To Windsor and Frogmore: A peek behind the royal curtain

Trains run from London’s Paddington Station (faster and more frequent) and from Waterloo Station.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Britain's Queen Elizabeth inspect the Coldstream Guards during a visit to Windsor Castle (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Britain's Queen Elizabeth inspect the Coldstream Guards during a visit to Windsor Castle
(photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
Like most visitors, I’d long heard of Windsor Castle, home to English royalty. But Frogmore? Both cottage and house, where young royals – Harry and Meghan – had found a roost, sounded like something out of a Harry Potter adventure.
Long intrigued by the old royals – and now the young ones – I traveled to Windsor, 45 minutes from London, in search of answers.
Windsor Castle is far more than a castle; it is an elaborate complex of royal buildings near the River Thames, England’s vital port of entry over the centuries. Entranced by the nuptials of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex I went first to St. George’s Chapel where they were wed in 2017. You can come to church services here any day of the week. St. George’s is exquisite, quiet and full of white marble, statuary and stained glass. Harry and Meghan were married in the room known as the Quire. Full of woods, heraldic flags and little lights at every seat, it is a fitting place for the royal family.
With a 1,000 rooms, Windsor Castle is the oldest functioning castle in the world. It sheltered William the Conqueror almost a millennium ago and has been home to eight successive royal houses, down to the House of Windsor of the current Queen Elizabeth II. It is vast and imposing, designed to intimidate enemies. It is a living, breathing place currently used by the queen on weekends and for state visits.
I took a small after-hours guided tour. Once inside, there are rooms of great proportions, full of rich fabrics and magnificent woods. Huge paintings by Rubens, Van Dyke, Breughel and other masters cover walls of green and red damask. Elaborate ceilings are rimmed with gold, often with painted murals. The further you penetrate the inner sanctum of rooms, the closer you feel to the monarchical power. Historically, only a few very special people were allowed to walk these inlaid floors. Evidence of intrigue abounds – rooms with secret passages and private staircases for mistresses.
The colorful “Changing of the Guard” happens just across from St. George’s, as well as on the main street outside the castle compound on specific days. Best to check the schedule online and get there early. Avoid the queue for touring Windsor Castle by buying your tickets in advance online.
I wanted to get as close as I could to where the young royals and little Archie will live. So I took the Long Walk at Windsor Great Park, which stretches for miles and runs past the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s home, Frogmore Cottage. Their wedding reception for 2,000 was held on the grounds of nearby Frogmore House. Royals who have lived at Frogmore House added on to it over the centuries. It feels almost homey, not at all like opulent Windsor. Queen Mary’s rooms are just as they were. Queen Victoria’s sitting room, the same as in her day.
This is fairytale land. If you walk long enough, you come to the queen’s Deer Park and another mile-and-a-half brings you to a gigantic statue of King George III on horseback. Here’s the rub: You may have had enough after four-and-a-half miles, but there is no way to get back to town easily. So you continue walking, and ultimately, the delightful Saville Gardens come into view. (Fortunately, I managed to hitch a ride to there.) The gardens offer scones and cream with tea and light meals. Venison by the pound, from the queen’s Royal Deer Park, is for sale.
THE THAMES is a binding force. I opted to stay on a special island right in the river with lovely accommodations and views. Monkey Island Estate was originally a pair of fishing lodges owned by an early ancestor of Winston Churchill. The Wedgewood Suite, with a blue-and-white porcelain ceiling, much like the celebrated china, holds his portrait. Recently restored, this small island is full of hydrangea, huge trees and ducks that descend onto lovely manicured grounds.
Monkey Island Estate’s spa for massage, facials and more is actually a custom-designed yacht anchored in the Thames. Treatments are opulent and effective. I left smilingly buoyant after my massage.
Monkey Island is in the charming town of Bray-on-Thames. Bray is the quintessential English village, and a wealthy one at that. It has several Michelin-starred restaurants. People come to town, often staying at Monkey Island Estate just to dine there and in town.
It was a pleasure to stay on that peaceful little island, as Windsor is chock full of tourists. Another way to have a bit of relaxation is to take a French Brothers boat ride along the Thames. They offer a variety of rides of different lengths and for various occasions. The recorded narration had more than enough information to fill the two-hour excursion. From my stay in Windsor, I came away with a wealth of history, an experience of tranquility and a renewed respect for the lasting power of tradition… British tradition, of course!

IF YOU GO:
Trains run from London’s Paddington Station (faster and more frequent) and from Waterloo Station.
Monkey Island Estate – This four-star hotel, one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, has a variety of accommodations. www.monkeyislandestate.com

www.windsor.gov.uk