What is now the Monkey Island Estate Hotel in Bray-on-Thames has a colourful history – the unusual name may date back hundreds of years to when the small island in the middle of Thames was settled by local monks. The Grade I-listed buildings you see today are from the more recent past, however, constructed by the 3rd Duke of Marlborough in 1723 as an angling retreat (alright for some). He commissioned two buildings from Palladian architect Robert Morris: a two-storey Fishing Temple and octagonal Fishing Pavilion for sleeping and entertaining, and these both still stand today. The property had various uses and drew royals, authors, musicians and hosted several famous parties over the decades, but had been neglected for years before luxury hotel group YTL bought the property and renovated it.
Monkey Island Estate is now a fully functioning luxury hotel and must be one of the most unique places to stay in the country. Aside from the history, the setting is truly special, on this tiny island smack bang in the middle of the Thames, which you reach by crossing over a small footbridge. For Londoners it’s never been easier to get to either, with the Elizabeth Line now reaching to Maidenhead direct from central London. We hopped on at Farringdon and was at Maidenhead in an hour; from there it’s a 10 minute taxi to Monkey Island. Do check for engineering works however, as the line was only running as far as Paddington for our return journey the next day.
Once over on the island we checked into our room, The Wedgwood Suite, which is one of the grandest on offer, complete with wood panelling, detailed moulded ceilings, original fireplace, and windows on each side of the room, allowing lots of different views out over the island and river. You can certainly feel the history of the place in this room. There’s all mod cons and comforts too though, including a TV, Nespresso machine, and USB chargers. There’s a more modern en suite bathroom decked out in marble and featuring underfloor heating (very welcome on the cold March day we visited), and a huge bathtub as well as shower.
Due to the protected status of the island, YTL weren’t able to construct any new buildings, so they came up with a great solution to offer guests spa services – a floating spa on a boat moored up on one side of the island. A quick hop down there and you can climb aboard for a very relaxing massage whilst floating on the Thames. We told you this place was unique.
The rest of the grounds are fun to explore, though it only takes a few minutes to walk around the island. It may be small but you still feel blissfully relaxed surrounded by rushing water on all sides as you walk around. There’s some very elegant chickens kept at the far end of the island, as well as bee hives, so it’s well worth having a little explore.
With one of the original buildings being dedicated to guest rooms, the other is given over to bars and restaurants, which are all open to both guests and visitors. The Monkey Bar is bright and airy and has a great outdoor terrace for summer; The Monkey Room is a cosy snug with a roaring fireplace and a ceiling covered in 17th century frescos featuring lots of… monkeys; and finally, there’s the main restaurant, the Monkey Island Brasserie. The Brasserie offers classic dishes like prawn cocktail, steak tartare, fish and chips, and the Monkey Island brie burger. Breakfast is served in the brasserie the next morning and there’s also a Sunday Roast menu to check out if you’re there on a Sunday.
All in all, Monkey Island is a great little escape from London and it really is super easy to get to on the Elizabeth Line. YTL did a great job bringing the property back to its former glory and giving it a new lease of life.
Bray, Maidenhead SL6 2EE