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Grand but manageable: The Grove

To THE GROVE, the super-smart hotel just off the M25 near Watford, ostensibly to review the revamped Sequoia spa and its new Natura Bisse treatments, but also to check the whole place out.

I’d only been to the Grove once before, shortly after it opened as a hotel ten years ago. That was a lightning-quick winter visit and this time, a late-summer weekend, was a better time to see it looking glorious. The house belonged for generations to the Earls of Clarendon, so it’s on the grand side — the drive that winds up through beautiful rolling parkland — 300 acres of it —  doesn’t let you see

the 18th-century mansion til you’re right there — yet it’s small-scale grand, if that makes sense. It’s not overwhelming, and is remarkably un-stuffy, an impression helped by the quirky objets that the owners have dotted about the gardens, and the consistently charming and delightful staff. I suspect they would have whisked my car, a beaten-up old Zafira covered in dog hairs, off to valet parking without batting an eyelid but I lost my nerve when I saw a gleaming Aston Martin hovering near the porticoed entrance, and snukt past to do my own parking in the huge, full car park.

Quirky features: The Grove

10 years ago, the hotel felt a tad flash, with its Championship golf course and high celebrity count but now it feels more settled and assured. Like all the best places, it wears its luxury trappings lightly and without any hint of complacency. It still has plenty of well-known visitors - the Warner Bros studio at Leavesden is close by, and the England football team are frequent visitors (there’s a full-size footie pitch in the walled garden, which can also serve for American football when the NFL players visit) and can swallow large numbers of people without seeming full. The evening I visited, there were two wedding receptions going on in the event spaces beneath the more modern rooms of the West Wing (maybe that’s why the car park was so full) without getting in each other’s or anyone else’s way, with another dinner for 100+ lined up for the Potting Shed restaurant at the end of the walled garden.

sequoia pool
The Sequoia Spa is every bit as luxurious as the hotel (long mirrored corridors, black-moisaic-tiled pool) and a nine-month renovation has added five new treatment rooms and revamped the ladies’ Heat Experience section. I’m sure the facials are superb (there’s a full range of Espa offerings as well as the new Natura Bisse treatments, which include the Hollywood High Definition Facial) but I was tickled by the idea of the Project X Diamond Destress treatment, which was billed as ‘one of Natura Bisse’s most indulgent massages, this multifaceted treatment purifies both body and mind’, so booked in for that. Massage with diamond dust? Yes please. 

Project X is basically a lengthy body-exfoliation rather than a massage. I thought it might drive me mad, because exfoliation is the kind of thing that any of us can do in less than five minutes in the shower without paying through the nose for the privilege, but Spa (as we must now call the whole concept) is all about elevating ordinary things like bathing to the level of ‘experiences’. It’s whether your spa-therapist can manage this elevation with sufficient skill and conviction that makes or breaks the treatment. If they’re good enough, you’ll end up blissed out and highly polished; if not, you’ll want to run itching from the room after 10 minutes, unable to bear it any longer. My spa-therapist, Chelsea, was brilliant. She took the whole thing very seriously and so did I and as she balanced my chakras (!) and gently, slowly scoured me down, limb by limb, I went off into one of those happy spa-trances where time just passes very easily. This being a Natura Bisse treatment, she wasn’t using just any old exfoliant, but a mixture described as ‘luminous mud with diamond dust, lavender oil and micronised iron’. The point of this strange mix was that, after it had been massaged on, Chelsea palmed a special magnet and passed that over each treated limb, and all the iron filings  jumped up to stick on it - a very strange feeling - leaving behind a waft of lavender and a shimmer of diamond dust. This all took 90 minutes which sounds far too long for a scrub-down but was in fact just fabulous and in my spa-trance I lay there musing on why, when I find it hard to lie still in a bath for 10 minutes at home, I can happily pass an hour and a half being scrub-massaged, and came up with no sensible answers. 
Paul Winch-Furness / Photographer

What else?  The Vice-Presidential suite was immensely comfortable, with a surfeit of pillows, a plate of 'welcome' macaroons, lovely ESPA ameneties and bedlinen with a reassuringly high thread-count. Relaxing in the claw-foot bath tub while looking out over acres of parkland was one of those 'should-I- kick-myself-am-I-really-here?' moments.   Dinner at Colette’s restaurant was unbelievably good, too (a tartelette covered in snipped chives here, a scallop with peanut there, the courses kept coming), and if I was too full to do justice to the extensive breakfast offerings the next morning, I had no one but myself to blame. 

Culinary perfection at Colette's restaurant