Category Archives: Reviews

A Super Summer Family Evening at Whipsnade’s Sunset Safari

Cheetahs, peacocks and zebras, oh my! Yes, it was that kind of evening at Whipsnade’s annual Sunset Safari…and those were just the high-flying aerial, acrobatic team feats. IMG_5120

Although there was a mild breeze, the weather was thoroughly cooperating for what is one of ZSL’s nicest family summer evening’s out. The far-reaching skies were ranging from reds, to yellows, to lavender and as the sun was setting over the Chiltern Hills you could feel the zoo come alive in ways that aren’t regularly experienced on your average day out.

It was a fantastic opportunity to go beyond the Whipsnade gates after closing time and see the zoo looking nothing like it normally does. As soon as you get past the entrance, you’re immediately drawn to the subtle music of chilled beats and the multi-coloured beanbag beds perfectly placed around the acrobatic apparatus…clearly where part of the evening’s bendy performers would amaze and delight.

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Intermingled between the aerial performances, there were hula-hooping leopards and stilt-walking peacocks strutting their stuff, mariachis bringing the sounds of Mexico as well as the entrancing steel drumming man. The variation of music throughout the evening kept the parents energetically relaxed and the kids happily dancing past their usual bedtime routine.

To add to the atmosphere there was plenty of food and drink to keep you satiated and interested: Pizza, Mexican, Thai, and of course the standard of hot dogs and burgers were all on offer. This and the added bar options make for a lovely evening out.

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Once fed and relaxed it was time to tour the zoo animals, after-hours. You can tour at your own pace, lookout for the zoo’s nocturnal animals, listen to talks, learn about conservation, and even pretend you’re a zoo vet for a moment.

All in all, it was a super summer sunset safari evening and one to look forward to on the calendar each year.

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Sensational Spa Day at Luton Hoo Hotel

Just before Christmas I had the opportunity for some much needed personal time and pampering. In the midst of all the holiday hype, I managed to find a morning where I could indulge myself into the relaxing retreat at the Luton Hoo Hotel Spa. img_0929It’s quite a magical place that helped me escape for just a little while and recharge my batteries.

From the moment you pass the majestic hotel gates and drive through the
countryside/golf course entrance you enter into an almost fairyland-esqe world that  begins melting and leaving the stresses of everyday life behind. Seriously; The Luton Hoo grounds are beautiful.

After parking my car and wandering through the woodland trails to the elegant spa entrance I was cheerfully greeted by the reception team, given a tour of the facilities and offered a cosy, terrycloth dressing gown to begin my experience.img_0940

 I  was booked in for the customized Luton Hoo Signature Treatment, but as I arrived early, had some time to decompress and take advantage of the offered facilities.

There’s a very calming atmosphere from the locker room to the spectacular (one of the best I’ve ever seen) oak framed pool area complete with infinity pool, vitality pool, and heat therapy suite.

img_0942After a little swim and sauna, I had a some time to spare before my treatment; Naturally, I ventured upstairs to the Relaxation Room to sample some herbal teas and dried fruit snacks while entranced by the sound of soothing music and the almost-sedative inducing fish tank bubbling. I almost didn’t need the treatment, though, as I was pretty much relaxed and ready for a nap.

I’m glad I held-out for the treatment, though (as if I’d miss it). The Luton Hoo Signature treatment, with the lovely Senior Therapist,  Becky, in charge, is 80 minutes of blissful calm. An ESPA-customized treatment specifically for Luton Hoo, the ritual takes you from a cleansing footbath to Balinese massage and can be incorporated with the most warming of hot stones. The ESPA oils are personalised to your liking and smell fantastic. Needless to say the overall experience left me ultra-relaxed and ready to take on the world. I’m even considering the Luton Hoo Spa membership just so I can unwind on demand.

Click here for more information on the Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf & Spa & here for Luton Hoo Spa Membership

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The Hertford Theatre Does it Again in the Panto Department   

I always thoroughly enjoy the Hertford Theatre productions and this year’s pantomime, Little Red Riding Hood, is no different. With the intertwining fairytales of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red, the storyline keeps engaging interest for all ages.

