Great British Boltholes: The Grove, Watford, Hertfordshire

Fine dining, a superb spa and a walled garden make this 300-acre estate a favourite London getaway

Fine dining, a superb spa and a walled garden make this 300-acre estate a favourite London getaway

Why go? On the surface, Watford might not seem like the obvious backdrop for a slice of luxury, exquisite food and a sprawling, green countryside estate to lose yourself in. But that’s exactly what The Grove promises. Set in 300 acres of Hertfordshire countryside near Chandler’s Cross, the 227-room hotel feels more like a bumper residence than a boutique retreat. But with an on-site spa, Sequoia, hosting a menu of decadent Natura Bisse and ESPA treatments (the Couture Facial, £135 for 1hr 20mins, is one of the best bespoke skin treatments we’ve tried, leaving you utterly refreshed and, crucially, relaxed all over) and a range of fine dining experiences, no need or desire is left unattended. Queen Victoria frequently came here ‘weekending’ and, frankly, if it’s good enough for royalty…

Calm waters: the Sequoia Spa pool at The Grove

Best for:
Location, location, location. The Grove is the closest thing north of London to a country retreat, so perfect for a day trip or one-nighter – Heathrow and Luton airports are just a 30 minute cab ride away. Think of it more as social relaxation than pure escapism. It’s certainly not the kind of place you’d go to unwind in solitude. The main lounges and library are home to a delicious afternoon tea menu (3pm-5pm on weekends, £35 per person) but the vibe is more buzzy than zen. It’s child-friendly and peppered with toddlers and new parents on an unwind mission. Brilliant if you fit into that category – there are too few five-star places that cater to stressed-out parents – but perhaps not so much if you were looking for a romantic getaway for two. The spa is also relatively bustling – just the thing for hen-dos or a day out with girlfriends – but for something more chilled, choose a weeknight break.

Classic meets contemporary: one of the luxurious rooms in The Mansion

The look: If you’re staying overnight, beeline for The Mansion, 26 luxury suites and rooms in a Grade II listed Georgian manor house, discreetly separate from the busy main hotel and overlooking the sprawling, well-kept gardens and golf course. An executive suite (£700 with breakfast) here combines classic romance (think dark wood panelling and rich red velvets in keeping with the building’s heritage) with contemporary design – mirrored walls, designer furniture and a sexy, freestanding bathtub. The baby grand piano is a nice touch, too. And although the décor isn’t to everyone’s taste – it’s worth noting this is where the England football team regularly stay and the décor smacks of it being a home-from-home for footballers and their wives – you can’t deny the opulence. Little touches like White Company sheets and heavy antique furniture add undeniable charm.

When summer comes: The Grove’s outdoor pool and walled garden

I’m hungry: Come sun-down, there’s something irresistible about the fine dining restaurant, Colette’s, hidden away behind a neat door and divided into intimate corners for the ultimate in hidey-hole romance. This is the kind of place that makes a meal out of having a meal. It’s definitely special. And under the meticulous eye of Craft Guild of Chefs National Chef of the Year 2014, Russell Bateman, the selection of carefully curated small dishes doesn’t disappoint or overwhelm the taste-buds with richness as some menus can. Go for the eight-course taster menu (£85 per person, £152 with wine) and pay special attention to the Wagyu beef – melt in the mouth tender – and Inaya chocolate dessert, which is just the right side of bitter. And save room for breakfast – this is probably the most comprehensive breakfast buffet you’ll ever see. You can pretty much order anything, cooked in any way imaginable.

I’ll have the scallops please: fine dining at The Grove

While you’re there: The USP of The Grove is that everything is under one roof. Or rather, on one plot, so you really have no need to venture outside the high-gated grounds. Nor would you want to. Whatever time of year you visit – though spring and autumn are particularly beautiful – take time to wander round the Walled Garden and Alice in Wonderland-esque rose garden and croquet lawn. There’s an outdoor pool perfect for sipping cocktails around but please don’t attempt to use it unless in the height of summer. For adventurous types, it’s worth knowing that The Grove is located alongside the Grand Union Canal. Much of the joy of the place is in the arriving, whether by car along the sweeping driveway with breathtaking views, or like we did, by bike from central London. It’s not for the faint-hearted – 50km along the Grand Union Canal towpath from St John’s Wood, with backpack – but it’s worth making a day of it and stopping off at one of the authentic real ale pubs en route (The Malt Shovel in Uxbridge is the perfect pit-stop for hearty pub grub and good beer). The best bit? At the end of your two to three-hour cycle ride, there’s a little slice of heaven waiting to be lapped up at The Grove.

On your bike: you can get to The Grove by cycling along the Grand Union Canal

Book now: The Grove, Chandler’s Cross, Hertfordshire, WD3 4TG (01923 807807, thegrove.co.uk). Suites in the manor house start at £450. For foodies, the midweek Gourmet Getaway package (£495 for two) includes a five-course dinner with wine at Colette’s, followed by a night in a Mansion room and breakfast in The Glasshouse plus access to the Sequoia Spa and gardens. Wi-Fi is complimentary and the hotel is a ten-minute cab ride from Watford Junction rail station or Watford Underground station.

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