What's it like? A cross between a luxurious, modern country house hotel and a conference centre of excellence. The feel is described by the man responsible, Martin Hulbert, design director of Fox Linton Associates, as "groovy grand", which is about right. Behind reception there are hundreds of old metal keys stuck to the back wall, modern sculptures adorn the public areas and chandeliers give everything a rather grand feel. The night we stayed (admittedly a Saturday night), the function rooms were booked for weddings, the hotel was full of couples and families taking advantage of the adjoining rooms and good children's facilities and there was a fair sprinkling of celebrities, past and present. During the week, the hotel was heavily booked for both national and international companies, and the whole hotel has been booked up mid-week more than a few times.
Where is it? Near Watford in Hertfordshire, just off the M25, a short distance from the M1, M40 and M4, 30 minutes from Heathrow and in the centre of extremely wealthy Hertfordshire. The car park is full of Mercedes, 4Wds (Porsches and Range Rovers) and a sprinkling of Aston Martins. If you can't buy a new car before you visit, at least clean your old one. Either that, or arrive by helicopter – several people did while we were there. The 300 acres of grounds are open to guests for walks and cycling, and the Grand Union canal winds its way though the championship golf course.
How many rooms? 211 rooms and 16 suites, split between the old 18th century mansion of the Earls of Clarendon where there are 26 rooms and a new wing of 201 rooms (31 interconnecting) by Fitzroy Robinson architects. The main room types are superior doubles, overlooking the walled garden, and deluxe doubles, all with balconies or terraces and overlooking either the golf course or walled garden.
Room facilities: All rooms have 42-inch plasma TVs, broadband internet access ($29/£15 for 24 hours), laptop-friendly safes, tea and coffee making facilities, minibars, air conditioning and 24-hour room service.
There are also two syndicate rooms by the conference facilities (see below).
Meeting rooms: There are 23 in total, all on the ground floor. There are two distinct, but adjacent, sets of conference facilities – Ivory and Amber (which are easily combined) – with separate entrances. Ivory (158.1sqm) can hold 150 people theatre-style, 100 as a classroom, 55 when set up as a boardroom and 150 for a reception. It is divisable into five rooms. Amber is 583.4sqm and holds 500 theatre-style, 300 classroom and 850 reception. Other spaces include several meeting rooms (Ochre, Silk, Zebrano, Cinnamon and the public spaces of the hotel, including the private dining room of Doneraile, which is pictured). All have the use of an in-house IT department.
Business Centre: Yes, attended 0800-1700, in Amber, with PCs ($29/£15 per hour)
Restaurant and bar: There are three restaurants, each with its own bar and each available for private hire. Top of the pile is Colette's. Extremely popular with locals, reservations open one month in advance and fill very quickly. The Glasshouse has a buffet lunch and a la carte in the evening, while The Stables (housed in the old carriage block) is more informal, and close to the golf course (and has its own separate bar which acts as a spike bar).
Activities: As well as an already acclaimed 18-hole championship course ($96.40/£50-$251/£130 depending on time of week, time of year and whether resident at the hotel), there is the Sequoia spa with a 22m salt water swimming pool, vitality pool, spa bath, gym, exercise studio, 12 treatment rooms, sauna and steam room. There's even Anouska's, an OFSTED registered crèche.
Other considerations: The hotel can host themed events, team activities and conferences packages such as a summer picnic or barbecue by the canal, a night at the opera and English banquet followed by full beating retreat across the formal gardens.
Verdict: A five-star option, but the Grove's service, facilities, location and wow factor, combined with being less than two years old, make it a very special place.
Price: from $463/£240 per room, per night, room only (plus VAT).
Contact: The Grove, Chandlers Cross, Hertfordshire +44 (0)1923 296020,[email protected]grove.co.uk,www.thegrove.co.uk.