Approaching the Grade II-listed The Grove Hotel, with its five-star rating and illustrious history, is admittedly a little bit intimidating. But the moment I stepped into the lobby, all my worries were immediately soothed by the friendly staff and the welcoming atmosphere.
This is a hotel that doesn’t take itself too seriously; glass tables filled with golf balls and horse-shaped topiary outside The Stables restaurant are just some of the quirky details found around every corner.
Despite the hotel’s red brick façade, our room in the West Wing, with its mustard-coloured sofa, a super-king-size bed, iPod docking station and flat-screen television, was comfortably contemporary. French doors lead out onto a small balcony from which we had a view of the gorgeous grounds. It was an excellent spot for people watching, particularly on Saturday morning when we could spy on well-dressed wedding guests gathering for photos. The bathroom included roll-top bath and walk-in shower, complete with ESPA products.
Attached to the hotel is the Sequoia spa, a secluded and relaxing space perfect for taking a break from the hustle and bustle. Cocooned in its calming atmosphere, it’s hard to believe you’re only a short drive from London.
In the spa I spent a few minutes in the relaxation area which, I was assured, is ‘everyone’s favourite room’, and it didn’t take long to realise why. With soft beds to lounge on, dim lighting, a softly glowing fish tank and a selection of magazines, it offers the perfect place to chill out.
The spa offers a variety of treatments, facials and massages, many of which can be personalised to ensure you get the most out of your treatment. My massage with the ESPA fitness body oil – with notes of bay and lavender – left me feeling light and pleasantly sleepy.
The jewel of the spa is the heated indoor pool. Set beneath a vaulted ceiling, the floor and walls of the pool are tiled in stylish black. Plenty of sunbeds surround the pool and glass doors open out onto a grassy area with more sunbeds – perfect for if you start to overheat.
That night we had dinner at Colette’s, The Grove’s fine dining restaurant. Before dinner we sat in the small, candlelit bar for a quick drink. I opted for the Passionate Pear, a refreshing ‘innocent cocktail’ of handpicked lemon verbena from the hotel’s walled garden, with pear and passionate puree and homemade spiced nectar.
The theme of ‘handpicked’ and ‘homemade’ was to continue throughout our meal, as Chef Russell Bateman (2015 National Chef of the Year) has taken full advantage of the local produce available on his doorstep.
Colette’s is a small restaurant, offering just a handful of tables and four choices of dish per course – and at £65 per person for three courses it certainly isn’t cheap – but for a special occasion, you couldn’t ask for better service or more delicious food.
After trying some homemade sourdough loaf, my starter of scallops with cauliflower, curry, cashew and coriander arrived. The dish was wonderfully tasty and beautifully presented.
For the main course I chose the mouth-wateringly soft Cumbrian Herdwick lamb rump, which came with a side dish of lamb shoulder which ranks among the best things I’ve ever tasted.
I finished the meal with the apple mille-feuille, caramel sauce and Tahitian vanilla ice cream. Not too sweet, with just the right amount of crunch from the pastry, this was the perfect end to the meal.
The next morning, we woke early, eager to take full advantage of the breakfast buffet. Served in The Glasshouse, which overlooks the Formal Gardens, we were truly spoilt for choice. The cooked selection includes sausages, eggs, bacon, fried potatoes and baked beans, plus cereals and pastries, fruit and yoghurt, not to mention the variety of juices and smoothies on offer.
We couldn’t miss the chance to explore some of the hotel’s 300 acres of grounds. Manicured gardens with ornamental ponds and striking sculptures give way to rolling hills and spectacular views of the golf course and the canal, with barge boats drifting by and the occasional thwack of a golf club hitting its mark. Trees planted in the hotel grounds in the 18th and 19th centuries remain standing today, including a black walnut tree presented to the Earl of Clarendon by Captain Cook in the 1770s. Even though you’re less than an hour from London, you feel safely cocooned in the depths of the Hertfordshire countryside.
Stays at The Grove start from £340 per room per night on a B&B basis. For more information or to book, please visit www.thegrove.co.uk