Historic Monkey Island in Bray-on-Thames transformed into a country-hotel estate

The former home of monks and aristocrats offers an uplifting – and intriguing – riverside escape

The Temple building on Monkey Island Estate – now restored to its early-18th-century glory
The Temple building on Monkey Island Estate – now restored to its early-18th-century glory

Just an hour’s drive from London, Monkey Island in Bray-on-Thames, Berkshire, has an intriguing 800-year history, having variously been home to monks and aristocrats and the chosen haunt of artists and performers. The Grade I-listed white-bricked Pavilion and Temple buildings that form the historic property were commissioned by the 3rd Duke of Marlborough as a fishing retreat in 1723. Following restoration and renovation, they soft-opened two weeks ago as Monkey Island Estate, a laidback but luxurious escape (rooms from £275) offering excellent cuisine, a unique spa and picture-perfect views of the Thames.  

Temple rooms at Monkey Island Estate start at £275
Temple rooms at Monkey Island Estate start at £275
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Award-winning New York-based Champalimaud Design has designed the 40 rooms (plus one deluxe suite) with a modern and relaxed countryside style that blends past and present, while the seven-acre gardens are a sensory feast of mature trees, shrubs and an impressive variety of British plants.

The Floating Spa offers treatments inspired by the monks who once lived on the island
The Floating Spa offers treatments inspired by the monks who once lived on the island
The lounge in the Temple building, which was originally a fishing retreat for the 3rd Duke of Marlborough
The lounge in the Temple building, which was originally a fishing retreat for the 3rd Duke of Marlborough

The Floating Spa – a barge moored on the banks of the island – is a highlight, inspired by the monks who arrived in 1197 and inhabited the place for 300 years. The Monk’s Elixir treatment (90 minutes, £125) begins with an ancient monk-brewed herbal tonic – Chartreuse, DOM Benedictine or Frangelico – and is followed by a full body massage using house-cured herbal oil infused with arnica, angelica and melissa and lightly scented with frankincense.

The relaxed Monkey Island Brasserie, headed by former Simpson’s in The Strand chef William Hemming
The relaxed Monkey Island Brasserie, headed by former Simpson’s in The Strand chef William Hemming
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The relaxed Monkey Island Brasserie, headed by executive chef William Hemming (formerly of Simpson’s in the Strand), features a bounty of produce sourced from the gardens and local countryside. Signature dishes include Monkey Island Estate smoked Loch Duart salmon (£16), 35-day dry-aged 10oz sirloin steak (£32) and Estate beef chop for two with bone marrow, sauces and sides (£76). The Monkey Bar and The Whisky Snug offer an impressive drinks menu for an aperitif or digestif, with the former serving light snacks.

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