A stately stay with staying power, the Grove in Hertfordshire has been around for decades but this Grade II-listed mansion with a contemporary wing and stellar spa set on a country estate has only recently attracted Smith’s attention, thanks to an overhaul of family-friendly rooms and suites dressed by Martin Hulbert, a robust roster of fun to tempt Smiths of all ages (woodland nature trails, archery and s’mores by the fire), as well as a top-notch kids’ club and babysitting allowing you to step away for a round of golf, spa treatment or dinner for two.
Families are spoilt for choice at the Grove: deluxe rooms in the West Wing have the most space, small balconies and beds for four. Updated rooms and suites in the Grade II-listed mansion will be unveiled in Spring 2023 and we can’t wait to see how Martin Hulbert transforms them. Of the suites, the Clarendon (for four) is your most family friendly option.
Wooden pillars stand sentry poolside at Sequoia, where a black-mosaic-tiled pool beneath a vaulted timbered ceiling is a scenic spot for languid laps; over-12s are allowed 3pm–5pm daily; at other times between 6am and 9pm (Monday to Friday) or 8am–8pm (weekends), it’s adults only. In summer months, a heated outdoor pool is available beside Ralph’s Beach, combining deckchairs and sandcastles with an ice-cream kiosk. The kids’ club has a toddler-friendly splash pool open daily 10am–6pm.
Open to members as well as hotel guests, Sequoia Spa is somewhere you could easily spend all day – a smart den of spaces to lounge indoors and out (swing seats, hammocks and potted plants enhance the laid-back vibe), with a choice of bathing options and a wellness-focused restaurant. Much of its appeal is rooted in opportunities to relax: join a yoga class or meditation session; book a facial or massage and alternate dips in its mosaic-tiled pool with spells in the Jacuzzi, steam room or sauna. Espa therapists work across 18 tucked-away treatment rooms offering body therapies from wraps and exfoliation to deep-tissue, holistic or hot-stone massages; facials are tailored to your needs using skin analysis and Espa products. There’s plenty to raise your heart rate, too: gym bunnies will love the Technogym Visioweb kit and cardio machines including Peloton in the fitness studio – also the place to join an exercise class or opt for personal training.
Evening glamour for dinner at the Glasshouse or Madhu’s; waxed jackets and country-chic wool tailoring for woodland wanders and garden strolls.
A choice of West Wing rooms, the spa and restaurants are all wheelchair-accessible. To avoid disappointment let a Smith travel specialist reserve kids’ club places when you book your stay.
Ground-floor classic and deluxe rooms in the West Wing take dogs under 30kg; the hotel provides a welcome kit consisting of a bed, food bowl, towel, mitt, toy and waste bags (from £50 per stay). See more pet-friendly hotels in Hertfordshire.
Upscale family stays have been fine-tuned at the Grove with practical rooms and suites, babysitting options and an impressive kids’ club; family-friendly activities include tree climbing and falconry.
Little Smiths aged nine or under are well catered for at Anouska’s kids’ club. Children aged 12 or older are charged as adults.
Deluxe rooms in the West Wing have the most space, small balconies and beds for four. Pending a relaunch in spring 2023, mansion rooms are ideal with just one child. Of the suites, the Clarendon (for four) is your most family friendly option.
In a quiet spot behind the walled garden, Anouska’s is a self-contained lodge with a secure private garden and play area. This popular kids’ club – Ofsted-registered and staffed by childcare professionals – is open for little Smiths aged two to nine; care is split into two three-hour sessions, morning and afternoon (from £45 per session per child) and you’ll need to book in advance, especially during English school holidays. As well as ad-hoc activities such as art and crafts, storytime and Lego sessions, children are kept busy with pizza making, rock painting and potting plants.
E-biking, archery, forest school, nature trails, tree climbing, falconry, football, tennis, pony club (seasonal) and s’mores around the firepit.
Anouska’s has a splash pool designed with kids in mind (10am–6pm daily). Children aged 12 or older can use the spa pool 3pm–5pm only.
At Anouska’s, staff prepare healthy snacks for children. There are children’s menus at all Grove restaurants and under-threes dine free.
Available through trusted partner Tinies, babysitting starts at £22.50 an hour (minimum three-hour booking).
While little Smiths are at Anouska’s, one of their adults must be somewhere within the hotel grounds.
At the Glasshouse, bag a cosy bench by the Richard Thomas mural or a table beside the windows – grab a bench against the timbers at the Stables; the round table set into the bay window at the Lounges looks out onto a scenic spot.
Casual by day, but ditch the denim and trainers in favour of your most glamorous threads for evening.
A glass-panelled dining room of round wooden tables and taupe-upholstered tub chairs that looks onto the gardens and bench-fringed fire pit, the Glasshouse is an all-day affair offering polished plates, food hall-style. A wide choice of cuisines is whipped up using locally sourced produce, some of which is from the hotel’s kitchen garden. Expect dedicated stations for salad, sushi, pasta, grills and roasts and leave room for cheese or dessert – both of which have counters that it’d be churlish to ignore. There’s not a hint of hay nor horses at casual dining spot the Stables, which consists of a pair of banquet-hall-long spaces flanking a prettily planted courtyard. Country-club interiors are dressed with pale timber, leather upholstery and wrought-iron candelabras suspended from exposed rafters. This is an idyllic spot for drinks with snacks or a light bite by day, although food is served until 9pm. Poke bowls, wraps and Asian broths are all on the health-focused menu at Sequoia Spa. With an open fire and garden views, the strikingly wallpapered Lounges are open for sushi any time between noon and 9pm, as well as coffee or afternoon tea. Evening-only Madhu’s is a pop-up South Asian restaurant in the mansion for dishes such as chilli-garlic prawns, slow-cooked spiced lamb and tandoori chicken.
