Monkey Island and the Floating Spa
Sitting between Windsor and Maidenhead, Monkey Island can be navigated to in the Berkshire village of Bray, or Bray-on-Thames as it’s also known. Just off junction 8/9 of the M4, it’s easy to get to by train too, just a short cab ride from Maidenhead Station on the new Elizabeth Line. Just half an hour from London Paddington, it’s an easy weekend escape for Londoners looking for a quick change of scene and pace. It makes a great stopover for anyone heading to, or arriving from, Heathrow, which is just 17 miles away. And it’s handy for Windsor, Henley and Ascot too.
First impressions were good. We were cheerfully checked-in at the boat house then made our way across the bridge to Monkey Island itself, which we can confirm is actually an island. The Island shares its fish-shaped plot with gaggles of geese (well, we saw at least three), the beginnings of a kitchen garden and a rather imposing seated statue of the late Yeoh Tiong Lay, whose vision it was to create the current incarnation of Monkey Island, owned by Malaysian YTL Corporation.
Bursting with history and tales of former residents’ antics, the hotel is made up of two buildings, dating back to the 17th Century. The properties are Grade I listed – hence the creative move to house the spa treatment rooms on a canal boat.
The bright white Pavilion building is where you’ll find Bray’s Brasserie, the Monkey Bar, functions rooms, ballroom, and the Monkey Room, with its spectacular monkey painted ceiling, and a secret whiskey room, if you explore hard enough.
The Temple building is just a short walk along the hydrangead path, and houses most of the bedrooms and the impressive Wedgewood Suite, with its circa 1725 plasterwork mermaids and seashells. A great choice for a special celebration.
Refurbed just before Covid, the hotel’s décor looks fresh, with expensively papered walls, marble-tiled bathrooms and brass monkeys scattered around bar and bedroom. There’s a really strong sense of history about the place, and you can imagine all the fun that’s been had on the island over the centuries. Friendly staff tell stories of monks and composers, royals and racing drivers, and the passing geese seem to have a knowing glint in their eyes. There are even rumours of a resident monkey on the isle…”no bones have ever been found”.
The local village, Bray, has its fair share of visiting ‘great and good’, drawn to its Tudor charms and greedy clutch of respected dining establishments, which have an impressive total of seven Michelin Stars between them. These include Heston Blumenthal’s triple-starred Fat Duck and his ultra-gastro pub, The Hind’s Head, with its own single shining star. Alain Roux’s Waterside Inn also has three Michelin stars and counts Queen Elizabeth II among the former diners at this water’s edge establishment. And, according to the friendly bar staff at the Hind’s Head, Prince Phillip had his stag do upstairs in their olde private Vicar’s Dining Room. One can only imagine…
The Floating Spa is a dry spa, i.e. has treatment rooms only, but the three rooms offer a unique and thoroughly relaxing wellness experience in the smart lacquered cabins on board this recently refurbished river boat. Access is via a pretty pathway, planted with tall prairie plants, then a narrow wooden walkway leading onto the Floating Spa.
The spa is a delight to all the senses, with its river views, tipple-tasting, fragrant air, and cosy massage couches. Even the background hum of the M4 can be converted to the faint thunder of a waterfall with a little imagination.
There are four massages and two facials on the treatment menu, using products by Moss of the Isles and Isun. The two natural brands combine the best of old and new, with Moss of the Isles focusing on nurturing and therapeutic ingredients found across The British Isles, and Isun also fusing modern botanicals with ancient plant wisdom and wellness practices.
The Floating Spa’s signature treatment is the Monks’ Elixir which is unlike anything we’ve experienced with its elixir entrée. It’s inspired by monks, who were believed to have used the Island’s fishing lakes back in the day. The treatment calls on monastic botanical wisdom, kicking off with an elixir-tasting sensory ritual in the smart nautical bar, with a non-alcoholic version available. House-cured herbal oils, infused with plant extracts and essential oils, are used in the massage, with the addition of warm herbal compresses to soothe and loosen stiff joints.
The other two massage options are a bespoke massage, which is tailored to your needs on the day, and a Malay treatment, comprising long kneading strokes applied to pressure points to stimulate the circulation.
There are also two facial treatments on offer, the hydrating Alive and Ageless Skincare Celestial Light Facial, and the Gentleman’s Facial, a ‘high performance’ treatment which includes a relaxing head and shoulder massage.
All treatments are 60 minutes long and start at £85.
Unfortunately, the Floating Spa isn’t accessible to wheelchair users, but treatments can be carried out in the hotel rooms if access is an issue.
Monkey Island has a modest forty bedrooms, plus a rather fabulous suite, on this spacious island estate. Rooms are located in both the main Temple building, with the newer Barn Rooms back across the bridge in a more modern building next to the entrance and car park. We stayed in The Temple and loved its elegant furnishings and the marble tiled bathroom with a super-sized bath and Elemis products. The bed was comfy and cosy, with a Sealy mattress had and high thread count sheets.
One of the rooms has been designed for wheelchair users.
If you’re looking to stay with a group, or family, it’s worth having a look at one of the smart stand-alone cottages, two of which have their own swimming pool; one indoor, one out.
Or, you can even book an ‘Island Takeover’, where you and your lucky guests have exclusive use of the whole hotel and estate – cheaper and nearer than Necker!
wining & dining
Monkey island has its own restaurant, the Bray Brasserie, overlooking the water. With plenty of windows and a lovely terrace, it offers all day dining, all year round. This is currently the only dining option at Monkey Island as the hotel doesn’t offer room service.
If it’s fine dining you’re after, and you’re organised enough to book ahead, Bray village has you covered with its plentiful supply of fine restaurants. The village is walkable in about 15 minutes, taking you over the M4 and past fragrant coriander fields. Otherwise it’s just a couple of minutes’ drive.
Choose from fine French cuisine at Alain Roux’s Waterside Inn, inventive excellence at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck or haute gastro pub fayre at The Hind’s Head, Heston’s other Bray diner. If you’re a fan of more Mediterranean flavours, Caldesi offers top Tuscan cuisine and Mediterranevm is a great choice too.
why so spavellous?
Monkey Island offers something a little different. Being on an actual island gives it an extra feeling of escapism, and the history and monkey motifs add further fun. While it’s not crawling with staff bending over backwards to take your bags and open every door, staff are friendly, helpful and human, which is better in our book. But if you’re a turn-down and room service kinda person, Monkey Island probably isn’t for you.
We loved the spa and its floating feel-good experience, which more than made up for the absence of a swimming pool.
Whether you’re looking for an intimate weekend away with a special someone, or somewhere to spend time with your extended family in the hotel’s private residences, Monkey Island’s a good choice. And it works whatever the British weather, with terraces to sit on and catch the rays when the sun shines, and relaxing spaces and spa treatment cabins providing a cosy refuge from any rain.
If you’re staying in the main Temple building, which we recommend above the smaller Barn rooms, there’s a lovely and light garden room style lounge where you can work or relax in style fuelled by complementary bottled water and Nespresso coffee.
YTL’s other UK hotel with a spa, The Gainsborough Bath Spa is also well worth a visit. Situated in the centre of Bath city, it also offers a luxury hotel experience and has its own fabulous Roman-inspired spa, fed by natural thermal waters. Read our glowing review.
‘My massage was so relaxing I spent the second half of it willing it not to end. I particularly loved the reflexology and how pressing a certain part of my foot helped to release my back.’
‘I’ve never had a treatment on a boat before and the spa and massage were super. I just need to find an excuse to come back again…’
‘My facial was lovely, but the spa was fully booked so my partner couldn’t have a treatment this visit, but we’ll definitely come again.’