Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Little Slice of Heaven: The Grove

On a cold, windy, dark January afternoon, I found myself en route to an undisclosed location, known only by the driver - John.  "Where are we going?" I asked crossly, kicking at the Longchamp carry-all at my feet which held a bathing suit and gym gear (as instructed), a dinner dress (also as instructed) and the plethora of girl stuff girls require, including a magazine.  "You'll see," John said excitedly, as he pulled onto the freeway.  "I booked somewhere special, don't worry."

Thirty minutes later, we pulled up to a large, gated estate in the middle of Hertfordshire countryside, with its own stoplight at the foot of a tiny stone bridge.  I tried to hide my excitement as I caught a glimpse of a hedge shaped into a giraffe peering over an enclosed garden and acres of grass, which slowly revealed themselves to be a golf course.  Then I felt a knot of nervousness as we parked in front of the sprawling building - it looked ... expensive.  And I felt ... self-conscious.

Tucking my hair awkwardly behind my ear as we walked into the lobby, members of an engagement/wedding party in gorgeous pink and gold saris and D&G handbags air kissed each other at the front desk.  But when we were shown to our room, I really had to keep my cool - I've stayed in nice places before, but this was probably the highest end of the spectrum.  During my weekend stay at The Grove, it became clear that the small details truly count: a Bose iPod dock and DVD player sat conveniently on a night stand, the shower and bath controls were positioned directly at the foot of the bath rather than underneath the shower head to eliminate the awkward leaning and inopportune soakings that accompany traditional showers and baths.  Last but not least, as I went to pull out my magazine from my bag, I noticed a thick, glossy new issue of Harper's Bazaar (one of my faves) on the other nightstand.  Did someone read my mind?

I went to (quietly) admire the mini-bar under the glass counter and study the mini-bar menu:  "Earl Grey the Grove - £16" it read at the bottom of the menu.  "What's that?" I asked John, pointing to the item.  "I don't know," he shrugged as he cranked up the volume on the iPod dock.  "Probably a champagne."  I then sat down at the desk to study the spa menu ... and there it was, sitting adorably in front of me: Earl Grey the Grove, a little plush toy donkey with a price tag attached that read, "Hello, I'm Earl Grey the Grove.  Please take me home." (I might do if you didn't cost £16 - sorry).

It wasn't before long before we decided to take a dip in the spa pool, which soon proved to be unlike any other pool I've ever been in.  Upon realizing it was a dark-tiled pool with dimmed lights and soothing music, I shook my head.  "Nuh uh, I'm not getting in that," I said, backing away.  "It's like swimming in a dark lake and I already have a phobia of pools."  John didn't hear me as he popped his goggles on and dove in.  Sulkily, I dipped my toe in.  It was warm ... pleasantly warm.  The pool and room didn't smell of chlorine but rather, lavender and jasmine.  Was it my imagination?  I allowed myself to let go and swim a couple laps - and ended up staying there for an hour.  To say that I loved it would be an understatement.  I hadn't felt that calm or safe, for that matter, for months. 

When we managed to tear ourselves away, we found the Vitality Pool, set off in its own room a couple of corridors away, overlooking a small courtyard.  Inside this heated pool were massaging jets of all sorts, similar to the Hungarian baths we'd experienced in Budapest a year ago.  And as we were the only people there, it was utterly relaxing.

In addition, each of the pool locker rooms held a fluffy, white ankle-length robe, with accompanying fluffy, white towel and fluffy, white slippers - any more fluffiness and my heart might have burst.  Lit mirrors with low seats, hair straighteners, Babyliss hair dryers, nail kits, and Espa lotions lined the room.  I had trouble leaving the changing room.

For dinner, John had made reservations at The Stables restaurant, one of four restaurants at The Grove.  Described as "informal" in the hotel guide, I was still glad I brought a knit dress as most of the clientele dined in smart clothing.  The meal was wonderful (save John's tasteless soup which he attempted to save by dumping half the balsamic vinegar from our bread basket and sprinkling copious amounts of salt and pepper) but the magical part was being driven to the restaurant and back (as it required walking outside and it was freezing) in the hotel's "buggy" golf carts, complete with thick wool blankets on each seat.  I tried to pretend this was all normal service, rather than an exception.

Later that night, we popped our Harry Potter dvd (hey, don't judge - though we needn't have brought a dvd after all as the hotel has a library of 200) into the dvd player and ate chocolate in bed until we fell asleep (not before brushing our teeth though, obviously, cuz, you know, that would be like, gross).  Simply amazing.

The next morning, breakfast was served at The Glasshouse - a buffet of waffles with fresh fruit and omelettes made-to-order.  I indulged in a bagel and lox, something I hadn't had for a while.  John commented that a couple of posh children in Boden ensembles ran up to the fruit and exclaimed, "Raspberries!!!  Strawberries!!!" as if they were the best discoveries they'd made all weekend.  Hilarious.

Luckily, the hotel was kind enough to allow us to use the spa facilities after we checked out, so we enjoyed a full hour or two more in the luxurious pool and steam room, before heading back to the grind, albeit in a much better place (mentally and physically) than before.

So the next time you're feeling a little wound up or under the weather, I highly recommend a short visit to The Grove - it's like a little slice of heaven.

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