30 AUG 2018: In the aftermath of the world-celebrated royal wedding in May, of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, visits to Windsor, England are up 25 percent. Over 10,000 visitors now tromp daily through St George’s Chapel and the grand rooms of Windsor Castle where the couple held their reception. I too felt the desire to follow the footsteps of the young royals, with as is my bent, fine meals as my fête.

Windsor Castle at almost 1,000 years old is the oldest castle in continuous use by royals in the world. The original castle was built in the 11th century, on a strategic part of the River Thames, after the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror. By 1110, Henry I had domestic quarters within the castle, and his grandson Henry II turned it into a palace in the late 12th-century. The monarchs of the Middle Ages further transformed it into an apt royal residence.

By the time Elizabeth I moved into Windsor, much of the castle was in need of repair and an extensive programme of improvements was undertaken throughout the 1570s. So it went throughout the ages with each subsequent royal adding to, improving and altering both exterior and interior.

Set in the English county of Berkshire, Windsor Castle’s only a half hour drive from Heathrow Airport. People with an extended layover at the airport can easily make a day trip to the castle, and many do. My friend Deborah and I however decided to stay in Windsor for a few days to more fully explore what the county offers.

We stayed at Castle Hotel Windsor – MGallery by Sofitel. One of the oldest inns in Windsor, Castle Hotel was first called The Mermaid in 1528. It prospered selling ale and providing rooms for stagecoach travellers from London. By the 19th century it was unrivalled as the finest place to stay in Windsor.  Even the Duke of Wellington stepped in to dine after his victory over Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. www.castlehotelwindsor.com   http://www.castlehotelwindsor.com

Today, this modernized and expanded boutique hotel, has a Marco Pierre White steakhouse, lively bar and location that can’t be beat. Sir Christopher Wren’s elegant Windsor Guildhall stands opposite the hotel, where Prince Charles and Camilla tied the knot. Windsor Castle is just a few blocks away and during the changing of the guard, the men can be seen marching by. If you want to sit outside to watch the action, Esquire’s Coffee, which has the best coffee in town, is a few steps away.

Amanda Bryett of Windsor Tourist Guides Ltd took us around the castle. She was terrific giving us the inside scoop on the Grand Reception Room, Waterloo Chamber and St George’s Hall where the royal newlyweds received their guests. She pointed out where in St George’s Chapel each famous guest sat. We learned from her about the history and intrigues of the castle and that another royal wedding will take place here on October 12 of this year; Princess Eugenie's marriage to Jack Brooksbank. www.windsortouristguides.co.uk     

Bryett also gave us her recommended spots to eat in town: the gastro pub Bel & The Dragon near the footbridge to Eton College, Cote Brasserie in Eton on the riverside, just across the Thames from Windsor and The George, also in Eton. Eton, just a few minutes’ walk and over a footbridge from Windsor, is a charming town perfect for strolling around.

The George, housed in a traditional 1750 Georgian building, and run by a local brewery offered a new special edition beer, the Harry & Meghan’s Windsor Knot. Like their best-selling Windsor Knot, first brewed for the marriage of Harry’s brother, Will, this Pale Ale was the only royal wedding beer brewed in Windsor for the occasion. www.georgeinn-eton.co.uk   

That evening we went for a Champagne cruise and dinner at Cliveden House, an iconic 17th century home, now a Relais & Chateaux hotel, that has played a pivotal role in Britain’s history for over three centuries. This property, which is about a 20-minute drive from Windsor, also happened to be the place where Meghan Markle and her mother spend the night before the wedding. www.clivedenhouse.co.uk

Cliveden’s story started with a scandal when in 1666 the Duke of Buckingham built the first great house here for his mistress and then fatally wounded her husband in a duel. In 1893 William Waldorf Astor purchased Cliveden for $1.25 million. He bequeathed the property to his son Waldorf in 1906. Waldorf’s wife Nancy, Lady Astor, was the first woman to take a seat in Parliament in 1919.

In 1961, the seeds of the scandal known as the Profumo Affair, were sown at Cliveden. A chance meeting at the hotel’s swimming pool between society showgirl Christine Keeler and Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, turned into a three-month extra-marital affair. When the story broke that Keeler was sleeping with Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet spy, at the same time as seeing Profumo, his career was ruined. The whole sad episode contributed to the defeat of the Macmillan Conservative government in 1963.

All this colourful past is celebrated in the hotel’s delicious signature cocktails. Cliveden ’66, a Taittinger Champagne cocktail with Belvedere vodka and 24 carat gold flakes, commemorates the Duke of Buckingham. Profumo, brut rosé Champagne enhanced with Botanist gin and fruit liqueurs, is a fruity tribute to the scandalous event. On the drink list are also many historical and classic cocktails as well as an extensive selection of spirits and 1,666 wines (a work in progress).

The hotel’s André Garrett Restaurant offers well-crafted tasting menu dinners with a choice of wine pairings: either classic or a pairing of “weird and wonderful” unusual styles of wine. I picked the weird pairing and Deborah the classic so we could each try them both.

Somerset born Chef Garrett was lured from Galvin at Windows, a one star Michelin spot atop the Hilton in Mayfair, to take over as executive chef at Cliveden House. His menu features classics with contemporary twists and a locavore focus.

Our meal included Isle of Wight tomato gazpacho with burrata, Portland crab from the Dorset coast, foie gras au torchon, Cornish turbot with broccoli stalk fondant and olive tapenade, English veal loin with truffled curd, Barkham blue cheese, and banana mille-feuille with dark chocolate ganache. Gluttony was our taste of scandal at Cliveden and we loved every morsel.

email icon facebook logo twitter logo


Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

Read more from Margaret Swaine

comments powered by Disqus