Weekend of luxury for the family

When I announced I was off for a weekend of luxury at a self-styled haven for hip urbanites, mummy friends were cross-eyed with envy. Lucky you! they cried. Who s having the kids?   For no mother in their right mind would try to combine kids with rel

When I announced I was off for a weekend of luxury at a self-styled haven for hip urbanites, mummy friends were cross-eyed with envy. "Lucky you!" they cried. "Who's having the kids?"

For no mother in their right mind would try to combine

kids with relaxing somewhere cool, surely? Once you've sprogged, you forgo nights at Soho House for play dates at Topsy Turvy World. It's goodbye Ibiza, hello Center Parcs.

Traditionally, this is when the grandparents would step in. But with growing numbers of us living away from our families, or having elderly parents (that teaches us for having kids so late), mini-breaking en famille is sometimes the only option.

So, this is how me and my "boyfriend" (all right, he's 40) found ourselves checking into The Grove, with our shouty three-year-old, and our still-not-sleeping-through-the-night 20-month-old, in tow.

Boasting the double accolade of being named by Conde Nast readers as the best UK spa retreat and their favourite UK leisure hotel, this Hertfordshire spot certainly has a reputation to live up to.

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It may be in Watford - a place not known for its poetry - but being less than a 30-minute

drive from north London is a bonus, even if you're not dealing with "are we nearly there yet?" syndrome.

You can even get there by tube - and it's a seven-minute cab ride from Watford Junction (although judging by the rows of parked Audis, public transport isn't a concern for most guests).

Set in 300 acres of greenery you feel much further from London. While much of the building itself is now modern, it works surprising well with the original 18th-century stately home, where the earls of Clarendon lived. (There's nothing more disappointing than those lovely listed-hotels that shove on 1970s-style annexes. Thankfully, that is not the case here).

Once inside, there's not a hint of dusty chintz or repro furniture. This is less Brideshead Revisited territory, more Footballers' Wives. (Indeed, the Beckhams have paid several visits and I mean that in the nicest way). Uber-cool decor reigns - it's all softly lit corridors and velvet drapes contrasting with the odd bit of eccentricity - kitsch perspex boxes filled with plastic animals - thrown into the mix.

The bedrooms - bang-up-to-date and blissfully un-poky - are as luxurious as we've experienced and stocked with a toy box, milk and cookies, and child-size dressing-gowns.

There is a decent choice of eateries on site. The poshest, Colette's, is a la carte, the buffet-style Glasshouse - where, thanks to the warm weather, we dined outside by the lily ponds - and a brasserie, The Stables, where we took the kids for lunch. A waitress immediately brought over crayons and paper, and the (very reasonable) children's meals arrived quickly with no one batting an eyelid at our table's occasional overexcited shouts.

The real treat for families is the walled garden area. It feels like stepping back in time, with its tennis courts, croquet lawns, and a man-made beach (complete with pretty painted huts, a volleyball pitch and sandcastle area). There's also a giant tee-pee, a huge outdoor swimming pool (heated to a blissfully shiver-free 31C whoich we couldn't drag the children out of) and even a games room decked out with Wiis, Xboxes and the like.

Next door is The Grove's secret weapon - Anouska's, the Ofsted-registered cr�che (�6 an hour). It's the kind of place you'd kill to get your kids into in London, so we didn't feel guilty checking them in for a couple of hours while we enjoyed some adult time (hurrah).

I know nothing about golf but the course, I'm assured, is impressive - Tiger Woods has played here - and you don't need to be a member.

Something I do know more about is spas, and Sequoia, the piece de resistance of The Grove, is probably the most stunning I've ever seen. With its black mosaic-tiled pool, state-of-the-art relaxation rooms and VIP couples suite, this is seriously sexy stuff. And that's before you get to the ESPA ayurvedic treatments - stress relievers with oshadi clay, body wraps and ama-releasing abhyanga (no, I don't know what it is but it sounds fabulous), plus all the usual enjoyable suspects and endless fluffy white towels.

As a birthday treat we splashed out on the couple's massage (very David and Victoria, I know) and soon felt all tensions being kneaded gently away. You can even become a Sequoia member and I am seriously tempted to sod the expense (�190 a month)and sign up.

By the time we collected the children from the creche, I felt like a new woman.

A stay at The Grove may not come cheap but in terms of allowing you to combine kids, cool and closeness to home (with that added showing-off factor bonus), this may just be a kind of Holy Grail.

Prices start at �280 per night including VAT and breakfast, based on two parents sharing a double room. The Grove regularly offers special deals for families including free children's meals and discounted interconnected rooms.

Anouska's, the Ofsted-registered kids' club, is open 9am-5pm every day (for children three months+) and costs �6 an hour. Evening babysitters are available for �8 an hour plus call-out charge.

For more details and special offers, see www.thegrove.co.uk or call 01923 294 267.


Sequoia, the award-winning spa at The Grove, offers a membership scheme, with unlimited use of all state-of-the-art facilities and discounts on treatments, from �190 per month.