You can now stay the night at this medieval castle, where history was made, but which may have been lost to posterity, but for the obsession of one famous American.
Today’s visitors to Hever Castle and Gardens, Kent, would be excused for thinking that this historic house had always been as perfectly preserved and maintained, throughout the 800 years of its existence, during which it was, famously, the family home of Anne Boleyn, later to become the 2nd wife of Henry VIII, and, later, the retreat provided by him to Anne of Cleves, his divorced 4th wife. The truth is that this exquisite slice of England’s royal heritage was saved from collapse by one of the richest men in USA, William Waldorf Astor, in 1903. Under his stewardship, a five-year restoration programme was undertaken, employing 1600 craftsmen and labourers. His enormous wealth enabled the castle to be saved, the flood-prone river re-routed and today’s estate, lake and gardens to be created. Astor also had designed and built, to provide space for his family and all the entertaining they enjoyed, a ‘modern’ extension, in authentic replication of a Tudor village. Although it is linked, by a covered bridge across the moat, the village is perfectly unobtrusive. Now, under new ownership, the family’s ‘house’ has been wholly reconfigured and offers the fortunate few an opportunity to taste the joys of living at Hever. The ‘Astor Wing’, as it is now known, has its own, private gate, drive, parking and gardens, and the former, family accommodation is now providing spacious, elegant accommodation, lounges, drawing-rooms, entertainment spaces and a number of secluded corners, befitting a wealthy person’s preferences. You have a choice from 28 luxurious 5* guestrooms and suites, each individually styled, proportioned and aligned. 19 of the rooms are within the main family ‘house’ and, this whole fantasy of a setting is extremely popular for spectacular wedding celebrations, discreet business gatherings and important family events.
Across the cobbled courtyard of this faux-Tudor paradise are the other rooms, in the Anne Boleyn Wing, where, with unmatched views to the moated castle, the atmosphere intensified. There seemed to be whispers, both of passion, Anne’s sister Mary having been Henry’s long-time mistress, and of frustration, as Anne refused to become just his latest conquest, insisting on becoming his Queen, a reluctance which had profound, constitutional consequences. Our low-ceilinged room was like a doorway into living history, generously furnished, perfectly decorated and dotted with antique pieces and ornaments. The bed was firm enough for comfort and vast enough to accommodate either the most distant of relationships or the pursuit of cool linen. Naturally, the 21st century necessities of flatscreen TV, free wi-fi, tea/coffee-making facilities, etc were provided and the bathroom was huge and immaculate. To awake, after an undisturbed sleep, in this most meticulous re-creation of a 15th century cottage (albeit with 21st century comforts), and overlook both the castle and the very orchard through which the love-sick king pursued his tragic prey, was poignantly affecting. There is even an immaculately-presented 4-bedroomed, self-catering cottage, ‘Medley Court’, with its own private garden, for families or groups of friends to achieve the absolute pinnacle of all rural ‘escapes’. This must have been for guests whom even the Astors wanted to impress! All in all, the Astor Wing offers an unbeatable venue for memorable getaways. As a bonus for Astor Wing guests, rates include access, throughout the stay, to the Castle and Gardens and many will delight in the singular pleasures of a morning- or evening-stroll about the estate at those times when it is closed to the public.
Special catering arrangements can be made for the grander ‘events’ but individual bookings (other than for Medley Court) are strictly on a Bed & Breakfast (exceedingly good) basis, with evening meals provided at any one of a number of suggested, nearby hostelries. One of these, unsurprisingly called ‘Henry VIII’, is within a comfortably short walking distance and, based on our experience, is strongly recommended. Booking a table at this popular country-pub, particularly at weekends, is advisable. If you prefer to spend the evening within the estate, enjoying the freedom to roam its entirety, free from the day’s tourists, you can find refreshment with a selection of drinks available from Reception, where service is unfailingly friendly, efficient and helpful. Whether it’s a tee-time at the nearby championship golf course, opening times at local attractions or simply arranging a picnic hamper, nothing appears to be too much trouble.
Astor’s great passion for English history was matched only by his ambition to preserve, and sympathetically improve, the properties he acquired. In addition to Hever, his investment secured the magnificent Cliveden, the venue of 1960s notoriety. At Hever, his far-sighted, grand design of enhancement and improvement, plans for which are displayed in the castle, included the draining of a large area of marshy land to have built an Italianate garden, in which to display, in an ideal, football-pitch sized setting, his extensive collection of classic statuary and ornaments, some over 2000 years old. Despite this, and much else, it is the building of the Astor Wing for which we should be particularly appreciative. This Edwardian addition to a medieval gem was perfectly conceived and created, and our inheritance is that we can all now embrace the experience of the most delicious b&b in Britain. Book your stay here
Hever’s Home Front
June 23 – June 24
Discover what life and work was like during the Second World War in our Hever’s Home Front event. Visit the tea dance tent, explore vintage stalls and learn to swing-dance. Come in 1940s dress and round the day off with a traditional afternoon tea.
Hever in Bloom
June 26 – July 1
During Hever in Bloom experience the quintessential English Rose Garden at the height of its summer beauty with guided tours of the award-winning Gardens. Many of the Castle rooms will be filled with English floral arrangements.
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