Cliveden’s Spa-kling tea
Do not be defeated by the Xmas shenanigans, take a break from the to-do list and head straight to Cliveden. Muddy takes one for the team to review its new Festive Afternoon Tea Spa Day.
If the endless Christmas plays, jumper days, pantos, gift shopping, wrapping and drinks parties has knocked the stuffing out of you, I have just the tonic for the festive frazzled. Get thee to a spa pronto for a day of luxury loafing, a delicious snoozy treatment and, this is the best bit, a festive afternoon tea. Even Santa’s elves need to spa-kly pick me up – and there are places even a G&T can’t reach. Not many, but some.
Cliveden House Hotel is magnificent at any time of the year, but they know to deck a hall, spa and restaurant. So if you’re lacking in Christmas spirit, your spa day and tea will top up the festive feels. Perched on a hill looking down into the Thames Valley, Cliveden is set in 376 acres of National Trust grounds, in Taplow, on the Berkhire/Buckinghamshire border. It’s about 40 minutes from London, 20 minutes from Windsor and 30 minutes from Reading.
This Italianate party palace has quite the CV: built in 1666 by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham for his mistress, it has been home to an earl, three countesses (one the cause of a fatal duel), two dukes, a Prince of Wales (killed by a cricket ball on the terrace) and the Viscounts Astor. But it’s greatest claim to fame is the part it played in the Profumo Affair. Christine Keeler and Minster for War John Profumo’s heavy petting in the grade II listed pool caused an almighty political scandal.
Super Christmassy at this time of year with towering twinkly spruces everywhere. If you’re not singing Mariah’s All I Want For Christmas by the time you leave, you’ll be straight on the naughty list. Expect a warm welcome, the lovely staff are used to a pick and mix of people – whether you’re royalty, rock stars or an overexcited journo (*ahem). Its ethos is about being family-friendly and relaxed and that vibe permeates throughout. That doesn’t mean it lacks the wow factor, you’ll enjoy the frisson of that impressive driveway, the period features, antiques and refined modern additions.
Ready to recharge? The spa is hidden behind the brick walls of the garden. The iconic ‘Profumo’ outdoor pool is an absolute must – come rain, shine or f-f-freezing temperatures – as the last listed pool to survive in the UK. And at a toasty 29ºC, there’s no excuse, particularly when there are two hot tubs to sink into.
Inside, the lighting is soft, the decor is neutral with an elegant mix of white, greige and blush. The indoor pool is a stunner, surrounded by stone pillars and antiqued mirrors. At one end there’s a jacuzzi and the other an infrared sauna and infused steam room.
On the other side of the pool wall is the guest room looking out onto the spa garden. It’s a dreamy mix of white walls, drapey linens and comfy loungers – the perfect spot to slouch back, enjoy a cuppa (or a juice) and stick your nose in a newspaper, magazine or book. The only slight irritation is that people reserve the beds. We found someone’s flip flop slung on at least three. Call me a Grinch, but I just think this is very poor spa etiquette and not what I would expect at Cliveden. Grumble done.
The Spa-kle In The Spa Day or Evening gives you two x 25-minute treatments. You can choose a back, neck and shoulder massage; express facial; or file and polish to fingers or toes. I used the whole 50 minutes on a massage. My frazzled, stressed out body needed some TLC. My therapist padded me into an attractive, warm, dimly lit room, and went to work.
Each treatment is carried out on a water mattress and begins with a foot bathing ritual and you can choose your signature Cliveden scent – No.1 Nancy (a mix of fruit blossom, jasmine, wild mint and lily) or No.2 Anna-Marie (a calming blend of black rose and cedar wood). I chose Anna Marie. I figured I’m more mistress than lady of the house. Hopping onto the wobbly water mattress felt a little like I was lying on a bouncy castle at first but once it settles down you just sink into the bed. Perfect pressure was applied during the massage, a bolster under my knees (which she had ready) and 50 minutes of total bliss.
If you want to add extra treatments to your day, fill yer boots. The Sarah Chapman Skinesis Therapy – a treatment that combines micro-needling, stem cell, peptides, power peels, regenerative LED light therapy and a poke, pull and plump massage technique should knock off a few years just in time for Christmas. At £275 is pretty punchy, but I hear the results are amaaaazing.
After all that loafing, swimming and pampering, I was starving. Afternoon tea, madam? Absolutely. Tea is served from 12pm-2.30pm in the plush Cliveden Dining Room, so you have to get dressed. It would be fabulous to drift around the hotel in a robe like you own the place, and they have probably seen much much worse over the years but, trust me, it’s worth putting your clothes on for.
A table with a view down the south parterre (posh lawn, to us mere mortals) is a must. Once seated you choose tea from the menu – there are 13 to choose from or coffee, if that’s how you roll. A piping hot glass of mulled wine, swiftly arrives at the table, followed by the tiers of gluttony. Nothing makes my heart sing more than the sight of a sausage roll and carbs for days.
On the savoury front, tuck into roast turkey on onion bread, an egg mayonnaise brioche roll, smoked salmon cream cheese bagel and cucumber granary finger sarnies. The pork, onion and sage sausage roll was phenomenal – melt in the mouth pastry and porky perfection. Yum.
Onto the posh precision desserts. The red velvet cake with redcurrant and marzipan was my absolute fave. Moist cakiness and the icing wasn’t too sweet. The mincemeat and spiced custard tarte tasted like a mince pie but looked like a work of art. Very clever. I wasn’t a fan of Christmas pudding bauble. The texture wasn’t my bag and I didn’t really get the Christmas pud flavour.
I also needed room for the fresh, warm scones playing peek-a-boo across the table. I am emphatically anti fruit in scones – and it’s clotted cream first (used like butter) with the delicious strawberry and pine jam dolloped on top. Yes you Cornish lot, it’s Devon rules all the way. The scones were light, fluffy and I have almost forgiven the Cliveden team for the rogue dried fruit lurking in one of them.
After that lovely lot, I’m stuffed. Feeling like a turkey on Christmas, I waddled back to the car – full, feeling relaxed and ready to rock around the Christmas tree once more.
The Spa-kling In The Spa deals start at £140 for the weekday evening package (weekends, £160) to £190 for a weekend day package (£170 Mon-Thu). It includes full use of the spa facilities and 2x 25 minute treatments. If you want to add on a festive afternoon tea it’s an extra £45pp.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: An indulgent festive treat with girlie mates and mums who need a break from the merry madness. It’s a busy time of year, get in a little pre-Crimbo pampering.
Not for: Anyone on a health kick, the afternoon tea an indulgent masterclass of all things sugery, buttery and utterly delicious. You tastebuds will be having a party, your waistline not so much. Get in a few lengths of the pool in the spa and you’ll be calorie neutral.
£££: Good value for what you get.
Cliveden House Hotel & Spa, Taplow, Berkshire SL6 0JF. Tel: 01628 607107.