Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

In room 108 of the Relais Henley is the royal coat of arms of King Charles I, who stayed there in 1632.
The room next door, 109, was frequented by John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough, the great general whose victories included Blenheim in 1704.
And room 107, on the other side of 108, is where my wife and I stayed in the spring of 2022, although the hotel has been slow to boast about this on its website!
Other royals to have visited the riverside Henley-on-Thames hotel include King George III with his wife Queen Charlotte in 1788, and their son The Prince Regent, later George IV.
Grace Kelly, later Princess Grace of Monaco, also visited the hotel in 1947 when her brother Jack was competing at the Henley Royal Regatta. Room 114 is named in her honour.
The building dates from the 1530s when it housed the craftsmen who built the adjacent St Mary’s Church, where Son Of A Preacher Man singer Dusty Springfield’s ashes are buried.
It became a proper coaching inn in 1732 and was named The Red Lion. It took advantage of Henley’s ideal location as a staging post between London and Oxford, both by road and by river.

The town’s rise to global renown began in 1839 with the first regatta. One of the highlights of the English social season, the week-long party attracts luminary guests.
As for the rowing, there are over 300 races, often featuring Olympians. The finishing post used to be right opposite the hotel but is now a little further downstream.
Today, the hotel is refusing to live in the past, having undergone a radical £3 million overhaul following its recent purchase by international hotelier Grace Leo and shipping magnate Tim Hartnoll.
Long overlooked, The Red Lion is now the stylish Relais Henley, although its history is such that ‘The Red Lion’ is still spelt out in big letters on the building, and there’s a statue of a red lion over the entrance.
Grace, who has developed some of the finest hotels and resorts around the world, has reimagined the hotel whilst respecting and preserving the original building.
All 40 of its rooms are now fit for a 21st century king, with super comfy beds, quality furnishings, rainforest showers and long, deep tubs (where the contours of the building allow).
The rooms have views of the Thames, the town, or a courtyard, where on one side stands a delightful timber-framed, straw-coloured, 14th-century chantry house.
As you’d expect, King Charles I’s old room possibly has the best view of all, occupying a corner position and facing the stone-arched Henley Bridge (1786).

The makeover has taken inspiration from Henley’s rowing heritage with bold stripes inspired by club blazers and pictures of people messing about on the river.
The elegant Clipper restaurant has the hull of a dinghy suspended from the ceiling, while the alluring bar – with its exposed medieval beams – is called the Quarterdeck.
Continuing the theme, the staff all wear regatta jackets. And, like their predecessors, they treat guests like royalty, with the warmest of welcomes and efficient service.
The restaurant offers all-day dining, with menus by Mosimann’s of London, one of the most prestigious private dining clubs in the world.
It serves the best of locally-sourced ingredients and all our meals – afternoon tea, dinner and then breakfast – will live long in the memory. Even our picky primary school-aged children (who slept in a connecting room, 106) were all well catered for, despite being the only kids in the restaurant.

Away from the hotel, we spent our weekend doing a couple of riverside walks (well, it would have been rude not to!)
Upstream we came to a park, playground, boat hire places, a weir and a wooden walkway leading to a lock on the opposite bank.
The River and Rowing Museum, housed in the 1998 RIBA Building of the Year, has a range of permanent and visiting exhibitions. This includes an enchanting recreation of the world of The Wind in the Willows (author Kenneth Grahame lived nearby).
And two miles downstream we reached Temple Island with its elegant 18th century folly – the starting line for regatta races.
Before leaving Henley we had time for an obligatory ice cream on the riverbank and reflect on a totally oar-some break from the norm.

Need to know
Rooms start from £190 per night based on two sharing a Courtyard Room, including breakfast. For more information see www.therelaishenley.com

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