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It starts with simple Simon, the pig farmer, and his friendship with Little Red. They’re each on their own journeys with Simon searching for his lost little pigs and Red on a journey to deliver some meds to her ill grannie. The trip to grannie’s humble abode has Little Red wandering from set to colourful set meeting many full-of-life characters and most of them are the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

As with any pantomime, there’s the interjection of fun and poppy music. With a play on many pop culture ditties, the journey of tunes carries you from the recurring theme song of Friends, to Coldplay favourites, and some Mary Poppins standards. Familiar songs kept the audience toe tapping, interactively singing, and cast supportive throughout.

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Which brings us to the cast…The following words come to mind: magnificent chemistry, quality acting and choreography, and superb vocals. One of the best panto lineups the Hertford Theatre’s produced.

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For the two hour and twenty minute runtime, the combination of story, music, and interactivity kept my almost six-year old and me thoroughly entertained. It’s a wonderful Christmas treat for 2016 and we’re looking forward to next year’s production.

Little Red Riding Hood is running at the Hertford Theatre until 1 January so get your tickets fast:

http://www.hertfordtheatre.com/events/detail/1404/little-red-riding-hood

Review: “Mrs. Armitage and the Big Wave” A Great Family Day at the Theatre

Mrs. Armitage and her faithful dog, Breakspear, are off to the seaside for a day of surfing; but what happens while they’re waiting for the big wave makes Quentin Blake’s story a sincere display of true companionship, trust, problem solving, and eternal optimism.

I recently had the privilege of experiencing the Ga Ga Theatre Company’s adaptation of this lovely story at the Abbey Theatre in St. Albans. We took the whole family to this hour-long production and it was a wonderful, interactive way of giving young children a taste for the theatre, as well as having a lovely morning together.

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The entire play uses two clearly talented actors each portraying a handful of upbeat, amusing characters. Different voices and accents are used to give real variance and depth to the characters and certainly keep the audience, especially the children, interested.

The main characters endure many situations as they’re ‘waiting for the big wave;’ and with each comes the choice of either giving up or staying positive and finding a solution. These scenarios also made for some good discussion with the kids after the show.  mrs_armitage_0393

The combination of quality acting, funny lines, simple, yet clever, props, and animated, projected sketches make for a well-integrated way of interpreting Blake’s story. Well done to the Ga Ga Theatre Company for this fun production. Looking forward to your next project soon.

For more information on the Ga Ga Theatre Company and their coming productions, see the website, here: http://www.gagatheatre.co.uk

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REVIEW: Spooky Fun at Kidzania London

When I learned I’d be taking our family to Kidzania I was super excited. I’d only heard good things about the Westfield location and the concept of giving your kids access to real-life experiences, like becoming a pilot or a dentist, within a secure learning environment is fantastic. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, so each part of the journey for our family was a surprise.

IMG_5712 When you arrive at Kidzania, it’s like you’re arriving at Heathrow. The entrances, signage, and all the airport-like escalators take you to a ticketing booth as if you’re ready to board a plane to Spain. I admit, you also sort of get the same anticipatory, holiday feeling, too.

 The British Airways-esque welcome offers all paid visitors a security bracelet, a map, and of course, kidZos, the local currency. Each child starts with 50 kidZos with which they can use to purchase something in the department store or to be better put to use with one of the 60 activities on offer. Some you earn a salary, some you pay to experience. There’s even a bank and a debit card on offer for those that earn enough kidZos.

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 So, once you’re checked-in you’re ‘transported’ to a fabricated city for kids. As one who’s been to Las Vegas, the setting is similar in style to the indoor shopping cities of one of the big hotels. Shop fronts, offices, and cafes line the road, the ceiling a painted sky. The faces of my starry-eyed children were of something you’d see in Disneyland.

