Srping Cottage at Cliveden (Photo courtesy Cliveden)
It was once a naughty love nest in the grounds of a palatial English country estate and now it can be yours-temporarily-for a rather naughty price. This year, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its notoriety, the two-bedroom Spring Cottage has been lavishly refurbished and you can sleep there, for around $3,000 a night.
The estate, called Cliveden (now a Relaix & Chateau hotel), sits above one of the most bucolic stretches of the river Thames west of London, and was once owned by the British branch of the Astor family. In 1963 the cottage was rented from Lord Bill Astor, master of Cliveden, by a well-connected osteopath called Stephen Ward. That is, until Astor peremptorily took back the keys. That was because both Ward and Astor were suddenly caught up in the juiciest political scandal of post-war Britain, the Profumo Affair.
Cliveden has long since passed from the Astors and become an opulent hotel. Now, new owners, one of them also an owner of longtime Condé Nast Traveler Gold List favorite Chewton Glen, have transformed Ward's cottage, a ten-minute walk from the great house, into Cliveden's priciest suite.
Two other scandalous accommodations were already luxurious digs to begin with. Probably the most extreme case is the Coco Chanel suite at the Ritz in Paris. Chanel, of course, made a considerable fortune from fashion and perfume, but she left a nasty odor that has become more so with the passage of time.
During World War II she collaborated with the Nazi occupiers of Paris and while living at the Ritz, pleasured a senior Nazi officer. During the war she tried, but failed, to steal the formula for what became Chanel No. 5 perfume from its Jewish creators (after the war they were paid handsomely for it), and lately it's become clear she only narrowly escaped trial for collaboration in Paris (while others were severely punished) by pulling some very powerful strings, because of what she could dish about the Hitler-adoring Duke and Duchess of Windsor (don't ask).
None of this necessarily contaminates the Ritz (which is currently closed for renovation but has been a longtime Condé Nast Traveler Gold List property) or diminishes the accoutrements of the eponymous suite-the hotel calls it "exquisite and serene." It's simply commentary on an egregious piece of history.
A rather more palatable legend of assignation and hospitality is the story of Elinor Glyn and the Cavendish Hotel in London. In the early 20th century Glyn made a name, and good money, writing a particularly hot-blooded kind of romance novel, regarded as risqué for a woman author at the time.
While she lived at the Cavendish, in Jermyn Street at the heart of fashionable Mayfair, she entertained, as a lover, one of the British empire's most fearsome satraps, Lord Curzon. Their couplings were enlivened by being performed on a tiger skin, which gave rise to this charming little ditty...
Would you like to sin With Elinor Glyn On a tiger skin? Or would you prefer To err With her On some other fur?
In that period, the Cavendish was run like an intimate country hotel for the gentry, their ladies-and their lovers. That Cavendish hotel no longer exists, but the present modern incarnation remains in a location redolent of the style, manners, and tastes of Edwardian London, surrounded by tailors, haberdashers, auction houses, and galleries-and across the street from the world's poshest grocer: Fortnum & Mason, its counters stacked with sinful pleasures to offer a lover.