The Grove, Hertfordshire, England

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 July, 2007, 12:00am

Where is it? The 120-hectare property, once home to the earls of Clarendon and visited by Queen Victoria and Edward VII, is set in the rolling hills of Hertfordshire, 29km from central London.

Contemporary or classic? Unlike most English manor houses converted to posh country hotels, the Grove isn't all about period pomp and pantomime. Designed by Martin Hulbert (whose credits include the cabins aboard the QE2), the interiors might be dubbed 'groovy grand'. A pleasing but decadent palette of vibrant colours and rich textures, antique furnishings, bespoke fixtures and hundreds of whimsical one-off pieces by German artist Volker Kuhn give it a chic, contemporary feel.

What's so different about it? The sheer scale of the property and the breadth of its facilities mean that, near London, it is without equal. In addition to the original 18th-century mansion, which underwent eight years of renovation, the property contains a new west wing that houses most of the 227 hi-tech rooms and suites.

Who should visit? This is a hang-out for well-heeled jet-setters, rich Europeans, footballers' wives and those who frequently reach for the pages of Gala, Tatler and Hello!. Other guests have included entertainers Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue, former British prime minister Tony Blair and actors Jude Law and Sienna Miller.

What is there to do? With one of Britain's best spas at their disposal, most waffle-robed guests head straight to the dimly lit and velvet-draped relaxation area, where they sip herbal tea and nibble on nuts and dried fruit before having treatments. Others make for the saunas and steam rooms or dive into the 22-metre black-mosaic-tile indoor swimming pool. There is also a fitness centre and an outdoor pool. The confident may hit the Kyle Phillips championship golf course, which measures a fearsome 6.5km and recently hosted Tiger Woods and friends. The languid may walk the manicured grounds, which are speckled with sculptures, art installations and reflecting pools, or head to the 1.2-hectare walled garden, where they can play tennis or croquet. A new beach club, complete with volleyball courts and six individually designed huts, assembled on a ribbon of golden sand, will appeal to sun worshippers.

What's on the menu? Something for everyone, courtesy of three restaurants. Gastronomes head to Colette's, where, beneath the original 18th-century plasterwork mouldings, they'll feast on chef Chris Harrod's handiwork, including poached pigeon d'anjou with foie gras and wild mushrooms in a truffle bouillon. At the modernist Glasshouse, guests wade through a United Nations of cuisine while The Stables specialises in gastropub comfort food such as hamburgers and wood-fired pizzas.

Most guests end up in the mansion's elegant candle-lit drawing rooms for postprandial cocktails.

What's the bottom line? Rooms start at GBP280 (HK$4,400) a night.

The Grove is at Chandler's Cross, Hertfordshire, England, tel: 44 1923 807 807;