Basking in Sequoia

Just 18 miles outside the hustle and bustle of London stand 300 acres of serene Hertfordshire parkland, home to The Grove. Once the eighteenth century estate of the Earl of Clarendon, the 31,000-square-foot manor has been transformed into a five-star hotel with 227 rooms and suites, an 18-hole golf course, a fitness trail, three restaurants and bars, well-manicured English gardens, and Sequoia, a spa that promises an escape from the chaos of everyday life.

 A glimpse at nature in Sequoia's Japanese garden.
A glimpse at nature in Sequoia's Japanese garden.

Guests who wander The Grove's grounds and explore its walled garden find a 72-foot pool heated to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, two tennis courts, a croquet court, and Anouska's, a kid center and playground where parents can leave their children in the capable hands of a sitter while indulging in the estate's many offerings. Turning back on the path to Anouska's, at the other end, guests find a series of stairs that lead down to the Grove's own slice of paradise—the Sequoia spa.

Opened in September 2003, Sequoia was designed by E'SPA International (U.K.) and the architectural design firm Collett- Zarzycki (London, England). Located in the estate's converted eighteenth and nineteenth century stables, the 26,900-square-foot spa consists of twin buildings and a colonnade barn.

Spa visitors in treatment room number two get their own private garden view.
Spa visitors in treatment room number two get their own private garden view.

Spa-goers descend to the spa's entrance past a water sculpture, beginning what Sequoia calls the "customer journey." They are greeted at the reception desk where the friendliness of the staff is evident. As guests fill out the requisite health questionnaire, they're often tempted by the nearby juice bar where fresh fruits and vegetables are blended into health tonics. Visitors can also choose hot tea made from ingredients such as fresh ginger sliced on the spot. Spa fare, as well as the hotel's regular menu, is available as well.

An escort leads guests on a tour of the facility. Inside the 1,098-square-foot Exercise Studio, clients can participate in yoga, Pilates, or circuit training classes. The 2,691-square-foot Fitness Studio is outfitted with Technogym Excite fitness equipment manufactured in Italy and is available to Sequoia's 200 members, hotel guests, and day spa guests.

 Sequoia's 72-foot pool is perfect for lounging or lap.
Sequoia's 72-foot pool is perfect for lounging or lap.

Located inside the colonnade oak barn is Sequoia's magnificent black-tiled 72-foot swimming pool heated to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Those uninterested in swimming laps can slip into the Jacuzzi or relax on loungers that flank the pool. A steam room is also available, as well as two showers.

Downstairs are four all-white dressing rooms—with warm woods and modern lines—two pairs of men's and women's changing areas, a set each for fitness and spa guests. Once visitors don a robe, they can proceed to the spa's slate-grey Vitality Pool. Filled with therapeutic saline water and heated to 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit, the pool has a series of 11 massage zones and a view of Sequoia's Japanese garden.

Hot tea lulls guests before their spa treatments.
Hot tea lulls guests before their spa treatments.

Spa-goers are encouraged to allot time for Sequoia's heat experiences. Located in both the men's and women's changing rooms are a Crystal Steam Room and a Finnish sauna. Lifestyle Showers, one referred to as Shower Blitz Therapy for its numerous showerheads and jets of water ranging from a tropical mist to an all-out rainfall, are available to water enthusiasts. Another shower, Lifestyle Shower Colour Therapy, provides jets of both hot and cold water along with red and green color light therapy.

Following the heat experiences, guests can head to the relaxation areas—one for men, another for women. The rooms are fittingly referred to as cocoons, each swathed in deep claret velvet. Wispy curtains lend a sense of privacy between Royal Auping beds, complete with remote controls that adjust individual lights and headphones with piped-in music. Juice, lemon-flavored water, tea, and dried fruit are available, as well as magazines for those who don't succumb to the comfort of the beds.

A Padabhyana foot ritual.
A Padabhyana foot ritual.

From here, therapists collect guests, taking them into one of the spa's 13 treatment rooms, one of which is designed for couples and includes an ergonomically designed mosaic tub and a steam shower for two. Each treatment room has its own control settings for light, music, and temperature.

Introductions are made as therapist and client make their way to the treatment rooms, during which time the therapist has already begun to evaluate his or her client's needs. "Based on what E'SPA has taught me, I try to assess clients as soon as I pick them up," says therapist Helen Clark. "This way I can tailor-make a treatment from the types of essential oils to offer the client for smell testing to the speed of the massage."

Before the treatment begins hot tea is offered, and a Padabhyana foot ritual, involving a foot soak and cleansing, is performed. The therapist also administers a smell test of essential oils to be used in the treatment before the guest heads to a heated massage bed.

The Grove's sculptures act as special treasures to be discovered, such as these that stand outside the entrance of Sequoia, providing a focal point through the windows of the spa's Fitness Studio.
The Grove's sculptures act as special treasures to be discovered, such as these that stand outside the entrance of Sequoia, providing a focal point through the windows of the spa's Fitness Studio.

Sequoia's spa menu features treatments developed by E'SPA that are based on Ayurvedic and Chinese philosophies. Clients can partake in such packages as The Sequoia Journey ($670, 4 hours and 45 minutes), which includes a scrub, wrap, hot stone massage, nail treatment, and lunch, and The Sequoia Signature Ritual ($412, 2 hours and 55 minutes), which incorporates a scrub, a Balinese body massage, an intensive facial with an Indian Head Massage, and lunch. Individual treatments, such as E'SPA facials, specialty E'SPA treatments, E'SPA Advanced Holistic Body massages, and Sequoia Hands and Feet—are also available with minimum treatment times set at two hours.

The 16 therapists—two male and 14 female—have undergone specialized one-week induction training through E'SPA and The Grove's own initiation program, which familiarizes staff with all aspects of the hotel as well as the spa. "You're empowered with knowledge to answer guests' questions about anything from golf to the restaurants," says Clark. Bi-monthly trainings keep the operation running smoothly.

As for the challenges Sequoia faces, meeting demand tops the list. According to Clark, the staff has been pleasantly surprised to discover that the spa's popularity has expanded beyond members and hotel guests to visitors trekking in from Hertfordshire and London for a spa day. As a result, fans are hoping for an expansion. Watching Sequoia undergo changes is familiar territory for Clark and other therapists who've been with the spa since its inception. "We've seen it progress and feel like we've been a part of getting it up and running and making it what it is today," she says. "In my opinion, it's quite satisfying."

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