Today’s Monkey Island Estate Hotel in Bray-on-Thames has a colorful history – the unusual name possibly dates back hundreds of years when the small island in the middle of the Thames was settled by local monks. However, the Grade I listed buildings you see today are more recent, having been built by the 3rd Duke of Marlborough in 1723 as a fishing retreat (okay for some). He commissioned the Palladian architect Robert Morris to build two buildings: a two-storey fisherman’s temple and an octagonal fisherman’s pavilion for sleeping and dining, both of which still stand today. The property had various uses, attracting royalty, authors, musicians and hosting several famous parties over the decades, but was neglected for years before luxury hotel group YTL bought and renovated the property.
Now a fully operational luxury hotel, Monkey Island Estate has to be one of the most unique places in the country. History aside, the setting is really something special, on this tiny island in the middle of the Thames, which you can access by crossing a small footbridge. For Londoners, getting there has never been easier Elizabeth line now direct from London to Maidenhead. We boarded at Farringdon and were in Maidenhead in an hour; From there it is a 10 minute taxi ride to Monkey Island. Do look for road works though as the line only ran as far as Paddington for our return journey the next day.
Over on the island we checked into our room, the Wedgwood Suite, which is one of the grandest on offer, complete with wood paneling, detailed sculpted ceilings, an original fireplace, and windows on each side of the room that allow for many different views across the island and the river. In this room you can feel the history of the place. However, there are also all modern comforts and conveniences, including a TV, Nespresso machine and USB chargers. There is a more modern marble decked bathroom with heated floors (very welcome on the cold March day we visited) and a huge bath and shower.
Due to the island’s protected status, YTL was unable to construct new buildings, so they found a great solution to offer guests spa services – a floating spa on a boat moored to one side of the island. A quick hop down and you can hop on board for a very relaxing massage whilst floating on the Thames. We told you that this place is unique.
The rest of the grounds are fun to explore, although it only takes a few minutes to circle the island. It may be small but you still feel wonderfully relaxed surrounded by rushing water on all sides as you walk around. At the other end of the island there are some very elegant chickens and beehives, so it’s worth exploring.
While one of the original buildings is dedicated to guest rooms, the other is dedicated to bars and restaurants, all open to both guests and visitors. The Monkey Bar is light and airy and has a great outdoor terrace in summer; The Monkey Room is a cozy parlor with a roaring fireplace and a ceiling covered in 17th-century frescoes with lots of…monkeys; and finally there is the main restaurant, the Monkey Island Brasserie. The Brasserie offers classic dishes like shrimp cocktail, steak tartare, fish and chips and the Monkey Island Brie Burger. Breakfast is served in the brasserie the next morning and there is also a Sunday Roast Menu to see if you are there on a Sunday.
All in all, Monkey Island is a great little escape from London and really super easy to get to on the Elizabeth Line. YTL did a great job of restoring the property to its former glory and breathing new life into it.
Bray, Maidenhead SL6 2EE