Having worked in the travel industry for almost 20 years, I have been fortunate enough to stay in some fabulous hotels. I could bore you rigid talking about luxurious stays in Monte Carlo, the Caribbean, Paris, London et cetera et cetera (yaaaawn!) but despite all the glitz and glamour, few – if any – have come close to providing as memorable a stay as the hotel I visited last weekend (1st March 2015).
Wellington is a friendly place that looks like it hasn’t changed a great deal in the last few decades and is all the better for it. Small, independent and generally interesting shops vie for your attention alongside the larger brands that are homogenising every UK high street. The town has an interesting history and was home to Fox’s Bank, the last independent bank in the UK that was still able to issue its own banknotes up to the early 1920s (a very localised form of ‘quantative easing’ perhaps?). The buildings are an eclectic mixture of interesting styles and eras and are generally in fine fettle.
A 10-minute walk from the town centre, up a private driveway, you arrive at The Cleve Hotel and Spa. The main building is attractive, although more recent additions are functional, with somewhat less aesthetic appeal. There’s a decent sized car park, which coincidentally has excellent views.
Rather than sitting in your car admiring the view, I thoroughly recommend going inside. The interior has lots of period character and the public spaces are light, spacious and airy, no doubt helped by the frankly massive windows and high ceilings. In the lounge and bar areas there is a good mixture of comfortable leather sofas, high back chairs and plenty of tables of varying sizes. It’s a very agreeable place to sit in the sun, read, admire the view or chat with friends over a drink. On finer days there is also a very pleasant looking terrace outside (pictured) with views out towards the imposing Wellington Monument, although in very early spring it was just a little too bracing.
The Cleve hotel is privately owned and has been a part of the Wellington scene for as long as anyone can remember. We were attending a 70th birthday party for a lady who had also held her wedding reception there some 50 years earlier. The stone steps that she stood on for her wedding photos are still there and it is the venue of choice for local weddings to this day.
So what marks The Cleve out from other hotels? Simply put, it’s the staff. Certainly there are none of the obsequious servitudes that have become so prevalent in modern hotels and this is, in my opinion, a very good thing. In its place you find a small team of highly capable, friendly and clearly motivated individuals who are genuinely interested in helping. You can tell a lot about the management of an establishment through how the staff interact with each other and this little team seem to be really happy with their lot. A profit share scheme perhaps? Even that wouldn’t explain it! After all, money doesn’t buy you happiness, (although it does help with lots of other stuff). Whatever it is, it’s working. Everyone – room cleaners, reception staff, waitresses, bar staff – had the same attitude. I wish all hotels were like this.
This being a spa hotel it would be rude not to mention the spa. It’s a lovely place to spend some time if you are into that sort of thing (which I am), especially as you can’t take your children in. You skirt around a seemingly well-equipped gym (quickly in my case as I’m not a fan of gyms) into the changing rooms and then past the sauna to the pool, jacuzzi and steam room.
In fact, perhaps because of its compact dimensions, the steam room was one of the steamiest I’ve encountered. This may also be due to a button on the wall that you can press for more steam – it’s just too tempting. If I were to nitpick, I’d say that it needed a little TLC as some of the plastics had warped or come away. However, it did not spoil the experience. If you prefer to ease away the aches and pains in the jacuzzi you can look out over the surrounding countryside as you do so, making it doubly relaxing, especially on cold, rainy days. There is also a full range of ESPA spa treatments if you wish to pamper, preen and generally titivate yourself.
Of course, it’s all very well having a lovely lounge, lovely people and a lovely spa but what about a good night’s kip? Once again, that was handled with aplomb. There are 18 rooms and these vary in size and price, starting at £80 per room per night, including breakfast, based on two sharing. The maximum price, for the Junior Suite, is still a very reasonable £125 per room per night if you book and pay in advance.
My suggestion, if you are visiting without children, would be to go for one of the more expensive rooms (I saw inside Oak – pictured – and Halse) as these are spacious, with high ceilings, magnificent picture windows, fantastic views, inviting beds and stylish bathrooms.
We, however, did have children and so were in a slightly less grand room at the top of the building. It was still very nicely appointed and had all the excellent facilities (TV, WiFi, tea/coffee, iron, hairdryer, posh toiletries etc..) and the beds were still wonderfully comfortable (once you’ve removed about a million scatter cushions. What is it with cushions these days?) but with four beds in it the feeling of relaxed airiness was somewhat absent. It never ceases to amaze me how children can fill a space with clutter in a matter of seconds. Having said that, the hotel was very quiet and there is no discernible noise from the surroundings (which is almost all fields so not that surprising really!)
It’s not always easy to do but make sure you rouse yourself in time for breakfast. It’s well worth the effort with a great selection of both hot and cold dishes. Start with cereals, toast, yoghurts, compotes or fresh fruit salad (which was very good) before ordering from the menu. I had a full cooked breakfast and it was supremely satisfying. Other options included smoked haddock with poached egg, kippers porridge and croissants.
So there you go, a small privately owned hotel in a provincial town has given more satisfaction than all the prestigious hotels with headline grabbing pointless options (this is aimed at any hotel with a sommelier for water, pillows etc… You know who you are!). If you are able, do visit The Cleve and I hope you find it as enjoyable as I did. My last suggestion would be to stay on a Sunday night as it will probably be quieter than Friday/Saturday. I had the whole spa complex to myself for several hours on Sunday evening. Now that is luxurious!