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In 1197, monks settled nearby, and while this could explain the island’s unusual moniker, the true root is hard to pin down.
By Samantha Coles | June 6 2020
Even though Monkey Island Estate is a quick train ride from central London, it feels like it’s a world away. Tucked within the impossibly pretty village of Bray, the seven-acre-island is flanked by the River Thames. The hotel opened in spring 2019, but its history spans centuries: In 1197, monks settled nearby, and while this could explain the island’s unusual moniker, the true root is hard to pin down (it’s also rumored that King George III was banished here with a pet monkey). Throughout its 800-year history, the estate has hosted monarchs, aristocrats, musicians and artists (Edward Elgar composed his “Violin Concerto” at the estate). It is made up of two landmarked buildings; one has the bar, restaurant, ballroom and Spencer Suite, while the other houses the guest rooms and two other suites. The buildings are centuries old and were originally commissioned in 1723 as a fishing retreat for the third Duke of Marlborough. There’s also an interesting concept spa — the Floating Spa — housed on a restored barge and, as the name suggests, floating on the river.
The Wedgewood Suite
– Size: 409 sq ft
– Nightly rate from $900
Live out all your bucolic dreams in this suite — it has sublime views over the Thames and the gardens from the large arched windows, and the exquisite decor (created by Champalimaud Design) makes it feel more like a country home than a hotel. It has a master bedroom with a separate seating area, dressing room and en-suite bathroom, working fireplace with a painting of the Duke of Marlborough hanging above it and the original plasterwork ceiling, depicting mermaids and dolphins.
Bray is famous for having the highest concentration of Michelin stars in the UK: Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, Hind’s Head and The Crown at Bray, and the Roux family’s Waterside Inn. The village itself is charming with its black-and-white Victorian-style cottages and winding roads. Don’t miss dining at the estate though: First, enjoy an aperitif in The Monkey Room. Plush velvet sofas face a working fireplace, but look up to see the original, lilac-bordered singerie of monkeys fishing in the river. Then dine at the Brasserie, an unpretentious, welcoming spot serving British dishes (many using produce from the estate). If you visit in the warmer months, dine alfresco on the terrace surrounded by pretty flowers and watch the boats go by on the Thames, or opt for a charming afternoon tea service accompanied by live music. The Whisky Snug is hidden away beyond a winding staircase; there, you can choose to buy your own bottles (stored under lock, key and alarm) that will be kept for future visits. If it’s a clear night and the British weather permits, a fire pit can be set up for you to toast marshmallows and enjoy a boozy hot chocolate while gazing at the stars.
Spend time ambling around the estate’s seven acres. AV Design created the beautiful gardens (you might see owner/landscaper Bradley Burgess’ lovable spaniel enjoying the wide open space), and there are charming spots to unwind in nature with a good book. You might even recall the grounds as the setting for Elite Traveler’s Fall issue’s fashion shoot. You can see yachts and riverboats glide by on the Thames — or charter one for yourself to cruise in the vintage-style Kingfisher at sunset with a glass of champagne.