After spending nearly every weekend for a year house-hunting, my boyfriend and I decided we were in desperate need of a mini-break, ideally with lots of pampering and possibly some romance. The Grove in Hertfordshire appealed because it is close enough to London not to increase our stress levels, plus it has recently been voted Britain's top spa. In its heyday, The Grove was one of the most fashionable country houses, with Queen Victoria regularly attending weekend parties thrown by the Earl of Clarendon. Now, it's a majestic country-house hotel where, pleasingly, the guests are still treated like royalty.
The first sight to greet you is the long, gravel driveway sweeping past the Grand Union Canal, the vast golf course and manicured lawns, up to the 18th-century manor. Once inside, the entrance is elegant yet hip, with a labyrinth of corridors leading to snug corners and vast drawing rooms. Upstairs, aubergine-coloured, curtain-draped corridors lead to the most divine bedrooms.
The rooms in the main house are all different; some have four-poster beds that appear to be made from glass, others free-standing baths, and most have fireplaces. All have plasma-screen TVs. Given the luxury of these surroundings (not to mention access to a huge DVD library), we would have been quite happy to remain cocooned, ordering room service, for the entire weekend. But there were enticements to tempt us out.
First, the magnificent Sequoia spa. It caters for premiership football teams and guests have included Victoria Beckham, Hugh Grant, Jude Law and Tony Blair. The gym is equipped with state-of-the-art machines such as the new "power plate" (10 minutes is equivalent to a 60-minute strenuous workout). It was so inspiring that even I (a very lazy, unfit thirty-something) was inspired not only to use a running machine, but to run for four miles. While my boyfriend headed off to the sports bar to watch rugby, I cosseted myself in a fluffy robe and slippers, and spent the afternoon drifting serenely from the black 22-metre pool (filled with revitalising salt water) to the Jacuzzi and the numerous saunas, steam and relaxing rooms.
I am an expert when it comes to spas (having wasted a fortune on them over the years) and Sequoia is one of the best I've been to. The Swedish massage kneaded out my freshly exercised limbs and ensured that I could still walk the next day. If you are feeling particularly energetic, there are numerous outdoor activities: the golf course is world-class (Tiger Woods will be here in September for the Championship series) and there is cycling, tennis and croquet.
We were happy to shuttle between the spa, the bars and the restaurants. The food at all three restaurants is delicious: from comfort-food such a wood-fired pizzas in the Stables through to the à la carte menu at Colette's. The only problem is that 48 hours just isn't long enough.
The Grove, Chandler's Cross, Hertfordshire (01923 294215; www.thegrove.co.uk), a few minutes from the M25. The nearest train station is Watford Junction.
Time to international airport: Heathrow and Luton are 30 minutes' drive, or 10 minutes by helicopter.
The six-foot bed with crisp sheets, cosy duvet and cashmere blankets was the comfiest I've ever slept in.
Freebies: White Company toiletries
Keeping in touch: rooms come with DVD/CD players, interactive TVs, an infra-red keyboard and internet.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Doubles start from £250 per night, suites from £670, both including a huge breakfast and full spa access.
I'm not paying that: The Old Rectory, Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire (01438 820429) has doubles for £90 including breakfast.Reuse content