Tag Archives: Relaxation

The Grove: A Surprisingly Fabulous Family Break

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. IMG_8754But  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 Grove Anouska's play area
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.

The Grove Glasshouse lunchtime for family

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. Family size room at the Grove

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 view of the golf course from the Grove west wing family rooms
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. The Grove cycle trails for families

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 The Grove's Anouska's kid's pool
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. the stables children's menu desserts chocolate brownie

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                                                          

Erin Anderson tech content writer Mumsnet Editor                                                                                                                                               
Erin Anderson is a mum-of-two and the Editor of Mumsnet Hertfordshire, Barnet, and Enfield. She is also a freelance tech growth marketer and content writer. Previous career stops include London and San Francisco-based roles at Google, GPJ, and various start-up ventures.




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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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.

the Spa Entrance

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.


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


Summer seems like yesterday, but Santa’s here today! Yes, it’s finally December. The twinkle-y lights are all up, wreathes on doors, and the spirit is filling the air. Christmas time is here; and Christmas with young believing children means Santa is on his way. Hertfordshire is a big stop on Santa’s map. There are many, many grottos about this time of year; and families have many opportunities to meet the merry, red-suited, bearded man. Santa can be spotted in malls, busy town centres, and seasonal Christmas markets; but there is only one place Santa stops with his REAL REINDEER and that is at our very own local Whipsnade Zoo (though technically in Bedfordshire).

Whipsnade Christmas (c)ZSL (11)

Our family is already a big fan of Whipsnade, the setting, the type of animals, the talks,  the indoor and outdoor play areas, and especially their hot chocolates. So, for us, getting asked to experience and review a visit with Father Christmas at the zoo was a no-brainer. The Whipsnade folks do such a nice job on so many other aspects within the zoo that we shared the same positive expectation for seeing Santa. Our expectations were delightfully exceeded this year. Santa’s Grotto is now situated within the lovely Lookout Lodge setting overlooking some beautiful landscape and gives the feeling of truly entering a warm, wooded world where Santa and his merry little elves are staying.  There are also REAL, well-fed reindeer (and educational reindeer talks) located in their own pen outside the grotto clearly resting-up for the big night. Whipsnade Christmas (c)ZSL (13)

Within the village itself, each lodge is festively decorated and functions, as you would imagine, as the Elves’ bedrooms, shop (where you can purchase gifts), and kitchen (where you can warm-up with a hot chocolate or mulled wine) and of course Santa’s cosy quarters.  There are also a couple lodges set-up for the kiddos to create some Christmas crafts while awaiting the big moment. It’s a lovely set-up to  wander around and they’ve also intelligently limited the number of families allowed within the grotto to enhance the overall experience. Whipsnade Christmas (c)ZSL (9)

The last thing you want during a visit with Santa is a crowded space or children fighting over seats at the craft table. Whipsnade really thought this one out and planned the overall experience quite well.

Well, the moment arrived, our family’s name was called. It was time to tell the big man in red what we wanted for Christmas.  An elf greeted us and we began our annual tradition. In our case, the tradition is our children slightly on edge and not quite convinced of this jolly old soul bellowing Ho-Ho-Ho’s and asking if they’ve been naughty or nice. Despite my children’s perceptions, Santa was friendly, chatted easily, and gave a nice little gift. We also had our family picture taken for keepsake (for an extra fee, which we purchased) and we were on our way.

Whipsnade Christmas (c)ZSL (14)

The things I really liked about the Whipsnade Meet Santa experience is that we didn’t feel rushed, cramped, hurried, or stressed. So much about Christmas can be slightly traumatic and this set-up is relaxing, decorated, and designed with thoughtful detail for the whole family.  Plus, you can combine the visit with all the benefits the rest of the zoo environment offers.  It’s a winner any way you look at it.

Meet Santa experience

Meet Santa will run from  10:15am – 3:45pm at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo on weekends from 22 November and then daily from 19 – 24 December.

