The Grove in Hertfordshire — just outside Watford on the north edge of London — has become one of the best-known hotels in Britain. But does it deserve its reputation? Ben Harris checked in.
Follow the long driveway through 300 acres of serene, rolling countryside and past the 18-hole championship golf course, and The Grove’s red brick façade comes into spectacular and serene view. Today, with the house sitting amid a sea of immaculate gardens, you’d never guess the ups and downs that this place has seen; nor, especially, how 25 years ago it was in a terrible state.
There has been a grand house here since the reign of Elizabeth I, but it was in the 18th and 19th centuries that it enjoyed its peak, when it was owned by the Earls of Clarendon, aka the Villiers family. The mansion they built here was renowned for its magnificent parties attracting the cream of British society — including Queen Victoria herself. So powerful were the family in the early 19th century that it’s said they successfully insisted upon the building of the Watford Tunnels for the first London to Birmingham railways. Less than a century later, they were forced to sell up due to estate taxes, and The Grove became, at various times, everything from a girl’s boarding school to a wartime base to a British Rail training facility. It was bought — well, rescued really — by the Ralph Trustees in 1996, when a seven-year effort began which turned it in to the beautiful and well-established hotel, golf course and spa that it is today.
After a refurbishment led by award-winning designer Martin Hulbert, the mansion rooms and suites are modern, clean and stylish: deeply inspired by nature, they use muted colours and ornamental accents from the outside. Our spacious room overlooked the golf course and lush gardens, with a view that could be enjoyed from every corner of the room, even from the four-poster bed and free-standing bath. The bathroom was stocked with products from Bamford, a lovely sustainable and organic skincare brand, which are also used in the hotel’s spa.
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Eating and drinking
You won’t go hungry at The Grove, with its three main restaurants: The Glasshouse, The Stables and Madhu’s, the latter being an Indian banquet served in a room at the heart of the mansion.
The Stables serves traditional food prepared using ingredients grown on-site in the kitchen garden located within the hotel grounds. A starter of caramelised goat’s cheese, for example, was served up with gorgeous home-grown tomatoes and accompanied by a cocktail named ‘The Queen’s Choice’, in honour of former visitor Queen Victoria. I could as easily have tried ‘The Secret Garden’ cocktail inside, made with herbs and fruit from the same kitchen garden.
If you fancy an all-you-can-eat buffet with a selection of international foods, then The Glasshouse is the place to go. It’s also where we enjoyed a wide range of options for breakfast; I happily filled my plate up with a full English breakfast, followed by fruit, savouries and yogurt.
You can also visit the Potting Shed in the walled garden, which hosts a variety of pop-ups — and in a lovely touch, the mansion rooms come with a complimentary ice cream menu from Hackney Gelato.
How they’ll keep you busy
The immaculately-kept championship golf course is what made The Grove famous — it hosted Tiger Woods at his peak in 2006 when a World Golf Championships event was played here — but there is plenty for those who don’t want to spend time on the links. If you’re into cycling, running or simply just up for a walk, there are three trails around the estate, the longest of which is a four mile trail; there’s also a shorter wildlife trail that’s great for kids as it loops around a nature reserve. Beyond that you can try tennis, archery, axe-throwing and laser clay shooting, and more activities are laid on during the school holidays.
If you’d rather kick back and relax, there’s a real treat in the form of ‘Ralph’s Beach’, the man-made beach and pool within the walled garden.
The Sequoia Spa also has a swimming pool —indoor this time — as well as Jacuzzi and steam room in addition to a menu of treatments. I booked in for a ‘B Vibrant Ritual’, which involves massage and sound therapy to rebalance your energy — a little different to the norm, and definitely one I would recommend.
What else to do while you’re there
If the gardens at the Grove aren’t enough, just a mile from the hotel is Cheslyn House, where there are more beautifully designed gardens and woodland to explore. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, the Warner Bros Studio in Leavesden, ten minutes away by car, is a must.
Who is it for?
The Grove caters to all. The mansion room we stayed in was designed for couples, but there are rooms available for families and even your four-legged friends. There are plenty of activities to keep children entertained and walks for dogs, and couples can enjoy the cosiness of the hotels facilities.
What gives it the ‘wow’ factor?
The tranquil 300 acres of countryside and the endless offerings from the hotel itself are at the core of the appeal, and some will enjoy looking out for famous guests (the England football team usually stay here while preparing for home matches at Wembley). But for something truly different you can try a nine-course tasting menu served in a hot air balloon; sadly, you don’t get to dine in the air, instead eating while safely on the hotel grounds.
A one-night stay in a newly launched Mansion room will start from £580 with suites starting from £890. See www.thegrove.co.uk for more details.