Travel Expert and Radio Talk Show Host Stephanie Abrams - Travelers411 Travel Radio Shownotes
"Travelers411" Radio Show - October 16, 2010 - Show Archive

Live Like a Duke (Or an Astor) at Cliveden House, Taplow, Berkshire, England; World War II History and Current Celebrities at Beech Hill Country House, Derry, Northern Ireland; Have a French Experience in the Caribbean at Eden Rock, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies.

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Hour 1

Topics Include:

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Michael Chaloner, House Manager, Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.
www.clivedenhouse.co.uk

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show step into a storybook home with Michael Chaloner, House Manager at Cliveden House in Taplow, Berkshire, England. Once home to the Astor family, Cliveden is now a luxury hotel in what Stephanie calls a "perfect storybook setting" just 50 minutes from London.

Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.
Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.

Michael has been at Cliveden for 18 years. "When I first arrived, I started out checking people in," he says. "I've gone through almost every position other than head chef; it's such a fantastic place to work that it's been a pleasure throughout." He can still appreciate, however, what it's like to arrive at Cliveden for the very first time. "One of the first things you do is go through fantastic grand gates," he says. "You sweep through in the motorcar and up to the house, passing a fountain designed by the Astors. As you go round the corner, your car scrunches on the gravel, and you approach this beautiful house in an Italianate style."

Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.
Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.

Although Cliveden is quite a large house, Michael believes it has a certain smallness that keeps it from being intimidating. "It's not this enormous, looming, Victorian building," he explains. The house was originally built in the 1600s, heavily restyled in the 1800s by the Duchess of Sutherland, and subsequently updated by the Astors in the early 20th century. Some of the more famous family members included John Jacob Astor and William Waldorf Astor, who started the Waldorf-Astoria Hotels.

Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.
Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.

The Astors bought Cliveden in 1893 as a country cottage. When William Waldorf Astor's son was married in 1906, the patriarch gave Cliveden to the couple as a wedding present. His son's wife, Nancy Astor, soon became famous for entertaining everyone from celebrities to politicians at the house. "An invite from Nancy was more of a commandment; you didn't say no," explains Michael. "Once, she heard that Charlie Chaplin was filming at Pinewood Studios nearby. The invite was issued and filming had to come to a halt so Chaplin could go to Cliveden. He returned the next day so filming could resume."

Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.
Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.

Although Cliveden has a country-house feel, it's only 35 minutes from Heathrow Airport and 50 minutes from London. "The city is easily reached by major roads, so it's a very simple journey," Michael says. "You don't even have to make arrangements yourself; when you book, we can take care of it for you. When you come to Cliveden, you can calm down and smell the beautiful fresh air." Guests can explore the estate's 375 acres of grounds, through which the River Thames flows.

Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.
Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.

When guests arrive at Cliveden, whether from across the Atlantic or just up from London, they'll find their names on the door. For example, Stephanie is staying in the S. Abrams Suite. "Putting guests' names on the door is the way that the Astors did it, so we try to continue that forward," Michael explains. Inside the suite, Stephanie was pleased to find a large entryway, sitting room, and "grand steps" up to a "marvelous" king-size bed.

Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.
Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.

Cliveden was originally built in 1666 for the second Duke of Buckingham. "When you stand at the back of the house and look down at the gardens and the Thames, you see the valley stretching in front of you and understand why someone would build a house here," Michael says. "The duke built at this spot, though, because it was one day's journey from London. In those days, the very wealthy didn't travel overnight because it was a bit risky. So you traveled for one day and bought a plot of land. If you were poorer, you stayed at a  inn, like those in Beaconsfield or Maidenhead. But the lucky old duke had the best plot in the country!"

Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.
Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.

The location was also convenient for its proximity to Windsor Castle. "In those days, to survive politics, you had to be on the right side of the monarch," Michael continues. "The duke was actually in the Tower of London on a couple occasions but was let out, so he did politics very well." After the duke's death, Cliveden was bought by the Orkney family, which took its title from an old Norse lineage and owned land from the Orkney Islands down through London.

Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.
Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.

The Orkney family owned Cliveden from 1703 to 1795. "The Orkneys were actually able to hand the property from father to son and from mother to daughter, which is unusual," says Michael. "Rather carelessly, though, in 1795 they burned the house down and blamed the architect and a servant. They were able to just move next door, but there was a second fire in the mid-1800s, when the house was owned by the Sutherland family. This time it was the architect's fault; Charles Barry, who also did the Houses of Parliament, designed it with a beam sticking into a fireplace, so of course that caught."

Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.
Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.

Michael assures listeners that Cliveden is perfectly safe now. "In fact, it's all the better for the redevelopment back in the 1800s; it means we can now use a historic house as a hotel," he adds. "We try and make it feel like a house, though. Our chairs creak when you sit in them!" This doesn't mean that Cliveden is full of old stuff; it's decorated with valuable antiques, and Stephanie is particularly impressed by the wood carvings, statues, and family portraits lining the walls.

Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.
Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.

