Staycations are hot property right now, and for those looking for a quick getaway from London, the glorious Monkey Island Estate in Bray is hard to beat
All photography courtesy of Monkey Island Estate
Around two months into lockdown, I started to go stir crazy. I had wanderlust, but not even for particularly far-flung destinations – I wanted a change of scene so badly that even neighbouring postcodes held an exotic allure.
We drove to Crystal Palace Park when the restrictions were first lifted and I nearly cried. A few days later, we ventured to Bromley – it may as well have been Barbados, such was the thrill of feeling *that* far away. My first foray into central London felt like Christmas, feverish excitement enveloping me as I clapped eyes on a dreamy, sun-drenched St James’s park.
What it all made me realise is that you don’t need to go far away to get that much-needed holiday hit. In fact, with overseas travel becoming a more chaotic prospect by the day/hour/minute, more and more of us have decided to sack off the idea of even attempting to go abroad, choosing instead to get away from it all without leaving the UK.
It’s become less about the distance travelled, and more about how far away you feel when you get there. One place that really nails this ‘feels far away but really isn’t’ brief is Monkey Island Estate just outside Bray.
Departing London on a sunny autumn morning, it took us under an hour to reach this new luxury hideaway, but once we’d arrived, we couldn’t have felt further away from the capital, thanks to the hotel’s location on its very own island in the middle of the Thames.
‘Monkey Island has been a place of escapism for hundreds of years – it was first inhabited by monks, before the third Duke of Marlborough acquired it in 1723’
Retreating to this stunning spot for a bit of R&R isn’t a new concept, as Monkey Island has been a place of escapism for hundreds of years – it was first inhabited by monks, before the third Duke of Marlborough acquired it in 1723, turning it into an angling retreat complete with two stately Palladian buildings – the Temple and Pavilion (now Grade I Listed).
By 1840, the Pavilion had become a riverside inn, and then followed years of good times and happy guests (including Edward VII, HG Wells and Siegfried Sassoon).
When luxury hotel group YTL came along, the main buildings had fallen into a state of disrepair, but a painstaking restoration project has resulted in a stunning hotel sitting in seven acres of lush gardens.
It’s an idyllic island escape that you just wouldn’t expect was possible so close to the M25. In fact, the second you cross the bridge from the entrance pavilion to the hotel itself, you feel as if you’ve entered another world entirely – one that’s small, exclusive and full of surprises.
‘What it lacks in mischievous primates it makes up for in killer views and a feeling of exclusivity that can only come from shacking up on a private island for a night or two’
What won’t come as a huge surprise, however, is the fact that there are no actual monkeys on Monkey Island, but what it lacks in mischievous primates it makes up for in killer views and a feeling of exclusivity that can only come from shacking up on a private island for a night or two.
The Temple and Pavilion stand resplendent in the middle of perfectly manicured lawns, flanked by the Thames on either side. Rooms within are bright and breezy with a contemporary English country house feel, providing space to switch off and enjoy views over the estate. They’re perfect spaces for a blissful nights’ sleep, but if you’re feeling particularly fancy, book the Wedgewood Suite, a Grade I listed room that will take your breath away.
As its name suggests, the ceiling here mimics the iconic blue-and-white porcelain, while walls are wood panelled with windows providing almost 360-degree views. It’s a little bit like sleeping in a Fabergé egg, and without doubt the most magnificent hotel room I’ve ever slept in.
Further unique touches at Monkey Island come in the form of a floating spa that’s located on a barge, a small kitchen garden complete with greenhouses and beehives, and the ‘Monkey Room’, a Grade I listed lounge with a ceiling covered in 17th century frescos. It’s the perfect spot for a pre-dinner drink by the fire.
Dinner itself takes place in a dining room that overlooks the Thames where modern British dishes prepared using local ingredients are served with a smile.
There’s nothing rushed on Monkey Island, and while everything is super high end and perfectly thought out, the real luxury comes in the slow pace of life, tranquility of riverside living, and the joyous realisation that to get away from it all you really don’t need to go too far at all…
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