Hotel of the week: Cliveden

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The Independent Travel

Where is it? An hour from central London on the B476, off exit 7 of the M4. Close to Windsor, Eton and, sadly, Heathrow, to and from which jets pass overhead. Address: Taplow, Berkshire SL6 0JF. (tel: 01628 668561; net: www.clivedenhouse.co.uk).

Where is it? An hour from central London on the B476, off exit 7 of the M4. Close to Windsor, Eton and, sadly, Heathrow, to and from which jets pass overhead. Address: Taplow, Berkshire SL6 0JF. (tel: 01628 668561; net: www.clivedenhouse.co.uk).

What's it like? Awesome. Turning off the M4 and struggling free of Slough, you skirt a 375-acre estate in the midst of woodland. A twisting drive opens to reveal the magnificent main house, flanked by wings that predate the central portion. But this is modest compared with the garden front and its grand terrace, built for the Duke of Buckingham, Cliveden's creator, in the 16th century. Beyond is a huge parterre, among features that put the gardens into the National Trust's top 10 in England, and the Thames, winding round a steep, wooded bluff. Associations with the famous and notorious are legion. These include Nancy Astor and the "Cliveden Set" in the early 20th century; and John Profumo, Christine Keeler and Stephen Ward in the 1960s. It became a hotel in 1985.

Ambience? Baronial but not suffocatingly formal - by no means everyone was wearing a tie in the restaurant. Panelling, Brussels tapestries and suits of armour, all acquired by William Waldorf Astor, greet the visitor in the Great Hall. Paintings by Lely, Winterhalter and John Singer Sargent, whose portrait of Nancy Astor hangs beside the grand fireplace. The management seeks to create the atmosphere of an Edwardian country house, with guests' names written on cards on their doors, footmen in striped waistcoats, maids in pinnies.

Service? What you would expect with four staff to every room. Many are young and foreign, and refreshingly free of obsequiousness. They are never far away, but if you want to be left alone, you are left alone.

Rooms? Only 38, none cheap, ranging from standard doubles at £305 a night upwards to the six master suites, all named after former owners, which start at £580 a night. The Lady Astor suite was chintzy and vast, with a tennis court-sized terrace outside on which, to judge by the visitors' book, many guests hold parties to celebrate special occasions. The marble bathtub was in proportion, but incautious use of the shower caused a flood. Those who really want to push the boat out can rent Spring Cottage, beside the Thames - Stephen Ward's old haunt. For £1,550 a night, or £3,100 for a Friday and Saturday, you have three rooms, your own butler and a river launch.

Food and drink? London-style trendy in Waldo's, tucked away in the basement, which seats 24. Cooking here - the gastronomic menu costs £84, or three courses for £58 - won executive chef John Wood a Michelin star. Grander cooking in the Terrace Dining Room, which can seat 80 daily for lunch and dinner; it is also where you have breakfast. The á là carte menu is £50.

Things to do? Magnificent views of the Thames as well as riverside walks, a kitschy Fountain of Love, a Japanese-influenced water garden, pavilions and more. You can swim in the heated outdoor pool, where Profumo first encountered Keeler, or indoors at the adjoining spa, which offers a welter of health and beauty treatments.

Clientele? Not as posh as you might think - some rich young kids, but self-made types as well. Obvious young honeymooners, and older couples returning for subsequent anniversaries. Surprisingly few foreigners.

Awards? Waldo's, Michelin star; AA, 5 red stars, 4 rosettes; RAC, gold ribbon, 5 stars and dining award level four.

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