Espa vs Guerlain

The ESPA-managed Sequoia Spa is located in a restored 18th century barn in Hertfordshire, outside London. The wellness facility is part of The Grove, voted Britain’s #1 hotel in 2005.

“It’s quite possibly the most exciting hotel development in the UK over the last 100 years,” we’re told during our visit. Really? Do tell.

“We’re a luxurious retreat that’s very tranquil, with a few unexpected, tongue-in-cheek embellishments,” teases Claire Dawson, commercial director.

Aside from the spa’s architecture seemingly built by Lady Chatterly’s lover, the signature elements are the 65-ft indoor pool with ozone filtration, a series of popular Bikini Boot Camp spa days, and a Walled Garden with another pool and manmade beach. Yes, a beach, for volleyball tourneys.

There’s also a herb/veggie garden for “chef cookery classes” in the adjacent potting studio decorated with a snooker table, French antiques and a commercial kitchen. Think of it as a wellness facility, with benefits.

“ESPA is selective in who they represent,” says Dawson. “They’re not trying to Hoover up lots and lots of hotel spas.”

Originally built by the Earl of Clarendon, the historic mansion typifies English country charm, while the 26 hotel rooms don’t. The décor is a quirky mix of modern art and furnishings, with 4-poster beds draped in gauzy linens with furry, feathery piping. One public salon incorporates navy velvet Victorian chesterfields and Bristol blue grass chandeliers. Dawson calls it “groovy grand.” If that’s not your group’s cup of tea, there’s the newer, more restrained 200-room wing next door.

“It’s so fun and clever,” says Dawson. “I mean, who’d think of putting a beach in the middle of Hertfordshire?”

Less than 30 minutes to central Paris, the 199-room Trianon Palace Versailles looks like a classic French Country estate on the exterior, located next to the French Country estate: Louis XIV’s Château de Versailles. Inside, noted designer Fiona Thompson outfitted the interiors with her bright, modern take on sumptuous King Louis-style furnishings ping-ponging between whimsy and austere. The landmark property just underwent a complete redo for its January coming out party as a new member of Waldorf Astoria Collection.

“Trianon Palace is a perfect example of l’art de vivre—it’s very French with a subtle mix of 1910 architecture and contemporary décor,” says Stephanie Rambaud, an expat English girl and director of sales for Hilton Paris. “The environment permits full attention to total relaxation and pampering for our group visitors.” She says buyouts by American groups are “not uncommon.”

The 25,000-sf Guerlain Spa is exceptional with regards to its size, spread over three levels with 14 rooms, a hammam and Vichy shower, attached to an indoor pool and solarium. All treatments begin with a foot bath and foot massage.

Of equal stature, star Londoner chef Gordon Ramsay operates the restaurant, rated two Michelin stars, featuring dishes like Brittany lobster with a crab millefeuille.

Offsite events? Piece of gâteau. Versailles arranges around 110 special events yearly, be it ballet, art or opera. And the hotel arranges a treasure hunt through the Chateau village where “even the local commercants (shopkeepers) participate,” chirps Rambaud. “It’s quite a lot of good fun.”