Story and photos by Norma Davidoff
Estate photo courtesy of Monkey Island Estate
Monkey Island Estate
an island in the Thames River leads the way
A quiet island? In the Thames? A 40-minute train ride from London? Near bustling Windsor Castle? Lead me to it!
And Monkey Island Estate did not disappoint. One of the Leading Hotels of the World, the Estate, with its borders of huge white hydrangeas, resident geese amidst the verdant grass, and low white buildings, is a hotel like no other. Originally the fishing lodge of one of Princess Diana’s ancestors, the Earl of Spencer, the Estate has always accommodated guests of the titled. It is still quite spiffy these days.
It is as though you had your own place amidst leafy trees, ducks and fat black crows. On this narrow stretch of land in the Thames big healthy trees anchor the grounds. It has an enchantment and quiet that one doesn’t quite expect along the busy Thames.
Terrace rooms are sophisticated and newly renovated as of April 2019. My room had black lacquer furniture and great views of the other main building. My bedroom door led to a stone terrace that runs along this sweet spot on the Thames. Surrounded by sweeping old trees, boats ply slowly along the river. It is charming, quiet and intimate.
That other building, the Pavilion, is where meetings and dining take place. The dining room and the bar’s soft green velvet chairs, leather sofas and honey-colored herringbone floors are both comfortable and luxurious.
The Estate is in the little town of Bray that has become a destination in itself because it has more three Michelin star restaurants than London – the Waterside Inn by the Roux Brothers and Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck. People stay at Monkey Island just to go to these epicurean temples.
Speaking of food, Monkey Island has its own kitchen garden, smokehouse, beehives, plus they raise chickens. One night I had a tasting menu called “A Taste of Bray.” Creative dishes, geared to my request for low-calorie choices, brought an appetizer of heritage tomatoes with oregano and a tomato granita. Surprisingly full of flavor for ices, the granita is spiked with a bit of Tabasco but easy on the calories. Monkey Island’s signature dish is rare duck with a bit of kale and deliciously roasted little pieces of potato, with a red wine jus. Paper-thin slices of black truffle offered an earthiness to the dish. My finish was another signature dish, totally British: sticky toffee pudding. Deep richness surrounded by vanilla ice cream. Need I say more?
The Estate added a new feature -- a teak double-width canal boat that was custom-designed for the hotel. This vessel anchored in the Thames is called the Floating Spa. had a signature treatment on it, called the “Floating Massage.” I started off with a drink of black currant syrup, star anise and club soda, which turned the palest of lavender. I was cradled on the massage table. Heated stones soothed my joints. I was a pleasant mellow heap by the time we were through. Then my masseuse Sophie offered me an herbal tea along with an “energy ball” of apricot, coconut, sesame and almonds. I was floating with joy as I left the boat.
It is the little things that charm… and a few big ones. If you put your shoes outside the door for a complimentary shoe shine, they will be delivered by 6 a.m. White on white duvets and linens, Celebration’s Egyptian cotton towels and a blissful walk-in shower all make for pleasure. The shower actually says on and off, a savior after too many confounding modern ones. The bathroom may be brand new, but those well-labeled St. James fixtures are a blessing.
Delightful small tarts and croissants, along with free tea or coffee, are in the Lounge for guests staying on the island. Breakfasts are bountiful with elegant cheeses, meats, smoked salmon, fruits and several choices of perfectly prepared egg dishes.
Monkey Island has other rooms just across on the mainland and in the village. For those, three mini SUV’s are available for guests’ use. It is a nice touch and a convenience as well. A Whiskey Snug on the Pavilion roof replete with fire pits opens in winter.
I was content staying on my little island but I knew the area was teeming with sights to see. I was close to Royal Windsor, the famed Eton College and the Ascot Races. Heathrow Airport was just twenty minutes away. So I got out and about but loved coming back to relax amidst the weeping willows and the chirping of birds.
IF YOU GO:
Monkey Island Estate
Bray, Maidenhead SL 6 2EE,
+44 (0) 1628 623 400
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