Sunday, 25 August 2013

Afternoon Tea at Cliveden

Standing, or should I say, reclining, 130ft above the River Thames in Taplow, with glorious, verdant, panoramic views as far as the eye can see is one of the sparkling jewels in Berkshire's crown. Welcome to Cliveden!
Click Images to Enlarge

There are not many places that make me gasp quite as much as I did whilst rolling up the grand, lime-bordered, quarter-mile, drive to the luxury five-star hotel at Cliveden. The unique, historic estate covers an astonishing 375 acres, 180 of which are beautiful gardens that I explored with great earnest this summer.


In 1849 the Duke of Sutherland commissioned Charles Barry; the architect who designed the Palace of Westminster, to build the current house at Cliveden after the original 17th century building was destroyed twice by fire.

Towards the end of the 19th century the estate was bought by and became the home of William Waldorf Astor. The 1st Lord Astor gave Cliveden estate to his son as a wedding gift when he married in 1906. The young Viscount Astors were renowned for hosting lavish parties and political gathering at the house attracting a veritable who's who of world leaders, writers, artists and film stars. Famous guests have included Churchill, Roosevelt, Gandhi, Kipling, Lennon and Chaplin to name but a handful.

In later years the house was to also become notoriously synonymous with the scandalous affair that rocked the nation in 1963 between John Profumo and Christine Keeler.



On the south terrace, a 17th century Travertine stone balustrade from the garden of the Villa Borghese overlooks the formal manicured parterre. It is one of the largest parterres in Europe, covering a vast 4 acres consisting of clipped yew topiary pyramids and box hedging. The 19th century planting schemes are overseen by enormous Roman oil jars that can be found strategically placed like giant chess pieces throughout the gardens. 


With his unrivalled passion for Italianate statuary and classical antiquities  Astor commissioned sculptor Thomas Waldo Story in 1897 to create the magnificent and enormous Fountain of Love which welcomes visitors at the foot of the lime tree avenue leading to the house. The central character appears to be that of Venus as the source with two swooning female figures either side, both lured in by winged amorino. All this happens atop a monumental Carrera marble shell that secretes the crystal clear elixir of love. Rather racy I thought at first but I notice that the corresponding dates that mark the early death of Waldorf's wife and the acquisition of the piece indicate that this could also be the ultimate testament to lost love.


  
On the north-west lawn, Clivedens grand water tower is topped with a bronze figure of Augustin Dumont's Spirit of Liberty, it's 23.5 carat gilding sparkles in the sunlight.

  


The secluded and peaceful Long Garden has an unquestionable air of fantasy and magic about it. Comprising of tightly trimmed topiary in the forms of spiralling helices, strutting peacocks and curvaceous box hedges. A group of 18th century Venetian statues of characters from the Commedia dell'Arte interject the greenscape by playfully greeting you en route.


Several hours enjoying the gardens and grounds built up a very healthy appetite, so we headed back to the house. Cliveden is the home of the £100 Von Essen Platinum club sandwich. A triple decker gourmet delight containing poulet de Bresse, Iberico ham, quails eggs and white truffles. Today I had my eye on another prize as I had made reservations for an indulgent afternoon tea in the ornate, oak-panelled Great Hall. I played it a bit 'Cool hands Luke' but I must admit that I was beyond excited. I had it on good authority that Cliveden's afternoon tea is absolutely wonderful and you known how much I like a good afternoon tea.




Our position for tea was just about as perfect as I could have wished for. We were escorted to our table in front of the impressive 16th century stone fireplace that William Astor rescued from a chateau in Burgundy just before it was demolished. To the left of the fireplace and above the piano is the beautiful and hypnotic portrait of Nancy, Lady Astor by John Singer Sargent. The rooms further extravagant furnishings of Brussels tapestries and medieval suits of armour adding dramatic and conclusive confirmation that we were most definitely sitting in the lap of luxury.



The level of service was absolutely en pointe perfect, my tea cup was magically refreshed by none less than three wonderfully slick and attentive tea masters, who did everything for me bar dabbing the corners of mouth with the crisp linen napkins. The sandwiches, cakes and pastries were out of this world and plentiful. The sugar pearl embroidered √©clair was a delicious triumph of p√Ętissier finesse, which I thankfully claimed ownership of the moment it landed on the table.
 


At the end of such an incredible day of beauty, decadence and refinement, I must say I felt quite at home. The only thing one could possibly want for after such an afternoon is a nice nap. Of course, you can always check into the Astor Suite!

If you need me, you know where to find me, just dial Cliveden 8561!
  