That was, however, until the zombies arrived. Yes, it was a Halloween-themed session. Zombies were on the run and the only way to get away from them was to play along and wave your hands at them. This was a fun little addition to the day for the older children, but many of the younger children did get a bit scared. To be honest it was the only negative in our experience. It took 30 minutes to settle one of our children because a zombie spooked her.

However, once the realization set that these so-called zombies weren’t real, my four year old had a great time. She absolutely loved learning about and making ice cream, chocolate, becoming a dentist, and plaiting hair at the hairdressers. Despite her always being one of the younger children in the groups of eight or ten, she fit right in. Listening to the leaders, participating, and surprisingly well behaved! We spent the ride home discussing how chocolate is made and how you read an x-ray. SubstandardFullSizeRender

All in all I’d thoroughly recommend experiencing Kidzania for kids of all ages. Your four year old will have an entirely different experience than your eight year old, but again, there is positive benefit for inspiring and exploring for both. There’s even a soft play and colouring on offer for the under-threes; and a parents’ area to sit, have a coffee, and wait while your kiddos run safely-a-riot. I’m sure we’ll return again when our kids are older and may try one of the many other international locations, as well.

REVIEW: SEQUOIA SPA at THE GROVE HOTEL – A Lesson in Relaxation and Class

It’s official. I’m addicted to The Grove Hotel and Spa in picturesque Hertfordshire. Now I’m not one to over use superlatives as I’m not usually easily pleased, but this place is a godsend for Britain, Londoners, and even more so to those of us living locally. The Grove has everything you not only want, but need, to relax, rejuvenate, have a little fun, and help return you to your sense of self. After visiting the exquisite Colette’s a couple weeks ago and leaving supremely wowed, I’ve had the opportunity to visit and immerse myself in the recently refurbished world of the Sequoia Spa; and at the risk of sounding like I’m wearing Sequoia-given, rose-colored glasses, it’s a world I wasn’t ready to leave.

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Upon entering the long and slightly enduring Grove Hotel driveway leading to the estate, I could almost feel the stresses of life escaping me. It sounds a bit corny and cliché, but it’s always a very strange and wonderful feeling that happens every time I visit the place. The setting is stunning and even more so as you approach the separately designed and situated Sequoia Spa; the hotel clearly wants to remove you from it all. I’d been looking forward to this day and could see this was the beginning of what was to be a fantastic journey into relaxation, rejuvenation, and clinical wellness and healing.

As I arrived I was pleasantly welcomed with Sequoia-induced smiles and a clean, bright reception area with aptly located clean-living juice bar. I was instructed to fill out the expected spa consultation form and then whisked-off to the spacious, towel and toiletry-filled changing areas to begin my spa adventure. I was then given a whispering-based tour (it’s super-quiet everywhere) of the facilities and given an ingenious locker card (so I thought) to access my dressing gown, slippers, and to store my belongings.

image1Surrounded by many tranquil and peacefully-designed resting areas for having a tea, coffee, some nuts and a read of the daily news, the facilities include a spectacular (really) 22-metre health-filled, ozonized, black ceramic tiled pool surrounded by fluffy folded white towels, loungers, and all the ice water you could handle. The area also includes an adjacent co-gendered steam room, shower, and Jacuzzi.  image3

There’s also a state-of-the-art fitness centre and studio catering to all fitness levels and expertise. Personal trainers are readily on-hand to direct and answer any questions or retrieve you either ice cold or room temperature bottled water.

The wellness continues in the exercise studio by offering over 50 complimentary sessions per week including indoor cycling, power yoga, Zumba, H.I.I.T, and Hatha yoga. Running and cycling trails also meander across 300 acres of The Grove’s beautiful Hertfordshire country grounds. Access to all of this, including complimentary bike hire, is included in your spa stay.

As for the treatment collection, you really can’t make a bad choice. Sequoia only hires best-of-breed, professionally trained, and supremely knowledgeable specialists that are using products such as Espa and, my new personal fave, the Barcelona-based NaturaBisse.