In keeping with its heritage as a wedding present, Cliveden frequently hosts weddings. "We can do weddings for 2 to 250 people," Michael says. "We can do everything: arrange photographers, florist, transport, look after guests, do the food and drink. And we can actually do it all without input from the bride!" The property has a variety of venues to choose from, including the Great Hall with its impressive fireplace, the French Dining Room, which holds up to 70 people, and the Lady Astor Suite, which holds up to 60 people. Since the hotel has only 39 rooms, guests can also arrange for exclusive use of the property, whether for a wedding, reunion, or other family event.

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2256

Related Photo Galleries:
London, England, UK

For more information visit www.clivedenhouse.co.uk


Travel Tips:

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams has a few tips for making or canceling reservations by phone. "When you call, get the name of the person you're speaking with and the spelling of their name," she says. "Write it down, along with the date and time of your call. Have them go over what you think you've reserved, including flight numbers, arrival dates, which airports, and so on. For a reservation, get a record locator number or confirmation number. If you're going to cancel, get a cancellation number - push them for it - and keep it in a safe place."

Hotel reception at the Berkshire Crowne Plaza in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Hotel reception at the Berkshire Crowne Plaza in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Fun Facts:

Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill did not get along particularly well. On one occasion, Nancy supposedly said, "Winston, if you were my husband, I would put poison in your coffee." Winston replied, "Madam, if I were your husband, I would drink it!"

Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace, which was owned by the Duke of Marlborough. Some of the tapestries lining the walls at Cliveden were presented to the Duke of Orkney by the Duke of Marlborough.

One of the rail cars that carried Winston Churchill from Westminster Abbey to Blenheim Palace, where he was interred, is now at Glenlo Abbey in Bushypark, County Galway, Ireland.

Dining cars at Glenlo Abbey.
Dining cars at Glenlo Abbey.

Guests Include:

Michael Chaloner, House Manager, Cliveden House, Cliveden, England.
www.clivedenhouse.co.uk

Hour 2

Topics Include:

Link to this segment

Patsy O’Kane, Owner, Beech Hill Country House, Derry, Northern Ireland.
www.beech-hill.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show learn about the U.S. Marines – Northern Ireland connection with Patsy O'Kane, Owner of the Beech Hill Country House in Derry, Northern Ireland. Today, Beech Hill is a luxury hotel; during World War II, it was home to several U.S. Marines stationed in Northern Ireland. Travelers can visit a room dedicated to the Marines' service and featuring memorabilia, photos, documents, and even a Marine uniform.

Derry Building Sgin.
Derry Building Sgin.

Patsy did not own the house when it was used as a base; she bought the property in 1989. "I had a few conversations with Mary Pat Kelly [author of "Galway Bay" and "Kelly Green"], who had been doing some research and told me about the house's past," Patsy explains. "As a result of the connection with Mary Pat, I was able to get an introduction to the families of veterans who lived in the house. That led to my being able to look at scrapbooks and get copies of some pictures. And on it went!"

Beech Hill Country House, Derry, Northern Ireland.
Beech Hill Country House, Derry, Northern Ireland.

Beech Hill often holds commemorative events for Marines in May. "We haven't had anything for the last few years, but we're ready to start up again," says Patsy. "My goal is to get a Marine commandant to come." Another current project is the digitization of 70 boxes of information pertaining to the military's activity in the Derry area. Patsy's goal is to eventually set up a genealogy center where visitors can do research on their families and friends.

Beech Hill Country House, Derry, Northern Ireland.
Beech Hill Country House, Derry, Northern Ireland.

The property recently hosted the Marines' former commander-in-chief, Bill Clinton. "I tried to give him some of the information about the history projects, but it's not always easy to get thirty minutes of his time," Patsy says. "He was there two days and had so many engagements! But I know that without his support and the help of others, we would never have gotten this far with the project. We were able to access all kinds of information in the National Archives, and that could only have happened with someone behind the scenes."

Beech Hill Country House, Derry, Northern Ireland.
Beech Hill Country House, Derry, Northern Ireland.

Stephanie is particularly impressed that a museum outside the U.S. has such respect for the service of the American forces. "We're discovering new stories every day, and the more you get into the project, the more it has a stronger hold on you," Patsy explains. "We now have the U.S. Navy-Marine Friendship Association, so we have a historian on board, as well as a very good administrator. We really want the project to work for local people, too, so they can learn about the history. From an educational point of view, we want our children to learn what happened here."

Beech Hill Country House, Derry, Northern Ireland.
Beech Hill Country House, Derry, Northern Ireland.

Patsy is confident that the project will attract "huge amounts" of visitors. She spoke to the deputy U.S. consul general, Kevin Roland, who expressed his support and offered help with improving the relationship and communication between Northern Ireland and America. First, though, Beech Hill will have to get through the 70 boxes of documents, a project that Patsy compares to the building of the Titanic in Belfast.

Nearby Derry Cliffs.
Nearby Derry Cliffs.

