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The Grove, at your (five star) service

It's just across the border in Herts but it's well worth the journey for such epic five-star fabulousness ("theatre of dining", anyone?) Muddy Herts editor Katrina checks in.

THE LOWDOWN

‘This is the golf hotel, right?’ asks my husband as we turn into the entrance to The Grove. Er, OK, so I might have missed the bit about the 7,000 yard championship green (even Tiger Woods has played here) when I was ogling photos of the chic interiors, gorgeous gardens, fine dining and stupendously gorgeous spa.

We make our way up the drive trying to avoid the low flying balls but don’t let that put you off. You definitely don’t have to be Tiger Woods to enjoy this five-star hotel.

Only 18 miles north of central London, The Grove is an idyllic private oasis; the former home of the Earls of Clarendon, set within 300 acres of rolling countryside. It’s just outside of Watford but prefers to call itself London’s Country Estate. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?

THE VIBE

Naturally it’s a honeypot for those tanktop-wearing types, but The Grove also attracts its fair share of celebrities. I spotted June Sarpong at check-in, and Kylie, Tom Cruise and the Beckhams are fans. And, being a quick nip down the M1 into town (it’s inside the M25) – the London set are all over it, too.

It’s part country estate, part design-hotel; a grand Grade II-listed mansion with a curious combination of traditional features and abstract art at every turn – stiletto-wearing giraffes and videos of nude gardeners projected on the walls, anyone?! It’s all the award-winning work of interior designer, Martin Hulbert, who’s recently transformed the Glasshouse restaurant, too.

Animal print AND stilettos – my kind of art!

Then there’s the more contemporary West Wing, where you’ll find the majority of the rooms – over 200 of them in fact. This is where The Grove’s events offering comes into its own as it’s perfectly set up to host corporate parties and weddings in its 28 flexible event spaces. It might lack some of the character of the trad heart of the hotel, but it’s still got those natty artistic quirks if just a teensy bit blingy, with areas named things like Onyx and Crystal.

The mansion rooms overlook this pretty courtyard.

Outside you could amble about for hours in the formal gardens, which are choc-full of contemporary sculptures, water features, topiary and unusual planting schemes.

Nice pear!

But the Walled Garden, open April – September, is a real treat, with its rambling summer roses and swathes of lavender. Inside the gates you’ll find the kitchen garden, where the hotel chefs source ingredients for their dishes (and cocktails).

Then there’s The Potting Shed, a glasshouse which spans the entire width of the garden and includes a restaurant and chill-out area, bursting with rustic features and pots of greenery tumbling out everywhere. It looks just gorgeous set up for a wedding breakfast, too.

 

The restaurant only pops up between July and September but you can always pull up rattan armchair and settle in for a game of Boggle for the afternoon. Or if you’re feeling more energetic try a spot of croquet or giant chess on the lawn. Oh and there are courts for tennis and badminton and even a small football pitch, too.

The star of the show though is the beach  – yes, there’s a real sandy beach, complete with deckchairs, beach huts and volleyball nets and an outdoor pool. I deposited my husband there while I slunk off to have a treatment at the Sequoia spa, a deeply serene space with a chichi black tiled pool, vitality pool, heat experience rooms, fitness centre, juice bar and a huge choice of facials, massages (there’s even a virtual reality one) and much more, including a selection for those living with cancer.

PILLOW TALK

We lucked out with a Mansion Suite – one of just twelve, in the original building and accessed via a labyrinthine corridor cloaked in black velvet. Our home for the night was approximately the size of the first flat we rented in London.

Sash windows with panoramic views over those fabulous formal gardens, a gigantic four poster, a dressing room, and champagne on arrival. Now you’re talking.

It was possibly one of the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had despite waking up at 6am with the sunshine streaming through the window – but I was glad I did as the gardens looked just magical in the morning light. ESPA toiletries and fluffy robes completed the package.

SCOFF AND QUAFF

We were lucky enough to have timed our visit just as newly refurbished Glasshouse Restaurant opened it doors. It’s designed to be a “theatre of food” (ahem),  with a number of live cooking stations to visit. You can pile your plate high as you dare with smokey meats, wood fired pizzas, handmade pasta and tandoori dishes.

It’s one of the fanciest foodhalls I’ve ever been to, that’s for sure. Check out my full review here.

The Glasshouse Bar is definitely worth a visit, too, with its creative list of cocktails (remember those homegrown ingredients?). We chose a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the gardens, which are dotted with twinkly lights by night.

Our hangovers meant we were more than ready for the multitude of breakfast options come morning – exotic fruit platters, the prettiest pastries and oodles of granola, yogurt and fresh honeycomb to gorge on. And that’s all before the cooked breakfast. I ordered eggs florentine which was freshly prepared in front of me at one of the live cooking stations, and had to tear myself away from the hash browns.

For lunch – because, frankly, it would have been rude not to – we checked out the more informal Stables restaurant, which has got the feel of a gastro-pub-cum-golf-country-club. We opted for a mix of light starters to share (after all, breakfast was only three hours ago!). Burrata, crab arancini and a pear and walnut salad – all beautifully prepared, fresh and zingy.

If afternoon tea is more up your street, you can get the whole shebang in the Lounges, which are packed with arty talking points and overlook the formal gardens. There are veggie, vegan, Champagne and children’s options to boot.

And you don’t have to stay overnight to dine here. In fact throughout August, there’s a fab Supper and Cinema package which combines dinner at the Glasshouse or Stables plus tickets to an outdoor cinema screening in the walled garden. Check out the film schedule here.

 

KID FRIENDLY?

Contrary to what you might expect, this place is made for families – in fact I almost felt guilty about leaving our daughter with the grandparents (almost!) You can request cots, bunk beds and even toy boxes in your room. It’s even got its own day nursery, Anoushka’s, (with a dedicated tots’ pool) and babysitting service if you want a romantic dinner à deux.

I’ve already waxed lyrical about the walled garden, but it’s a paradise for kids too – with the pool, beach and garden games – and there’s loads more to explore in the grounds, from woodland walking trails, bikes to hire (all ages catered for), and you can even let them loose on a segway (with a qualified guide, of course).

Plus, there are junior golf camps, teen spa treatments and the new children’s afternoon tea, complete with a unicorn petit gateau. Cute!

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: Families looking for a luxe UK break that’s got it all in one place; Couples after a romantic getaway; wedding parties; groups of golfing pals; design mavens; garden lovers – basically there isn’t anyone I can think of who wouldn’t love it here. Top tip – I’d recommend choosing one of the 12 mansion suites (if you can stretch to it) for the full country house hotel experience.

Not for: Those simply looking for somewhere to crash for the night – there’s so much to do here, it would be a shame not to make the most of it.

The damage: Bearing in mind that it’s a five-star hotel, prices start at a fairly affordable £290 per night on a B&B basis, (with dinner at the Glasshouse from £49 pp) and go up to – gulp – £1000+ for a Presidential Suite in peak season. Maybe one for a special occasion, eh?

The Grove, Chandler’s Cross, Hertfordshire, WD3 4TG. Tel: 01923 807807.

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