Treatments range from next generation facials to purifying body wraps to wonderfully relaxing massages. There is also a selection of Jessica manicures and pedicures, as well as waxing and make-up sessions. One of the things Sequoia does very well is combining many of these much-needed treatments into utterly logical and delightful spa packages. They’ve clearly thought through this one and know their target market. I love it when you can head to a spa and get luxuries like a facial, massage, wrap, and manicure/pedicure all rolled into one offering.

The other thing that sets Sequoia apart from the myriad spas out there is their staff. Every one I met was pleasant, respectful, competent, understanding, and knowledgeable. If any attitudes existed, they were checked at the door. The last thing you want when you’re investing in a spa experience is suffering grumpiness and disrespect. You couldn’t get farther from this than at Sequoia.

This professional theme continued through my own treatment.  I was given the wonderful, citrus-induced Orangery Experience (£190). A one-hour and 50-minute experience filled with the smell orange blossoms and led by the very skilled and experienced, Naomi. Naomi retrieved me from one of the plushest and comfortable relaxation waiting areas and escorted me to an equally  relaxing treatment room.

image2After our introductions, the treatment itself commenced with a cleansing and welcome-to-the-world-of-orange footbath; followed by a thorough exfoliation, anti-oxidant mousse wrap, and subsequently a massage with a deeply nourishing and yet firming warm orange-induced balm. My body and mind needed this, but the amazingness didn’t stop there. Naomi then performed the world’s best-ever seen facial including citrus peel, anti-aging elements (thank goodness), and ending with a bitter orange soufflé mask. Combining this with the comfortable and warming treatment table, dimmed lights, LED burning candles, woodland and slate-inspired room design, and ethereal music, it’s probably needless to say, I fell asleep. Always the sign of a good treatment, in my humble opinion.

Naomi catered to every aspect of the experience allowing me to feel unpressured and restful. My face was glowing and my skin was the softest it’s been in a long time. I lay on the table not wanting to move; say it isn’t over?! Thankfully, I had plenty of time to wake-up and return to reality along with my swimsuit, dressing gown and slippers.

Naomi then returned to the room and we discussed all the glorious products used. For once, I didn’t mind the product marketing overview as I was thoroughly impressed with the NaturaBisse products used and am considering a follow-up purchase. That said, I’m also considering a Sequoia spa membership. Yes, Sequoia offers you the ability to join their exclusive club. In addition to all the fabulousness I’ve already described, you can access many other incredible aspects offered by The Grove and sister hotels.

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All in all I can’t say enough good things about the Sequoia Spa. Consistent to the high standard The Grove upholds, the spa is one of the best I’ve ever experienced. It’s definitely worth a long journey across Britain or even from London for a country spa break and stay.For those of us fortunate enough to live locally within Hertfordshire or a short drive from The Grove, we are a lucky lot. This is a world-class place and a place to make use of and cherish.

For more information on the Sequoia Spa at The Grove Hotel, click here: http://www.thegrove.co.uk/spa/

For more fun in Hertfordshire, click here: http://local.mumsnet.com/hertfordshire

Written by Erin Anderson, Editor, Mumsnet Hertfordshire

REVIEW: Colette’s @ The Grove Hotel: A British Gem on Hertfordshire’s Doorstep

In a setting that’s seen the likes of Queen Victoria, King Edward, and more recently, Tiger Woods, there sits a legacy of luxurious simplicity and delight: The Grove Hotel and Spa.

An estate that was once used as a Gardening School, Health Centre, Riding School and a Girl’s Boarding School was skillfully restored in 1996 and strategically repurposed into the country retreat destination you see today. The discerning options for eating, sleeping, relaxing, and playing are the reason the Grove attracts visitors of all types; from local Hertfordshire residents to well-heeled Londoners, corporate clients, and international visitors and VIPs. Just minutes from London and the M25, the Grove is an upscale treat for everyone.

