The Grove Hotel: It’s billed as London’s Country Retreat, and with 300 acres and only 18 miles away from the charge zone, it’s easy to see why. There are 3 swimming pools, an award-winning spa, championship golf course and an urban beach with a sand volleyball court.
Queen Victoria used to “weekend” here and the England football team stays before matches. Recently restored (relatively speaking, the estate dates back to 1400 belonging to King Henry IV), the estate offers families a luxury weekend break, with lots to do.
We visited on a sunny weekend in September, as guests of the resort. Officially we were there to check out what The Grove has to offer families. Because the resort was not far, our weekend started as normal. Our Saturdays are busy with football and tennis and I do a bit of gardening. We left right after lunch, and with no traffic on the M25, we arrived at The Grove 40 minutes later.
How do I describe it? It was a bit Country London (I made that word up), mashing contemporary design with period architecture and the freshness of nearby woodlands. There’s something a bit quirky and artsy around each corner. Glass credenzas filled with white down feathers. A brass pear the size of a pony. A 30 foot-tall giraffe made of box hedge.
We stayed in connecting double rooms in the West Wing overlooking the estate. There was an “adult” room, and the girls had a “kids” room, where they squealed when they found a box of toys and games, and pint-sized robes and slippers. There was a huge television mounted on the wall, which I found annoying, but I just turned it off and warned the others not to turn it back on. There’s loads to do here, why watch TV?
There were other small touches – like the individual cafetière and White Company toiletries. My 9-year-old bookworm loved the modern cranberry red sofa, where she could pull the arm down and recline while consuming her 700+ page Harry Potter book. I liked the artful quirkiness; our wardrobe was hidden behind a macro shot of forest leaves silkscreened and back-lit.
Our first discovery was the famed Walled Garden and Urban Beach. Hands up, this was the girls’ favourite. The Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool is surrounded by stripy lounge chairs, which called out to me and said: “Sit”. “Relax”. “Read a book while the girls swim”.
Adjacent is an expanse of sand, a beach volleyball court, more stripy beach chairs and pastel coloured beach huts. It’s a bit Deauville and it’s a wonderful getaway. If there is any sun forecast in the UK, I would immediately head over to this retreat. It’s like being abroad.
The Walled Garden is a bit like my veg patch (cough), but 500 times bigger! Oh how I’d love to live here and plan my meals based on what I could pick. Kitchen staff came in throughout the day to find the perfect ingredients for the day’s meals. My curiosity got the better of me (and I guess my forward American manner) and I ambushed quite a few of them and interrogated them: What have you got there? (Elderberries and Moroccan mint). What are you planning to make with it? (A sauce for the evening’s duck). His colleague had runner beans and dill (for the Brill) and watercress (garnish). The staff were friendly and said if we were feeling peckish we should try some of the produce! They pointed out the fat Victoria plums on the back wall, and said there was a glut of late summer strawberries and a few golden raspberries left. Cool.
After swimming, we were peckish! So the girls went searching for our afternoon snack. They found apples, pears, plums, raspberries, blueberries, red currants, and white currents, and picked a sprig of Moroccan mint as a garnish.
While we were there, we checked out Anouska’s Kids Club. Graded “Outstanding” by OFSTED, Anouska’s gives you some options if you’d like to golf, enjoy a spa treatment, or just chill out. Kids are divided by age and have a range of activities (my girls were eyeing the trampoline and collection of kids films). They also supply babysitters.
The girls went off to play tennis with daddy, and I went to check out the Sequoia Spa. If my eyes were closed when I walked in, I still would have known I had walked into a luxury spa: Essential oils and luxury cosmetics filled the air. Even though I didn’t have a treatment (the English Rose Ritual sounded divine), I used the swimming pool, steam room and sauna. Note children need to be 12 to enjoy the swimming pool (during set times).
There are three restaurants, including the romantic Colette’s in the heart of our 18th Century mansion. We opted for dinner in the Glasshouse. I don’t usually like buffets; the food is usually bland and by the end of the evening the buffet is a mess. I’d rather have someone prepare my plate and serve it to me, and having ordered it, knowing (more or less) what it will be.
The Glass House is a buffet restaurant, but on gourmet steroids. Overlooking the Formal Gardens at The Grove, you can watch the team of chefs perform as dish after dish is prepared right in front of your eyes.
Oh the choice! Salads include tomato, mozzarella and basil (from the garden), fattoush, cucumber and mint, celeriac remoulade. There’s a seafood station, with smoked salmon, sushi, a crayfish salad, crab and celeriac remoulade, and various smoked options.
Then there’s the Tapas: Stuffed peppers, olives marinated manchego, stuffed vine leaves, salami, parma ham, mini chorizo, and crostini. The star here was a rosemary and thyme macaroon with horseradish. Combined with a bite of parma ham, this sent me to taste bud heaven.
Mains included Roast rib of beef with Yorkshire puds, mini veal schnitzels, steamed lemon sole, a huge vegetable and vegetarian selection including gnocchi, tomato and basil, butternut squash, sage and Parmesan stuffed courgettes, chantenay carrots with Grove estate honey, and braised red cabbage with apple.
There’s an “Asian” selection, featuring a live wok station serving dishes such as crispy Szechuan beef, Nasi Goreng, and Singapore Noodles.
Dessert will probably put you over the edge. There’s a white chocolate fountain with strawberries and melon, an ice cream station, rhubard crème brulee, and fresh fruit. And of course there is cheese! Specialties such as Brie de Meaux, Isle of Mull Baby Stilton and Single Gloucester are coupled with quince paste, fresh figs. Yum.
We got up with the larks and walked over to the old Stables to the Golf Club (Tiger Woods played here in his heyday). There we were kitted out with bicycles to ride around the estate. Bike rental is gratuitous for hotel guests. Armed with maps and bottles of water, we toured around the grounds, following the canals and bike trails. After an hour riding around the estate, we went back to the fabulous Glasshouse for breakfast.
After breakfast the girls wanted one last visit to the Walled Garden and swimming pool (we asked for a late check out). They each picked an apple for a snack from the espaliered trees at the far side of the wall before our short ride home.
All in all, we had only been at The Grove for 24 hours. A gloriously relaxing gluttonous 24 hours. But it really felt like a world away.
If you go:
The Grove Hotel London’s Country Estate, Chandler’s Cross, Hertfordshire WD3 4TG +44 01923 296015
The Glasshouse London’s Country, Estate Chandler’s Cross, Hertfordshire WD3 4TG +44 01923 296015
Anouska’s London’s Country Estate, Chandler’s Cross, Hertfordshire WD3 4TG +44 01923 296015.
Warner Bros Studio Tour The Making of Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive Leavesden +44 08450 840 900 http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk
Note: Our accommodation was provided by The Grove Hotel for the purposes of this review. All opinions are mine and my family’s.