You would have to start pretty early and finish late to be able to squeeze in the maximum amount of relaxation possible at Nirvana Spa near Reading.
I spent who day there and yet when it was time to leave I realised I still hadn’t fallen asleep on a poolside lounger as I’d planned, nor read the Sunday papers that I’d been lugging around with me all day, or even tried out the futuristic-looking endless swimming pool lanes which let you swim against a current rather than having to turn at every end. So what on earth had I been doing all day?
My friend Lisa and I arrived at the spa as planned at 11am (in spite of the best attempts of my phone’s satnav) having driven from London, but the spa is open from 8am at the weekends and 6.45am during the week.
It is always a good sign when you can start to feel your shoulders unwind just on walking into reception and there was indeed a very relaxing air to the place, from the smells and the music to the sight of the large hydrotherapy pool through the glass wall.
You know you’re in good hands when you arrive at a hotel spa and find Downton Abbey‘s head butler Carson (aka the terrific actor Jim Carter) lounging in the hot tub.
Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire might not be on as grand a scale as Highclere, the real-life Downton Abbey, but its traditional country house atmosphere would certainly make Lord and Lady Grantham feel very much at home.
Hartwell House is no stranger to notable guests, having hosted everyone from the Queen Mother and Kylie Minogue to Bill Clinton and Oliver Reed (presumably not all at the same time) and most recently was chosen by Chancellor George Osborne to host the G7 finance ministers’ summit.
There was nothing around to disturb the peace of my morning stroll around the 300 acres of Hertfordshire countryside which surrounds The Grove hotel – nothing, that is, until a helicopter suddenly swooped down and landed on the immaculate lawn just outside the main building.
Any hotel where the guests arrive by air is usually full of the super-rich or the super-busy, but thankfully The Grove is large enough to absorb all sorts of guests without feeling too full. In fact one of the best things about our stay is that in spite of there being 225 rooms at The Grove – 26 in the older Mansion House and 191 in the more modern West Wing – it never felt crowded.
Owned by the Ralph Trustees, the privately-owned family group which also owns the Athenaeum and Runnymede hotels, The Grove used to be the family seat of the Earls of Clarendon before becoming, over the decades, a gardening school, health centre, riding school and a girls’ boarding school.
It was even the secret HQ for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway during the war and was bought by its current owners in 1996 who rescued it from near ruins.
Opened as a hotel in 2004, The Grove now attracts a rather well-heeled clientele, with the vast car park full of the more expensive type of car – Jaguars, Daimlers and even a Rolls-Royce could be seen next to my rather more humble Fiat 600 . It also has its own 7,152 yard championship course which has played host to the likes of Tiger Woods, and its popular luxury spa, Sequoia.
I would grandly descend the staircase from my room – no, make that my set of rooms – and then sweep out of the front door as if I owned the place. It was especially fun to sweep out of the front door, because directly ahead was a fabulous mile-long drive lined with 400 lime and beech trees.
‘This is my driveway,’ I would tell myself as I rounded the corner to the view, and then reverse to do it again. ‘I have a mile-long tree-lined driveway leading right up to my front door.’