Beech Hill Country House is about 2.5 miles or 5 minutes by car from downtown Derry, Northern Ireland. "We're in a rural area, but there's a brilliant road and it's getting better," Patsy says. The hotel is about 1 hour 15 minutes from the Belfast airport, but she hopes that a new road will cut the travel time to just 1 hour. Stephanie is skeptical, saying, "I don't know how you could get here from Belfast in one hour—there are too many places to stop and take pictures along the way!"

Derry mural.
Derry mural.

Once guests arrive at Beech Hill, they're welcomed as though it's their own country house. "I would describe Beech Hill as home, for me and for my guests," Patsy explains. "We don't see it as a hotel, but as a nice big Georgian manor. We try to keep it that way with our furnishings and even our style of cooking; we use fresh local ingredients, for example. We encourage people to take nice walks in our garden and make it feel like a rural retreat."

Nobel Prize Winner John Hume (R) and Stephanie Abrams (L) at the Beech Hill Hotel.
Nobel Prize Winner John Hume (R) and Stephanie Abrams (L) at the Beech Hill Hotel.

Guests looking for a bit more excitement than a typical country getaway can check in to Beech Hill's Fawlty Towers or Father Ted experiences. "We thought it was a great idea to have our own comedy week at Beech Hill," Patsy says. "We had Michael [Wilson Green and his comedy troupe] here, so when you checked in, he was acting like Basil Fawlty. I think some guests were a bit unsure of what was happening until we explained it to them."

Related Photo Galleries:
Donegal Bushmills Distillery

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=306

For more info on Laughlines and Father Ted shows in the UK click here.

For more information visit www.beech-hill.com


Link to this segment

David Matthews, Proprietor, Eden Rock – St Barths, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.
www.edenrockhotel.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show relax in the Caribbean with David Matthews, Proprietor of Eden Rock in St. Jean on the island of Saint-Barthelemy in the French West Indies. David is not related to the singer of the Dave Matthews Band. He has, however, taken Eden Rock from a house in the middle of the ocean to a Relais & Chateaux property in the last twelve years.

Eden Rock – St Barths, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.
Aerial view of Eden Rock – St Barths, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.

"There are so many things you can do with your life if you put your mind to it," David says. "Previously, I lived in London, but I wanted to squeeze in another life. So I lived in Paris on the Ile-de-la-Cite for a year. I would go running down the river every day. The French was a bit tricky at times, but it's a lovely place. There's just one high building—Montparnasse—so you can see where you are all the time."

Eden Rock – St Barths, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.
Ocean view path at Eden Rock – St Barths, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.

David then made the move to St Barths. "I wasn't really a hotelier and the house was quite rundown, but I built it back up," he says. "There was a little bar going and I kept it going. We now have 150 people and joined Relais and Chateaux. It's been twelve years of sometimes grindingly hard work, but there are excitements, not disappointments." He still returns to the UK, too, to see his sons and his 92-year-old mother.

Eden Rock – St Barths, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.
Eden Rock – St Barths, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.

Why should visitors choose St Barths out of all the Caribbean islands? "It's an extraordinary island," David says. "It's become a center for mega-yachts, particularly through the Christmas season, and it's a sight to see, with the boats parked and the helicopters going. But families here remember when water was scarce and there were 5,000 donkeys and one car! The story of St Barths is that of a few families chased out of France who scratched out a living on this little island. Because they were so poor, people were thrifty and honest. It's still very much the case that St Barths is a peaceful, crime-free community."

Eden Rock – St Barths, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.
Eden Rock – St Barths, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.

Stephanie adds that a trip to St Barths is a way to have a French experience without going to France. "There are gorgeous waters and beaches and great shopping, including perfumes you can only get in France or French territories," she says. "You can dine in seaside restaurants and see a French influence in everything, including in the Asian fusion cuisine."

Eden Rock – St Barths, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.
Eden Rock – St Barths, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.

As a Relais & Chateaux property, Eden Rock has a few dining options. "On the Rocks is our gourmet bistro that only serves dinner," David explains. "It's on the rock above the coral reef, looking down at the ocean. For lunch, we have the Sand Bar, which is closer to the beach and has a few more healthy options. Our food has changed a lot recently; we're trying to stay a la mode—that is, stay current with the way that food in the world is going."

Eden Rock – St Barths, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.
Eden Rock – St Barths, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.

"But we are full-on French; we feel it's a benefit to come and have a change," he continues. "We have 35 people in the kitchen, including several specialists; we fly fish in from France; we bring products in on ice so it doesn't have to be frozen. We want to deliver fine French food, as good as we can make it. And it's always accompanied by a choice of wine from around the world." After indulging in a fine dining experience, guests can retire to one of 24 guest houses, which start at 400 euros per night and finish at around $30,000 a night.

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2260

For more information visit www.edenrockhotel.com


Guests Include:

Patsy O’Kane, Owner, Beech Hill Country House, Derry, Northern Ireland.
www.beech-hill.com

David Matthews, Proprietor, Eden Rock, St. Jean, Saint-Barthelemy, French West Indies, Caribbean.
www.edenrockhotel.com

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