Every city has its bolthole. New York has The Hamptons, LA has Montecito and London has… Watford. No, that wasn’t a typo. Just 18 miles north of the Big Smoke, hidden away in 300-acres of forests and fairways, hides The Grove; London’s self-proclaimed country estate.
Over the years the sprawling 18th-century mansion has played home to the Earl of Clarendon and seen Queen Victoria party the night away. However, today’s rich and famous are lured its world-class championship golf course, award-winning spa, fine dining and… each other – honestly, its moody velvet curtain-lined corridors feel like a copy of OK magazine, expect to navigate your way past football players and former X-Factor contestants before you can get to your room.
Entry level abodes sit in the west wing, whilst the grade II listed mansion houses 12 decadent suites. Ignore the Pet Shop Boys’ words of wisdom… it’s not about going west on this occasion, trust me, the skies look bluer from the suites. Whilst the standard guest rooms are spacious and pleasantly kitted out, they can feel a little generic at times. The suites, on the other hand, keep you on your toes, with designer Martin Hulbert sprinkling them with witty kicks; a baby grand piano in one, glass chairs in another, and a cheeky glass-sided bath in the Presidential Suite.
This frivolous theme runs throughout the hotel, perhaps most evident in the gardens, where a 20ft topiary giraffe watches over proceedings. In summer, the hotel cranks the fun up a notch, with its grounds hosting everything from oversized chess and volleyball to croquet and football. A word of warning, don’t get in to any friendly kickabouts, the England team were here on my first visit.
Unfortunately, with summer’s arrival they waved farewell to their fine dining restaurant, Colette’s. In its place you will find energetic pop ups, starting with Potting Shed. A bit of a pity, I have enjoyed many an indulgent meal beneath Colette’s towering ceilings, secretly spying on supermodels from behind my menu and playing a somewhat zealous round of celebrity bingo in-between courses – all 12 of them. However, between you and I, it isn’t the food that A-lister helicopter in for… it is the spa.
Yes, the slick black tiled pool, the dreamy wooden beams, the totally over the top treatments, Sequoia Spa is a must for true spa trekkers. Having won countless awards and accolades their guest book reads like a copy of Tatler. On my latest visit I was holding no prisoners and went straight in for the much talked about Hollywood Diamond Facial (well, what did they expect, I was having to sit opposite gorgeous actresses at breakfast and endure lengths with leggy models, it’s hardly an ego boost). Coming in at a punchy £195, its ingredients list made it sound like something from a blockbuster sci-fi, not a spa. However, this 90-minute miracle worker from the Spanish skin care brand, Natura Bisse is rumoured to be a pre-red-carpet favourite, with everyone from Beyonce to Oprah booking in before their big appearances. Bring it on sister!
“This may tingle a little”, she said as she rubbed what felt like fresh stinging nettles all over my forehead. A layer of dust chased the tingling away, this was followed by wet fingers over my face which instantly caused the ingredients bubble like champagne across my intrigued visage before erupting like a sherbet dip.
After various creams and serums were rubbed on and off, it was time for the gold face mask. A thick, gloopy liquid was painted over my face…and eyes! As the mask set my therapist gave me a relaxing head and shoulder massage before the rubbery mask was peeled off. Now, I am as cynical about these things as anyone else, you only have to check out my frown lines to know that, but it certainly gave me a tightened glow – I was ready to face champagne in the resplendent lounge with the best of them. As I sipped away, taking in Charlotte’s Vale, I came to the conclusion that for those short on time and in need of true R&R, The Grove is guaranteed to deliver. Sure, the American-style service could feel a little too intense at times, the prices were steep and there was an undercurrent of a stay here feeling a little obvious, somehow. However, the setting is surprisingly idyllic given its proximity to the city, the vibe is fun and everything from the golf course to the spa is world class. It just works.
The next morning, following a lengthy ESPA enriched soak in our standalone bath and an Instagram worthy breakfast spread, it was back to the grey skies of the Big Smoke. As we trotted out of the reception, past a gleaming line of Ferraris, my friend excitedly pointed at a guest arriving.
“Ooooh… celebrity bingo”, my companion screeched for the umpteenth time.
“It’s him, you know, the sporty one that went on Strictly Come Dancing!”
I stared at her blankly, as he ignored us, bound for check-in.
“Oh well, I preferred him in lycra anyway”.