Taplow, Berkshire
SL6 0JF

42 comments:

  1. Sir Paul! I want to go there. I have fallen in love with your England, and it all happened while I was flying into France, my beloved "adopted" country. I had never see England, but when I finally saw the lush green hillsides, castles, and these puffy white things (SHEEP!) I thought, "I must investigate this!"

    But blogging has introduced me to corners and well-kept secrets (from us YANKEES!) and I now MUST go to the English countryside. London of course, is a must-see, but the country of which you speak has to be cherished.

    HIGH TEA, oh dear, we out here don't even know what we're doing when it comes to serving tea, let alone PREPARE IT! And a nap? But of course....that follows!

    ENJOY your Sunday, your new week, and I love to follow you! Anita

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    1. Anita, I just know that you would love Cliveden. Definitely one to pop into your black book.

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  2. Why, oh why, do I always let H pack us a picnic? - his famous egg and cress sandwiches, and a flask of coffee topped off with a Mars bar - what pheasants we are.
    Lots of little facts picked up here that I had missed on our visit. The stone balustrade from Villa Borghese, and the fact that the parterre covers 4 acres - it must require an army of clippers.
    That pretty eclair perfect for a debonaire man of refinement.

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    1. Thats a funny spelling mistake - of course I intended to say peasants.

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    2. I think H deserves a weekend off from chef duties so that he can enjoy a delicious afternoon tea at Cliveden with you Rosemary. Well, that's the story you should tell him anyway! *winks*

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  3. Wow, Cliveden is such a grand and historic Luxury Hotel. Good thing the place was preserved and converted to a Hotel. The garden is so elegant and scenic. Oh my, your Afternoon Tea just have to be devoured. Looks so delicious!

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    1. Pamela, you would so enjoy Cliveden. The gardens are gorgeous, the house is beautiful, I know you enjoy a bit of five star, you'd be in your element. The afternoon was absolutely delicious, I think you would definitely approve. There also were more phantoms in the courtyard than you could shake a stick it :)

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    2. By the way, Is that your Black Jag in the entrance? I got to add the place on my list. Cliveden has some juicy and scandalous history.

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  4. Oh how beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful place! Just lovely.

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  5. Paul-- I think if I could go someplace in my dreams- this would probably be the place. It's beautiful there-- beyond words. You live in a place so steeped with history- everyplace you take us to is more wonderful than the last. I'd love to walk those grounds-- I'd love to have tea there-- I'd spend the day and take a thousand photos to remember it by.

    You are so lucky to be able to travel to these amazing places--- sigh--
    Vicki

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    1. I do feel very lucky Vicki, we are surrounded by so many beautiful places to visit and to finish it off with a slap up tea is just marvellous too:)

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  6. What a delight - such elegance and so much history. Thanks for including us.

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    1. Hey Libby, so nice to hear from you. Hope all's going great. X

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  7. Paul, I had some serious tea and cream puff envy here! Loved the cool hand Luke thing. That would be me as well, acting as if this is nothing new to me, but sneaking photos every other second. What a gorgeous place and I love that Sargent painting.

    All this paired with the grounds is beyond. Transport me please!
    xxKim

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    1. Any location where I can sit my posterior down and scoff my face all afternoon with cream cakes in front of a Sargent is right up my avenue Kim. I practically had to be bribed to leave:)

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  8. Absolutely fabulous. Hope to visit one day. What wonderful photos!

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  9. What a grand and fabulous place for an afternoon tea! Gorgeous!

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  10. It's such a beautiful place, I've only been once but it was incredible, my friend was staying in the room that has the huge balcony, we barely moved from there all day. Love the ghosts of showgirls and disappointed politicians.

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    1. It really is such a special place Tabitha. I thought of channelling Christine Keeler whilst there but I was too busy with a mouthful of cake at the time:)

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  11. Dear Paul,
    I am thrilled to read about this extraordinary visit to Clivedon.
    You must have been in heaven. The gardens are so remarkable, the upkeep of the designed
    boxwoods and topiaries must take many expert groundskeepers.
    I haven't had High Tea since my last time at the Del Coronado in San Diego.

    xoxo
    Karena
    Art by Karena

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    1. The gardens and grounds were immaculate Karen. The gardening team at Cliveden are do such an incredible job. Next time we are in San Diego I'll be sure to check out the afternoon tea at the Del Coronado.xoxo

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  12. I have really enjoyed this post and been so excited, as I scrolled down, to see what came next. Now... that white door looks just like the one in the Imagine video, where John and Joko arrive, open the door and enter a big white room, with a beautiful Grandpiano. I am John's greatest fan, in fact, I love him and I would love to visit Cliveden, just for this reason!

