Destinations Magazine

Cliveden: The Bad Outweighs the Good

By Periscope @periscopepost
Cliveden: The bad outweighs the good

The east facade of Cliveden. Photo credit: 1967geezer http://flic.kr/p/5eMr44

The first thing you should know about Cliveden is that is it expensive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of expensive, just not of unmerited expensive.

Let me begin with the positives. Cliveden house was first built in 1666 by the Second Duke of Buckingham, a man described as “a notorious rake, schemer, and wit” and therefore, a man after my own heart. Although subsequently rebuilt twice following destructive fires, the main house, wings, formal gardens, and clock tower are together magnificent. Inside, the structure is grand and, were it not for the current management’s successful efforts to thwart this goal, perfectly suited for comfort and luxury.

The setting too is idyllic. A picture book English countryside of uninterrupted views, rolling greenery and woodlands makes for inspirational stuff. The one drawback is that, as a National Trust property, the public has full access rights – and makes full use of those rights.

History and setting are unfortunately where the positives end. The public space and bedrooms seem to have been furnished by a fabric obsessed escapee from 1970, and I’m not even talking about quality fabric – think dust-collectors. The carpeting is thin and tired, the walls and bed covers chintzy, and its all interspersed with plastic or shiny touches (sheen shiny not bling shiny) in all the wrong places. For such a grand environment it feels far from luxurious.

The service manages to combine most of the worst elements of the industry: over intrusive, well-intentioned but incompetent, cheaply dressed staff who all appear to have attended the same Eastern European English language course – the one that fails utterly to teach any English.

The service manages to combine most of the worst elements of the industry: over intrusive, well-intentioned but incompetent, cheaply dressed staff who all appear to have attended the same Eastern European English language course – the one that fails utterly to teach any English. I’m all for international staff, especially given my own hybrid background, but in this case there was barely a native English speaker and of the nonnative speakers at least 70 percent spoke and understood about as well as the cleaning staff at nearby Heathrow. Actually, that’s probably a bit unfair on the Heathrow team. Moreover, the placing of staff was totally back-to-front; all the public-facing restaurant and bar area staff barely understood a word while the masseuses in the spa, who you can barely speak to as you’re face-down on a massage bed, were all perfectly spoken English speakers.

But enough about language, the spa (although it really doesn’t merit that name) deserves a mention. As you walk into the spa area you’re greeted by a dreamy walled-garden with a heated pool and Jacuzzi in the center. Encouraging. But then you walk inside to find an indoor pool and changing rooms that together scream Crawley Sports Centre and are hosted by a surly front desk attendant making every effort to ensure guests feel they’ve inconvenienced her by their mere arrival. As for the gym, well let’s just say it felt like the sort of place that the Second Duke of Buckingham might have considered dated and technologically wanting.

As for the gym, well let’s just say it felt like the sort of place that the Second Duke of Buckingham might have considered dated and technologically wanting.

But in the interest of narrative symmetry allow me to close this negativity filled sandwich with one more positive. After the crowds had gone (public access is 10am – 5pm) and as the sun was setting I enjoyed a decent Old Fashioned, sitting in a pleasant side room off the central salon followed by an excellent, simple dinner of onion soup and bacon cheese-burger in the blissfully empty, wood and leather booth filled Club Room restaurant.

As I walked up the grand stairs to my room, Duff Cooper Diaries book in one hand and remains of a very good bottle of Bordeaux in the other, I felt for the first time what it must have been like to be a guest in a friend’s grand old country pile circa 1920; it’s a very pleasant, albeit imaginary nostalgic feeling.

Recommendation: If it’s luxurious exclusivity (or even just quiet, secluded, high comfort) you’re after, then stay away. The best elements are the preexisting historic and natural beauty, the bad far outweighs the good, and the price to quality ratio is so far off in the wrong direction that is brings tears of frustration to the eyes at checkout time. The whole place is screaming to be taken over by a Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton or Mandarin Oriental group but as I’m not holding my breath for that to happen, next time I’ll look for an extant country hotel from one of that lot or hope to get off the waiting list at The Pig.

P.S. I wrote this review on Saturday afternoon after a very mediocre Caesar Salad lunch at the Terrace restaurant. Following lunch I went for a two hour walk through the wonderful woodland area and when I got back the people in the main salon were noticeably more presentable (and Ricky Gervais was milling about too). On top of it, the staff shift looked liked it had changed and within a few short hours it became apparent that there was a greater degree of English proficiency than before. The bulk of my description remains accurate but it seemed only fair to mention these improvements.


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