The Great House, Sonning, Berkshire: hotel review

The riverside village beloved of Jerome K Jerome and George Clooney is home to a swish bar and restaurant and, now, characterful but good-value bedrooms to match

It is obligatory, when writing about the Thames-side village of Sonning, to quote Jerome K Jerome. In his 1889 novel Three Men in a Boat he said: “It is the most fairy-like little nook on the whole river. It is more like a stage village than one built of bricks and mortar.” It has retained these charms but now there is another name to drop: George Clooney. He and his wife, Amal, bought a £10m house here in 2014. They are the latest in a long line of celebrity residents of this village four miles east of Reading, from Terence Rattigan to, er, Uri Geller.

I arrive expecting to see Clooneys around every corner. Alas, it isn’t to be: perhaps they are in one of their other houses, in LA, Lake Como, or Mexico … But enough celeb-stalking; I’m here to check out the Great House at Sonning, which reopened in May after a major refurbishment. The main building is a Grade II-listed Elizabethan inn, with gardens spilling down to the river. There are more rooms around the courtyard – 49 in all, from “cosy” to suites.

River Thames at Sonning
The river Thames at Sonning Photograph: PR Company Handout

We’re in the Coach House apartment, a split-level suite with river views. The duck-egg blue and burnt-orange colour scheme gives immediate character. There’s an exposed-brick wall and retro touches including vintage-style radio, telephone and record player, plus a popcorn-maker. The Smeg fridge contains fresh milk (but no mini-bar). Down a half-flight of stairs is the TV room – or second bedroom – and bathroom. The latter has a freestanding bath, separate shower, and slate-grey metro tiles.

I look around a “cosy room”, too: it’s surprisingly spacious, with many of the same features, excluding the TV room and bath. (Cosy and “relaxed” doubles are great value, from £60 a night.)

Great House at Sonning Sonning BreakoutSpace
One of the hotel’s communal areas Photograph: PR Company Handout

The accommodation isn’t the main focus at the Great House, though. The restaurant is the original Coppa Club, opened in 2015; there are now three others in London . It is a handsome room with a curved pewter bar, velvet sofas, fireplaces and booths – the hotel refit was based on the same aesthetic. We arrive at 9pm on a Thursday, when many hotel dining rooms would be winding down for the night. Not here: the bar, restaurant and terrace are packed until late – and heaving from breakfast onwards the next day. And most people seem not to be hotel guests but mates out for cocktails, or families having brunch, which makes for a lively atmosphere.

The all-day menu cleverly ticks all boxes without being bland. There are nibbles such as crispy truffled gnocchi (£3.50); small sharing plates (squid with sriracha mayo, £5.95); plus grills, salads, pizza and pasta. Our crab and avocado crostini are satisfyingly earthy, with lots of brown meat. Sustainably caught hake with romesco and greens (£13.95) shows more evidence of a sure touch with seafood; roast chump of lamb is a bit too bouncy (£16.45), though broad bean hummus is a nice addition.

Breakfast at the Great House, Sonning, Berkshire: hotel
Breakfast at the Great House. Photograph: Milly Kenny-Ryder

We hold off on sides to save room for a cheese plate, only to learn that cheese isn’t served in summer. (Isn’t cheese a food for all seasons?) We make do with a gooey, flourless chocolate and almond cake (£5.45), with dessert cocktails for good measure. This was pure greed: chocolate cake does not need a Turinese chocolate orange (praline liqueur, Baileys and Cointreau, £6.95).

Breakfast is served until a civilised 11.30am, with weekend brunch till 4pm. It ranges from the comically clean-eating (a bowl of quinoa, alfalfa and spinach) to a full fry-up. I meet it halfway with avocado, poached eggs and kiln-roasted salmon (£9.45). Drinks also cover all bases, from green juices to white-peach sangria.

shower room at the Great House hotel, Sonning, UK.

After breakfast, we walk out of the garden, past the deckchairs and the outdoor bar on to the lovely, tree-lined Thames Path, winding past Sonning Lock. On the way back, we call in at the Bull, an “old country inn … with low, quaint rooms and latticed windows” (Jerome again). It’s our last chance to bump into George but the closest we get is his Casamigos brand of tequila (now owned by Diageo) behind the bar.

Food and accommodation were provided by the Great House at Sonning (0118 969 2277,, doubles from £60 room-only)

Ask a local

Sally Hughes, managing director, the Mill at Sonning restaurant and theatre

Riverside Tea Garden
Riverside Tea Garden Photograph: pr

• Eat
The quaint Riverside Tea Garden is a picturesque spot. It’s right by Sonning Lock, so you can drop by after a leisurely stroll down the Thames Path.

• Do
Take in the gorgeous scenery from onboard a Thames steamer. The service from Reading to Henley goes via Sonning Lock and runs daily in summer.

• Explore
The River & Rowing Museum in nearby Henley turns 20 next year. There are various galleries, plus an exhibition inspired by the much-loved book The Wind in The Willows.


Rachel Dixon

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
North House, Cowes, Isle of Wight: hotel review
Informal, tasteful (only slightly nautical decor), with cracking views over the Solent and a great restaurant to boot, this island townhouse stay won’t disappoint

Joanne O'Connor

24, Nov, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
Hotel review | Sanctum on the Green, Berkshire

You won't find a Rolls dumped in the swimming pool – this posh new hotel, opened by the music-industry owner of London's Sanctum Soho, is for rock'n'rollers who've grown up, says Sally Shalam

Sally Shalam

27, Aug, 2010 @11:05 PM

Article image
Brooks Country House, near Ross-on-Wye: hotel review
Once its pool and spa open – and there’s a little more choice at dinner – this new incarnation of a Wye Valley manor house will be hard to resist

Robert Hull

30, Jul, 2016 @11:00 AM

Article image
Z Hotel Bath: review
With rooms from £45 in the centre of a city with a reputation for expensive accommodation, this new budget hotel chain is a welcome arrival

Jane Dunford

14, Jun, 2019 @10:00 AM

Article image
Mimi’s, Soho, London: hotel review
An affordable hotel in the heart of Soho is bound to be a winner but, despite all the cafes and bars on the doorstep, our writer would still like a cuppa in her room

Liz Boulter

08, Apr, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
Artist Residence, Brighton: hotel review
For an ‘accidental hotelier’ the owner of this Regency townhouse hotel is doing a pretty impressive job, offering a sophisticated seaside stay in artist-designed rooms plus high-end dining

Jane Dunford

25, Mar, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
Mollie’s Motel and Diner: Oxfordshire – hotel review
This bid to revive UK roadside stays – by the Soho House chain – offers a smart take on the classic US motel but with swish rooms and quality food

Isabel Choat

22, Feb, 2019 @6:30 AM

Article image
Good Hotel, Royal Victoria Dock, London: hotel review
This floating hotel has river views and a communal spirit, giving work to unemployed locals and inviting guests to relax in ‘living room’ spaces

Sarah Marsh

17, Dec, 2016 @10:00 AM

Article image
Whitworth Locke, Manchester: hotel review
The grand 19th-century buildings of this aparthotel and co-working space reflect the city’s past while offering a vision of future city-centre hotels

Tony Naylor

12, Apr, 2019 @5:30 AM

Article image
British boltholes: The Yarrow, Broadstairs, Kent: hotel review
East Kent further education college has its own hotel, restaurant and spa, where students learn on the job. A great idea that makes for an enjoyable, endearing stay

Rachel Dixon

03, Sep, 2016 @10:00 AM