By Erin Anderson
In a wonderfully serene Hertfordshire landscape 18 miles northwest of London sits the classically opulent, Grove Hotel. With great history, the high-living, well-heeled have been coming to the Grove for centuries; including a Queen Victoria and her week-ending aides. But the once restrictive dress code is now modernly non-existent and there’s a wonderfully inclusive feel for family of all ages. Longer half-term holidays or short family breaks at the Grove are the new reality.
Our family of four was invited to stay over this recent October half-term to experience all the Grove has on offer for families; and for a crisp, colourful, autumnal break, it didn’t disappoint. Not sure about you, but when I was a kid I always loved staying in a hotel. Time seemed to stand still. It was something about the adventure of exploring a temporary home with possibly a pool, and maybe a lift, was fun. You could become someone else for a little while. This was clearly the case for our four and six year old children…as well as for my husband and I.
From the moment our car entered the gates of the stately grounds, our backseat daughters began giggling with anticipation. The stresses of everyday life began to fade and the stillness and excitement of what the day to come offered took over. “Is there a pool, Mummy? Will I have my own bed? Is the bathtub big, Mummy?” Well, “yes, yes, and yes!” But there is so much more.
As we arrived early, the smiling and welcoming staff offered to store our bags so we could begin our familial journey of the beautiful hotel grounds. Once we got our bearings, we went for a walk for some fresh air and the girls burned off some energy in the lovely wooded play area. You couldn’t have asked for better weather.
The perfect autumn day. A little chilly, but with blue sky and the leaves in perfect hue, it all offered a wonderful backdrop to the beginning of our stay.
After a little play and a walk, we headed to our first lunchtime culinary experience at the Glasshouse, one of the three main restaurants. At first I wasn’t sure this was a place for a four and six year old…even on their best behaviour. The setting is slightly formal, but because the staff were so warm and welcoming it felt normal to bring small children to such a lovely occasion. They were so interested in the girls and sincerely wanted our experience to be a treat. And boy a treat it was.
The dish production and detail is amazing…and to think they do this a few times a day every week. Sectioned buffet areas, overlooked by the chefs themselves, for all-you-can-eat locally sourced, freshly prepared seafood, antipastos, salads, asian stir-fry, tapas, roast dinners, curries, soups, cheeses, and our absolute favourite…the various Halloween-themed merengues, tarts, and other tantalising desserts.
As we meandered to our table, I looked down at my girls with their wide eyes and could tell that they checked their once-picky appetites at the door. In addition to pizza, some cheeses, and fruit salad, my girls actually ate a varied amount of vegetables. Beautifully presented and exquisitely-tasty vegetable dishes. This alone is a successful feat and warrants a return.
Of course, just when we thought they couldn’t cater any further to us or our children, the hostess stopped by our table with some “Princess packs” complete with crayons, colouring, mask-construction, and puzzles. The smiles on their little faces grew bigger and sustained, with manners in tact for the remainder of meal. A lovely, caring touch for potentially nervous parents bringing children to such a nice place.
After experiencing such wonderful delights, the reception team notified us that our room was ready. Reverting back to the excitement of a temporary home, we were eager to see our living quarters for the next day, so we ventured down to the contemporary West Wing side of the hotel.
The family-size room is huge with included deluxe king size bed, sofa beds for the girls (or bunk beds, if you request), sizeable flat screen tv, giant bathtub, bathrobes for us and for the girls, a hamper of gifts and a thoughtfully-placed box of toys and children’s books. It was a fantastic room and had us all thinking maybe we’d stick with a duvet day instead of heading out to cycle or swim.
A walk over to the balcony overlooking the view of the grounds and golf course quickly
changed our minds. It was a glorious day and my cycle-loving husband and children were ready to get out and explore some trails. My four year old learned to ride a bike this past summer, so we were ready to head out on our first family ride. There’s a 1.92 mile wildlife trail and a 1.03 mile musical meander trail, but we opted for and cycle-winded our way through 4.02 miles of wooded autumnal parkland and along the serenely picturesque Grand Union Canal. Such a wonderful way to spend the heart of the afternoon.
After all the exercise and fresh air, we returned our bikes, and headed back to the comfort and luxury of our family room. We all quietly laid-back on our beds and chilled-out for a bit. The girls played with their toys and books while we caught up for a short while on our phones (what else?)…This didn’t last long, though, as the girls had recharged their batteries and were ready for some swimming before dinner.
There are two pools to explore as a family at this time of the year (three in the summertime). Something to explore on another trip, the fantastically-renovated Sequoia Spa offers a black mosaic-tiled indoor pool that caters to families with children over 12 years old. Those of us with younger kids, however, are better suited to use the smaller and more shallow indoor kids’ pool at the Anouska’s Kids Club. It was early evening and we were the only ones using the facilities which was nice. The bathwater warm pool has one section for more independent swimmers and one section for less confident children, toddlers, and babies. It was so nice having a calm little swim after cycling so much
earlier in the day. Anouska’s has lovely and clean showering facilities equipped with the aromatic ESPA products, so we showered and headed back to the West Wing before dinner.
All the exercise made us collectively tired, but also nicely relaxed as we got ready for our 7pm dinner booking at the Stables. We enjoyed the room a bit more and then walked over to the Golf clubhouse where the Stables is located. Despite the abundance of our lunchtime feast, we were all starving and ready to experience our next inspired meal.
The Stables is slightly more casual dining than the Glasshouse, but equally welcoming and yummy. Once the housing of 18th century horses, it’s now a country-styled building with an atmosphere that is perfect for families. The girls were presented, once again, with packs of crayons and colouring and given a hefty choice of options on the Children’s menu. My six year old opted for the pasta and my youngest, the sturdy burger, accompanied with crispy French fries.
The main menu is simple, but detailed enough to cause some indecision. Everything sounded great. In the end, I opted for the sea bass, jerusalem artichoke puree, capers, and a side of chips. My husband followed my four year old’s choice and dug in to one of the juiciest-looking, apple smoked cheese burgers I’ve seen in a long time. Instead of starters, our sweet-toothed family chose to top-off our meal with desserts of chocolate brownies, apple galettes, fruit salad, and lemon tarts. Lovely stuff.
After a full day of fun and food, this family was ready to finalise our day by cuddling-up on the big king size bed for a film. Needless to say, after the day we had, we only made it halfway through “Despicable Me 3” before the sirens of sleep made their calling. My eldest slept walk into her sofa bed, while my youngest stayed nestled between mummy and daddy for some shuteye.
As with the rest of our Grove experience, we all slept hard and awoke rested and rejuvenated. Unfortunately for us, it was also the end of half-term, so we couldn’t linger too long before heading back to work and school that very day. It was all worth it though.
Even though we live a short drive from the Grove and were only there for one day, the whirlwind experience felt like a long weekend break somewhere further afield. As we pulled out and back down the cascading drive, my six year old says, “Mummy, I don’t want to leave the Grove. Can we live here forever?” I’d say that’s a family break to remember.
Depending on timing, family rooms at the Grove start at £195 per night, but you can also check out the many wonderful family offers listed here.
About the Author: Erin is a mum-of-two, the Editor of Mumsnet Hertfordshire, a Xoogler, and has a penchant for building tech start-ups. In between school runs, she now focuses on freelance marketing, content strategy, and copywriting projects.