Monkey Island Estate, a seven-acre green island in England’s Thames, 30 minutes’ drive west of Heathrow, hosts two all-white two-floor buildings, both built 1723 as the Duke of Marlborough as a fishing retreat. The Pavilion offers eating, drinking and meetings, The Temple has 41 bedrooms. Approach is by foot-only, over a 20-metre bridge.
Kuala Lumpur-based YTL bought Monkey Island in 2015 and spent four years elevating the Estate to true global-luxury level (the hotel, under Manager Matthew Facey, is SLH). Designer Alexandra Champalimaud, a long-time partner of YTL’s owning Yeoh family, was here confined by strict heritage regulations to colour-free, other than greenery wallpapers in some Temple corridors: Pavilion, incidentally, has an original monkey ceiling in one lounge. She couldn’t change the Wedgwood sculpted ceiling in bedroom #201, the presidential Wedgewood (sic) Suite, where windows on three walls overlook the island – home to wild ducks and deer – and river both sides.
I head for a soothing session in one of the three treatment ‘rooms’ on the divine bespoke spa-barge, moored alongside the hotel. I swap boats, for a 30-minute sunset cruise: a delightfully-smooth local sparkling is poured as we glide around the island. On the mainland, I see Monkey Island’s letting houses: outside racing legend Stirling Moss’ former home, a small group does poolside yoga. Here is Bray Marina, its terrace a pointillist painting of yachting caps, striped jerseys and Champagne flutes. There are Bray Studios (another movie centre, Pinewood Studios, is out of sight).
Nearby Bray village is home of rural England’s culinary best, but I eschew Blumenthal and Roux for Monkey Island Brasserie. After superb home-smoked jasmine tea salmon, I similarly relish my sirloin, month-aged in unsalted butter – and lemon posset with preserved cherries.
Come dawn, I circumnavigate the island, to inspect the dozen-odd chicken in their palatial wired-run, and the well-labelled herb-vegetable garden, four beehives, and, raised up on three steps, the smokehouse. Breakfast background music is light jazz. Superb Greek yoghurt is followed by Swiss bread toasts covered in crushed avo, with perfectly poached eggs. And THEN, later but too soon, Matthew knocks on Wedgewood’s door. A wicker wagon waits for the wheelie, and we walk through the sun back over the bridge to my waiting car.