My personal journey with the Grove began months ago, but last week I had the opportunity to partake in an experience I certainly won’t forget: thoroughly enjoying and reviewing the eight-course “Symphony” menu with wine pairing at Colette’s. I’ve certainly had my share of fine dining across the globe, but Colette’s is man’s (and woman’s) answer to delicious food and delicate, precise presentation. From the classical, calming décor and music to the level of service and thoughtful and beautiful creations set before us, each moment of our three-hour tasting journey was filled with both savoring the moment, but tempered with an eagerness for what was next to come. The lovely setting

With three AA Rosette awards and Russell Bateman, the newly crowned Craft Guild of Chefs National Chef of the Year, 2014, at the helm, Colette’s not only prepared and cooked every course beautifully; there was an attention to detail and precision that was uniform throughout all presentation. You could see there was a significant amount of skill, experience, and judgment projected on each plate. I suppose this is what you’d expect from a Head Chef with a CV filled with Michelin star restaurants like Pétrus and Auberge de L’Eridan and colleagues like Marcus Wareing and Gordon Ramsay.

One of the neatest things about Russell and Colette’s is the use of ingredients. They’re not only sustainable, they’re about as local as you can get. Our server was telling us that Russell chooses his evening selection of fruits and vegetables personally from the Grove’s own Walled Garden. I’m not sure I know of any other fine dining experience team that does this, a homespun touch that emphasizes Russell’s commitment to simplicity, freshness, and flavor. As Bateman commented when recently winning his Chef of the Year title, “At Colette’s, our focus is always on deliciousness, creating simple dishes which let the ingredients speak for themselves, whether they are from suppliers, or our own Walled Garden. I applied the same principles to the competition, focusing on flavour, simplicity, precision and restraint – the results speak for themselves.”

Diver Caught Scallop, Oyster, Celeriac, Apple, Coastal Herbs
Diver Caught Scallop, Oyster, Celeriac, Apple, Coastal Herbs

I agree and this all certainly came through on each of the Symphony’s three starters, two mains, cheese course, and two desserts. From our knowledgeable, pleasant server greeting us with the first of our welcome canapés, to the third course of Walled Garden Beetroot, Nasturtium, Hazelnut and Goat’s Curd, through the fish courses, and on to my personal fave of the evening, the rump of Wagyu Beef, Black Garlic, Spring Onion, Shitake and Watercress. The Montgomery Cheese, Sourdough and Onion course was another interesting take on a memorable childhood favourite, the simple, but heart-warming cheese-toasty. Of course these dishes were only brilliantly outdone by the two, yes two, dessert courses of Apple Panna Cotta and then a Chocolate/Olive oil combination of paradise. Of course just when we thought we couldn’t take another bite of anything, we were offered additional chocolates accompanied by Espresso, a perfect way to round off an exquisite meal.

Finally, as we chose the wine pairing option of the Symphony menu, it is not without noticing the poignant consideration the sommelier delivered for combining each course with its associated tipple. Now I’m not a big drinker, so the thought of eight (small) glasses of wine, a different pairing with each course, was a bit daunting; but on taste associations alone, it was well worth the experience. Despite leaving a bit leftover in most glasses, there was one pairing that truly made me realise the potential associated with pairing the right wines with the right flavours. Never have I had something that worked so superbly together than having the Apple Panna Cotta & Sorbet and Blackberry Foam dessert course with a very-memorable 2013 Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling from Clare Valley Australia. Full marks for this match alone.

All in all this was a fantastic evening. Although the tasting menus are a commitment when it comes to your purse strings, the experience is worth every penny. A week later and my husband and I are still talking about the food. We’ve also talked about the fact that Colette’s is only a 15-minute drive or cheap taxi from our home in Hertfordshire. Colette’s is of a standard to draw clientele from across Britain, but local residents really must consider this to becoming a standard local culinary haunt. It’s a gem of a place and one that we’ll be visiting in time again, for sure.

For more information on or to book at Colette’s at The Grove Hotel see the website, here: http://www.thegrove.co.uk/food/colettes/

Colette’s at The Grove Hotel

Chandler’s Cross

Hertfordshire WD3 4TG

For more fun in Hertfordshire, see our own website, here: http://local.mumsnet.com/hertfordshire

 For more fun in Hertfordshire, check our own website: http://local.mumsnet.com/hertfordshire