As you pass through the archway entrance at the Stables, the restaurant is on one side, the bar on the other with terrace tables overlooking the golf course. It has a bar menu, so you can dine here, too, or bag a rustic booth and order a Hugo Spritz with lime, mint and prosecco, or a house lemonade made with lemon thyme syrup. In a light-filled space with stools at the bar and a mix of dining-height and low-slung tables, the Glasshouse Bar is a laid-back spot for grazing on sushi and browsing an international wine list and starred line-up of cocktails. The latter are crafted using herbs and fruit grown in the hotel’s walled garden: try a cognac-based prescription julep or Grove Mary made with sriracha. You can waft in your robe and slippers to a table on the terrace at Sequoia Spa, which serves tea, coffee, smoothies, juices and protein shakes, plus a small selection of wines by the glass.
Breakfast at the Glasshouse is served 7am–10am; lunch, noon–2pm and dinner, 5.30pm–9pm (hours at the Stables are similar). The Lounges is open noon until 9pm; Madhu’s is open 5.30pm–9.30pm (Tuesday–Sunday). Food is served at the spa 11am–4pm.
A dedicated menu is available between 6am and 11pm.
The Grove is in the Hertfordshire countryside, just north-west of London and not far from Watford.
All London airports are accessible from the hotel, with Heathrow and Luton being the nearest (a 30-minute drive away); Gatwick and Stansted are each an hour away by road; private transfers can be arranged.
Watford Junction is 10 minutes by road from the hotel; there are taxis at the station or the hotel can arrange private transfers if booked ahead.
There’s a free private car park in the hotel grounds and (free) valet parking is available.
There’s a helipad in the grounds (a charge of £250 per arrival or departure applies). The Grand Union Canal runs through the hotel estate and is around eight hours’ cruising from central London.
Worth getting out of bed for
The museums, galleries and shops of central London are a train-ride away, but there are nearer delights: take a Warner Bros Studio Tour (a five-minute drive from the Grove) to gen up on all things Harry Potter, or perfect your parallel turns at the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead. The hotel can arrange horse riding on the Ashridge Estate, shooting tuition on outdoor clay stands or an indoor range, archery or laser clay pigeon shooting. In peaceful parkland, Chilterns Open Air Museum is home to 37 reconstructed buildings that bring the area’s social history to life from an Iron Age dwelling to a post-war prefab home. Catch a movie at the Rex, an art deco cinema in Berkhamsted. Falconry centre Woodland Hawking organises walks with Harris hawks through the woodlands at the Grove.
An ivy-covered inn in Flaunden, the Bricklayers Arms is elevated from check-carpeted country pub to gourmet address by Miroslav Schelling’s polished plates including a duo of duck breast and confit leg, and pork loin with a chorizo rub and sticky ribs, as well as refined roasts on Sundays: leave room for lemon posset log or dandelion-and-burdock sticky-toffee pudding. Inspired by the owners’ love of a good New York steakhouse, Prime Steak & Grill in Chandler’s Cross offers prime cuts dry-aged on the bone alongside cajun salmon, vegan burgers and grilled half chicken: starters such as baked scallops, crispy fried goats’ cheese and seared tuna tataki reflect the diverse influences in executive chef Jamie Robertson’s menu; little Smiths are well catered for, too, with steak, fish goujons, a choice of burgers or pasta.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this family-friendly stay on a country estate outside London and unpacked their Barbour boots and Hogwarts merch, a full account of their bucolic break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside the Grove in Hertfordshire…
If you’re at all familiar with this ace of Herts (its reputation undiminished in decades), you’ll know the Grove for its Grade II-listed mansion and pro-standard golf course, but you should park any preconceptions of stuffiness at its country-estate gates… Designer Martin Hulbert (who has form at Chewton Glen and Coworth Park, too) has refreshed its 18th-century stately home, modern wing, restaurants and sizeable spa with contemporary interiors. At the Lounges (a series of salons in the mansion), it’s out with the piano and pastels – in with bold décor, cocktails and sushi. The hotel’s restaurants have had a makeover of their own, showcasing British produce (some from the hotel’s kitchen garden) to create gourmet plates as well as pub classics and children’s menus. There’s an agility, too, you wouldn’t expect from such a grand hotel: rainy-day arts and crafts can be rustled up in the potting shed, pop-up restaurants rotate with the seasons; events and camps (forest school, survival camp, sport clinics and festive antics) fill the calendar. So much more than scenery, woodlands in the grounds are put to good use with trails for family bike rides, tree-climbing sessions and falconry walks with hawks. A refined country retreat that marries style and thoughtful hospitality for all ages, the Grove is a breath of fresh air for families in search of an upscale hotel break.