  • 22-23 November
  • 29-30 November
  • 6-7 December
  • 13-14 December
  • Daily 19-24 December


Tickets are available to book online in advance. Tickets for Meet Santa are included as part of the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo admission price for children. Adults will gain entry to the experience for free with their general zoo entry ticket.

  • Child ticket including zoo admission (3-10 years): £24.18
  • Under 3s: £8
  • ZSL Child Member: £8

For more details on how to book a session with Whipsnade Santa, click here: http://local.mumsnet.com/hertfordshire/christmas/390204-meet-santa-and-real-reindeer

REVIEW: Verulamium Spa: A Local Luxury

Just moments from the heart, history, and happenings in St. Albans sits one of the county’s secret little treasures: The Verulamium Spa. With views of the park and the imposing cathedral, the spa resides within, but separate from, the fairly newly-built Westminster Lodge Leisure centre. The facilities cover two floors, and include everything you’d need and expect to ensure a relaxing and rejuvenating experience.

receptionAlthough the spa entrance requires passing through the buzzing fitness facilities, the reception offers an immediate feeling of friendliness, quietness, and calm. I was welcomed courteously, handed a dressing gown and slippers, asked if I wanted anything to drink, and it was off to the dressing room to change.

Once in my relaxing kit, I was provided an orientation on the offered facilities: the treatment rooms to the left; the bistro to the right offering an array of healthy smoothies, salads, and herbal teas; the indoor and outdoor (Summer) relaxation areas offering a deafening silence of lounging rest; and then downstairs for the heated chambers (Tepidarium, Lanconium, Calidarium, etc) and sauna. There are also additional areas for manicures and pedicures that are slightly separate from the more relaxing side of the spa. Overall, the facilities aren’t covering a huge area, but the layout and light, bright decor create a real sense of space.

I started my experience in the downstairs heat and steam area. I was a bit chilled from outside, so I immediately headed for the heated loungers, sipping my green tea, and caught-up on my magazine addiction.  I popped in and out of all the heat rooms and after about an hour and fifteen minutes of warming my bones and soaking my joints, it was time for the scheduled event, my 40-minute Back, Neck, and Shoulder massage. I’ve had some issues with my back and neck recently (due to too many children climbing into my bed at night), so I was really looking forward to this.

treatment_room I made my way back upstairs surfacing from the warmth and tranquility below and headed for the indoor relaxation room to await my massage. There was only one other person (sleeping) in the room, so I was able to sit back in peace continuing with my Hello glossy.

The moment arrived, off for my massage. The treatment room was decorated, again, with calming colours of comfort and plenty of space. Aromatherapy oils were filling the room with scents of flowers and fields (non-allergic, ones, thankfully!). The fresh-faced therapist asked all the precautionary health questions and if I had anything I needed focusing. I mentioned my neck issue and, although my injury isn’t healed completely, she certainly did something to ease the pain and loosen the area. The massage was lovely and although I could hear a slight bit of noise coming from the bistro from time to time, the experience was great.

All in all, I was delightfully impressed with this local St. Albans gem. It’s certainly not your grand, country hotel spa, but it’s not trying to be. It’s an urban spa offering a lovely, relaxing place to unwind, warm-up, and beautify; and for great value, I might add. I thoroughly recommend the Verulamium Spa and am looking forward to planning my return.

If you’re interested in some December party prep (valid through 31 Dec), the spa are promoting a great-value offer called the Party PackageYou can choose from three of any of the following treatments all for £50! I think this is a fab, seasonal deal:

jessica – Jessica geleration application on the hands

– Jessica geleration application on the feet                                           

– Express facial

– Lash & Brow tint

– Half leg & Bikini

– Full body application of the Clarins tan

For more information on the spa, check our listing here: http://local.mumsnet.com/hertfordshire/fitness-wellbeing-other/287863-verulamium-spa