The Grove in Hertfordshire offers a convenient luxury country break for Londoners with activities galore and the chance to spot a Hollywood star too

Words: Jonathan Whiley

Winter sun is bathing the beautifully-kept grounds of a Hertfordshire hotel and as we stroll, a Hollywood A-lister comes into view. Hugh Jackman, of Les Miserables and The Greatest Showman fame, is wandering on a parallel path, entirely undisturbed.

It’s quite the endorsement for The Grove, a five-star country escape set within 300 acres and within easy reach of central London (18 miles away – by train, a 20-minute journey from Euston followed by a 10-minute cab).

Facilities at this former estate of the Earls of Clarendon, built in 1720, are vast and varied. Beyond the 214 rooms (including 12 suites in the Grade II-listed, 18th century mansion), there is an 18-hole golf course, indoor and outdoor pools, spa, tennis courts, croquet lawn and football pitch. It’s perfectly pitched for families too; within the Walled Garden, there is a petting zoo and an area called ‘The Grid’ which has activities from axe-throwing to table tennis, an escape room and a series of strategic challenges and puzzles.

Tree climbing and hot air balloon rides can also be organised and from July, there is an outdoor Everyman cinema. There are three restaurants on-site; Madhu’s serves creative and refined New Delhi dishes (a ‘High Chai’ afternoon tea is available alongside a tasting menu and regular a la carte), while The Stables has a terrace overlooking the golf course and is all about seasonal British fare (hearty classics such as fish and chips sit alongside lighter options such as miso-roasted hispi cabbage and hay-smoked venison carpaccio).

The third dining offer is their signature; The Glasshouse. Billed as ‘one of the world’s finest buffets’, it featured on Grace Dent’s Netflix documentary, ‘Million Dollar Buffet’. This – in all honesty – doesn’t fill with me particular joy initially, but I’m pleasantly surprised. The quality and consistency of each ‘live-action’ food station is very impressive. There is a sushi station, seafood station, pasta station, Asian station, carving station, Robata grill, charcuterie and cheese, a plethora of desserts and much, much more.

In each case, it’s been carefully considered with steps taken to minimise waste and experts for each particular cuisine presiding over their section with pride. It means that when you are ready for a slice of the beef wellington it’s still perfectly crisp and blushing or a bowl of fresh pasta is cooked to order with your choice of sauce and ingredients.

Staff throughout our stay are warm and friendly and despite its sprawling size, it’s clear they want you to think of the hotel as your (rather lavish) home. Gentle questions are couched in non-corporate language – ‘how did you sleep?, ‘how is my cooking?’ – which ensures the atmosphere is relaxed, yet buzzy wherever you venture.

A loyal local following has a strong part to play in this and repeat business is clearly strong. One guest stayed for months, only to be told that he would need to check out for one night due to an exclusive hire of the estate. He duly did so – and checked back in the following day. Another regular, whose home was flooded when she was heavily pregnant, insisted to her insurance company that The Grove was the only place she could stay.

There is much to love; award-winning interiors by the renowned Martin Hulbert (he has worked with the hotel for nearly 20 years – part of a stellar portfolio that includes projects with Cliveden and Coworth Park), Bamford treatments in the recently refurbished spa and some smaller but welcome touches such as complimentary gelato on request, delivered to your room.

While I’m reluctant to label it a hidden gem – The Grove has picked up plenty of awards and is a member of Leading Hotels of the World– it did exceed all expectations. Much like Mr Jackman I imagine, I longed for one day more.