JC Stays: The Grove, Watford

With staycations topping travel wishlists, can you find luxurious indulgence and stay safe in a pandemic?


Caught between the desire for a break, but also wanting to stay close to home in these precarious times, it’s been down to staycations to satisfy our need to relax, explore and ultimately indulge in a change of scene.

Known for its luxurious spa and golf course, The Grove hotel in Watford, which sits in 300 acres of Hertfordshire countryside, couldn’t have been much closer — just a half-hour drive from our home in north-west London. 

But how would a staycation really compare, especially with new restrictions in place?

Our first stop was the Walled Garden, an immaculately-kept haven filled with topiary animals and an outdoor pool area attached to an artificial beach filled with young families making the most of the September sun.

As we took our deckchair seats by the pool, we weren’t the only ones among our friends from north-west London who had the same idea.

Some came as a last-minute treat to take advantage of the award-winning Sequoia spa’s facilities, others had booked in place of holidays abroad, cancelled because of the pandemic.

And in the sun, there’s all the relaxation and escapism you could want from a holiday. In our swimwear, we ordered lunch at the gazebo, the menu written on A4-lined paper as it changes every day.

A barbecue was set up around the corner: a nice touch, and refreshing break from the panini offerings of most hotels. With plenty of vegetarian options from a vegan burger to vegetable paella and chunky vegetable cous-cous dish, you won’t go hungry. 

The French chef pointed out Jemima’s Kitchen Garden, which also sits within the Walled Garden. It’s from here that the hotel sources many of the fruits, vegetables and herbs used in its menus at the hotel’s GlassHouse restaurant or The Stables, by its golf course.

Wandering through, we could admire cherry tomatoes, raspberries, winter squashes and the largest courgette I’ve ever seen, alongside other sections growing chillis, lemon thyme, strawberry mint and rosemary. 

Diners at the Glasshouse (where breakfast is also served) are treated to cocktails and a fine-dining British menu: we took full advantage on the first evening, indulging in three courses, including a spectacular banana cheesecake. The next evening at The Stables restaurant, I ordered the tomato tagliatelle pasta, enjoying the fact that the vine tomatoes would have been picked that day.

There’s golf to work off the cheesecake, as well as nature walk trails. My excited husband made his way to the course for a four-and-a-half-hour afternoon round with a friend.

Though the green fee is a pricey £135, he describes the award-winning course as “world-class” — with a personalised induction ahead of the round and the opportunity to order from a roving drinks cart whilst playing on the immaculately maintained fairways.

The rooms in the Grade II listed mansion are equally impressive: the décor is countrified but with all the mod cons guests expect from a five-star hotel. Air-con and lighting is managed with a dashboard by the bedside table, while the brown leather furnishings are offset by warm neutrals.

Our balcony looked out to the golf course and events site, reminding us of a chuppah we attended here this time last year.

Needless to say, things have changed a lot since then and the hotel has new rules in place, which is reassuring. Only one household at a time may use the hotel’s lifts, minibars are empty, there are hand sanitiser stations across the resort and individual ones in every guest room, plus visitors must wear masks on entering the hotel and walking through corridors.

The rooms themselves are thoroughly cleaned between guests with an ozone generator, while visitors must pre-book time at the hotel’s facilities (including the indoor and outdoor pools) to manage the number of people.

At no stage did we feel uncomfortable or cramped though: precisely the opposite. It’s easy to imagine that at another time we might be struggling for deckchairs in the outdoor pool area, instead of leisurely taking our pick.

Relaxed, luxurious, child-friendly… it shouldn’t take a pandemic to tempt you to try this particular stay closer to home.


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