    The place is wonderful, Paul... I love... well... everything! What does strike and please me is the fact that though the building and almost all the artwork are "Italianate" ie: Italian inspired, it actually makes you feel proud to be part of a Nation (Italy) which houses 80% of the world's cultural heritage and makes you wonder: why did it come to this? Why are we stuck with so many "farabutti" politicians, which do nothing but spread dirt over a wonderful country. Well... I am glad that at least in other countries our art is respected and perpetuated. And I feel proud to be English (though I am not, but I can still feel proud of a Country I love with all my heart!)

    Going back to your post... that fountain is just gorgeous... the one representing the birth of Venus, so reminiscent of the wonderful painting by Botticelli. Didn't he paint beautiful women? I think a woman's body has to be one of the most beautiful thing ever created, though Bernini's male sculptures are just incredible! Not bad, at all! been to Roma?

    Those cute little cakes... so dainty... wow! I would love one, right now. And those sandwiches... but I am no butter or various spreds person, so... I couldn't even eat one. Unless the made sandwiches with really posh eggs, laid by the Queen's swans, or peacocks, or by Camilla! Weird thought, that one!

    A very historic building... The Profumo affair, too! WOW!

    Thank you, Paul, for this truly fantastic Magical Mystery Tour

    "Roll up... roll up for a mystery Tour...

    The Magical Mystery Tour is going to take you away...!"

    CIAO!

    ANNA
    x

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    1. I really am so pleased that you enjoyed the post Anna. I had a very hard time choosing which pictures to include as everything looked so amazing and there were so many points of interest everywhere you looked.
      You will be pleased to know that they filmed Help! at Cliveden in 1965 you can see the house and gardens in the movie next time you watch it.
      I think you would really enjoy Cliveden book yourself in for lunch or tea. You might get to sit in a seat that John Lennon put his posterior on!
      Ciao Principessa!
      x

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    2. Yes, I think John had a nice one!; ))
      X

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  13. Do you think they would notice if I just moved in!

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    1. If you hid in a suit of armour you might be able to pull it off! :)

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  14. Wow! So magnificent! Every single shot is amazingly beautiful! I loved this, Paul, you take us to the best places! I have read about Cliveden before in my R & C guide, loved seeing it up close. Enjoy the last days of summer!

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    1. Thanks Cindy, Hope all's on track with your latest big project. X

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  15. what a grand place for a wee spot of tea old chap!

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  16. Paul, I saved this pst for a time when I was not in a rush. I will reiterate what so any ithers have said, you are very lucky to live in a place steeped in history.

    That said, your enthuasium, knowledge, photographic and writing skills are what take your posts to a level that few achieve.

    The garden is spectacular, I simply did not know where to look, there was something wonderful in every corner of every photo.

    The tea, I am at a loss for words...but I will say that you and I might have had a little scuffle over the cream puff.

    Thanks for sharing your magical adventures, Elizabeth

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    1. Oh Elizabeth, you are lovely. I am so pleased that you enjoyed your trip around the grounds of Cliveden.

      Some places just capture the imagination and this is one of them, I became totally enthralled in its history. Sex, Politics, Art, Gardening and Cake, I mean HELLO:) What more do I need to pique my interest!

      I do feel so privileged to be able to walk in the footsteps of such scandal, adventure and history but you can too on your next trip. Cliveden is just under an hour outside London although it feels further afield, just book in advance. You could be up after your English breakfast in London to enjoy the grounds of Cliveden for a few hours, have tea looking out over the parterre or in the great hall and sleep all the way back to Mayfair in the early evening easily;)

      BTW Elizabeth, Cliveden has its own Gold leaf Chocolate cake that I know of all people you would love. Worth the trip alone I would say.

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  17. Let's see, where to begin, Magical One? Did you run into Violet Crawley? :) Simply sumptuous! The vistas, gardens, house, and of course, afternoon tea! Sigh!!!! Well, let me wake up from this fantasy and get back to my little world now ;)
    xo,
    Loi
    PS Gorgeous photos!

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    1. Mr L, I am pretty sure you would approve of a gallop round the gardens of Cliveden followed by a slap up luncheon or tea. Violet is waiting for you!!

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  18. Now tell the truth little brother..this is my house really!

    Gorgeous pics makes you want to drEAm the day away imagining yourself there.

    Apols for my v late comment. XXX

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    1. Well the cat is out of the bag now Sis :)

      Please don't ask me to mow those bloomin' huge lawns again though!

      Lots of love. XXXX

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