished the feather-squashiness of the sofas and the smells of polished wood and crackling log fire. When we left, I was tired and pissed off and all of this good stuff suddenly looked like it had been lifted right out of Mr Burns’ school of interior design. I was resentful and ready to join our fellow peasants-with-pitchforks at the gates to protest the unhinged number of zeros on the bar tabs inside.

Rooms look as you might expect: traditionally Victorian, expensive. Ours was the smallest available and incredibly comfortable with lots of brown furniture, heavy fabrics and a timeless marble bathroom with a shower over the bath. Toiletries are Asprey. Nothing remarkable, but, refreshingly, not a design fad in sight.

We spent the afternoon in the Residents’ Lounge feeling like we had won the lottery. We planted ourselves in a pair of club chairs positioned in front of a big open window, warm sun and wispy breeze on our happy faces as we watched day-trippers milling around the formal gardens. Later on, we sat on an equally lovely stone roof terrace as the sun dipped and everything glowed gold. We sipped gin cocktails and picked at glossy olives in a silver footed bowl. I wore a dress that I made myself and felt ready to ballroom dance with with a candlestick down the stairs to dinner. Alas, candles are not allowed at Cliveden due to two catastrophic fires in its history.

A group of 30-something Loadsamoneys sat down nearby. They were loud and smug, hee-hawing about expensive things and complaining about the staff. I wondered how we could subtly move away from this studded-loafer-and-Gucci-t-shirt brigade. We were dragged into their conversation when one asked “do YOU live in Berkshire?” and they, inexplicably, pulled their chairs across to our table to tell us: “all you need to do” is buy land in the home counties and sell with planning pending. So now we all know. We escaped for dinner.

It was another glorious view from another glorious table. The Dining Room is characterised by its arched South-facing windows that overlook the 19th century parterre, and the best tables are located in front of each. We sat down, that golden sunset spilling across the pristine white table cloth. An extremely treaty 250-bin wine list and then a leather-bound menu was presented. We ordered half a dozen oysters, the Beef Wellington to share and a couple of glasses of Burgundy. Everything was as politely delicious as you would expect from such classical Michelin fare. Not boundary-pushing, not life-changing, but Very Nice Indeed.

After dinner, things went south. ‘Things’ mostly being my head down the toilet. I slept for small stretches on the chilly marble tiles and then spent the morning in bed, pale and trembling. We missed breakfast, which is served in the ornate French Dining Room.

I dragged myself out of bed to check-out on time and hung back as N paid the bill, my mouth as dry as a stray rice cake in the bottom of my toddler’s change bag.

Our best interaction with staff was, not unusually, with the completely charming doormen. They are always the warmest, funniest and most knowledgable staff on site, happy to take a photo, offer tidbits of history and of course help with bags. We got into the car and trundled down the long drive with the windows down, trying not to throw up (me) and ogling the Aston Martin DB4 in the carpark (him).

The bottom line:

Posh. Most expensive food poisoning of my life. Feels like divine retribution, will stay in my lane from now on.

Cliveden House Hotel, Taplow, Berkshire, SL6 0JF
From £590