Airport hotel. The words alone are enough to make travelers cringe.
But just outside of London, 15 minutes from Heathrow Airport, lies a storybook mansion set on the rolling green banks of the Thames. It just may be the grandest airport hotel in the world.
Of course, Cliveden House existed long before 747s started touching down nearby. The estate was originally built in 1666 by George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham (1628-1687), and it’s seen a parade of wealthy residents and scandals ever since.
Today’s Cliveden, a three-story, 48-room hotel with 376 acres of manicured formal gardens, offers historic charm, luxurious dining and spa opportunities — and a taste of the bucolic English countryside life, all just a short drive from Heathrow. Although it wasn’t designed as an airport hotel, savvy travelers could do worse than make it their layover HQ.
The stately Cliveden House was built in 1666 by the second Duke of Buckingham.
Courtesy of Cliveden House
For a house that looks so stately, Cliveden has a rather colorful history, thanks to the characters who have called it home over the past 350 years.
For Villiers, it was a place to carouse with his friends and mistress. For the American-born Astors, Cliveden was a parade of visitors with bold-faced names — from British monarchs to the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin.
William Waldorf Astor was not only wealthy — his father purchased the house for the then-stunning sum of $1.25 million — but also politically connected. After becoming a Viscount, Astor was required to vacate his seat in the House of Commons. That’s when his wife, Nancy Astor, campaigned for it and won, becoming the first woman to take a seat in British parliament in 1919.
While her political career was not without controversy, Astor became known as the first lady of British politics. Cliveden was the perfect setting for the whirlwind of socializing attached to the role.
This “golden age” of the grand estate began to wind down in 1942, when Viscount Astor gave Cliveden in its entirety to the National Trust landscape and building preservation charity. The gift came with a caveat that the family could continue living at the house.
They they did until soon after Nancy’s death in 1964, but not before her son Bill and Cliveden became embroiled in what was known as the “Profumo Affair.” The incident refers to the 1961 affair between a prominent British MP and young woman, who was rumored to have connections with a Russian spy. The pair met while socializing by Cliveden’s pool.
While the current Cliveden is much more sedate than its eye-opening history might suggest, it’s still grand enough to welcome royalty. The hotel is where Meghan Markle spent the night before her wedding to Prince Harry in 2018. While Cliveden is operated by the Iconic Luxury Hotels group, the house is still owned by the National Trust, which maintains the estate’s magnificent gardens and parkland.
The gardens draw crowds of day visitors in the summer, but given the size of the grounds, there’s plenty of space for everyone to ramble. Cliveden’s two restaurants are also a top draw for locals, as are its suite of elaborate event rooms, including The French Dining Room, with seating for 60.
A+ Airport hotel amenities