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.
Once we’d checked into our family room – twin beds as requested, two children’s beds, our own private patio, a big bathroom with roll-top bath and separate shower, and a box of delights for the kids including books, games and a monster truck – we headed straight off out again, clutching our two maps (yes, The Grove is pretty big) to find the walled garden.
Inside we found tennis courts, a croquet lawn, a sandy beach (it wasn’t quite sunbathing weather yet) and best of all, a heated outdoor swimming pool with its own cafe and lots of white fluffy towels.
The afternoon passed happily by with games of water volleyball and attempts at synchronised swimming, plus visits to the indoor pool where we also found table tennis and pool – so much so that the six-year old was surprised when he realised we were still in England. ‘I’d thought we’d gone to France on holiday!’ he said.
Hot showers all round and it was off to The Stables restaurant for dinner. It didn’t open until 6.15pm which was pretty late for little ones (there were quite a few people waiting for the doors to open) but the service was quick and the food tasty, with a good children’s selection including favourites fish and chips, pizza (although that wasn’t available as the oven hadn’t been warmed up), burger, pasta and various desserts such as ice-cream and chocolate brownie.
However it isn’t cheap: dinner for two adults and two children came to more than £100 even though we just had one main course each, one shared starter (a single baked scallop in its shell which at £12.50 was underwhelming), one shared dessert (a very nice children’s fruit salad at £4) and a small glass of wine each for the grown-ups. For those who really want to push the boat out, The Grove also has its fine dining restaurant Colette’s which does a tasting menu for £75 each (£125 with wine).
Up bright and early the next day for a run around the grounds among the impressively tall and old trees, the children were most excited about the prospect of the breakfast brunch in the Glasshouse restaurant and they weren’t disappointed – there was an impressive selection of hot and cold dishes from eggs, sausages and bacon to crepes, omelettes, yoghurts, fruit, pastries and cereal and the staff were very friendly and helpful.
There were a few odd notes struck here and there at The Grove: while I liked a lot of the art work on the walls there were some rather strange installations lining the corridors, such as see-through tables with black feathers, and the beautiful water feature in the gardens was rather ruined by a graphic skeleton sculpture in the middle which rather alarmed the children.
The games room was rather underwhelming too – a tiny overheated box with racing games, pin ball and table football, but the kids loved it and it was all free which was a plus point.
After the rest of the family headed off I was able to enjoy a swim in the vast, black-tiled pool and have a quick sauna and jacuzzi too (the changing-rooms were immaculate with large lockers, hairdryers, hair straighteners and a full range of toiletries) and then it was time to try out one of several hotel-recommended walks along the canal.
It was a beautiful morning and it was just so quiet it was hard to believe The Grove is just by junction 19 of the M25 – there was barely a sound from the outside world. Except for the incoming helicopter of course…
Best bit: beautiful countryside setting
You’ve been warned: It’s not for those on a tight budget…
The Grove Hotel and Spa
Rooms from £300 per night, special golf, spa and Harry Potter breaks also available