One California resort is on the fast-track to becoming legendary – San Diego’s Grand Del Mar Resort has not only won industry acclaim but this year has topped the reader-driven rankings of Tripadvisor.com, being named the number one luxury hotel in the U.S., and the number 11 luxury hotel in the world.
And just for good measure, the hotel is ranked number 14 among all 700,000 hotels in the world, according to the Tripadvisor.com readers’ poll.
The hotel ranks high with industry insiders, too – for the third consecutive year it has received a five-star rating from the Forbes Travel Guide for its lodging, the Spa at the Grand Del Mark and for the resort’s signature restaurant, Addison.
The Grand Del Mar is a relatively recent addition to the idyllic landscape just north of San Diego where you find world-class golf courses like Torrey Pines, the famous blue-blood racetrack at Del Mar, and scenic beaches that make this area a popular destination for visitors from around the country. The resort has only been in existence for six years.
Perfectly named, the Grand Del Mar is a magnificent example of Mediterranean-style opulence, an enclave where George Clooney and his fellow Lake Como good-lifers would no doubt feel right at home. With special touches in each and every hallway as well as each and every room or suite, it's no wonder this architectural marvel cost the owners a total of $270 million, or roughly about $1 million a room.
We visited the Grand Del Mar for a brief overnight stay to celebrate my wife's birthday. Nothing says loving like a luxurious suite, a rejuvenating spa treatment and a four-course wine-paired dinner that would be the envy of Anthony Bourdain. Many wives will insist that it's the thought that counts and a night spent in a sleeping bag in an RV camper can be just as romantic as one that costs you money. Don't believe them – they're just trying not to make you feel bad and you know they won't get on the phone to their best friend Monday morning to brag about the RV. Take them to a spa resort and it's a whole different story.
Arriving at the Grand Del Mar, we immediately felt the seclusion this resort offers as we drove through the gates and onto a winding road leading past an impressive-looking golf course to the fountain and circular driveway that greets the resort's guests. Yes, there were plenty of Mercedes, a Bentley or two but also a few garden-variety SUV's like ours so we weren't totally overwhelmed. Besides, we had “dressed up” for the occasion, meaning we were not wearing our usual weekend costumes of shorts and tee-shirts.
We were greeted with broad smiles by the valet crew and thus began 24 hours of impeccable service – a 110 percent effort from start to finish. No question the Grand Del Mar is selling service to go with the incredible amenities. And what amenities indeed -- polished Italian marble in every direction, handcrafted wood floors, burled and gilded wood accents, hand-hewn wooden beams, Venetian-plastered walls. And that's just the building materials.
Our suite was located at the edge of the main building with a view of nearby hills, a fountain and walkways. It had a partial kitchen with rich dark-wood cabinets and Italian marble counters adjacent to a dining room, with seating for six, and a living room area complete with fireplace and large flat-screen TV. To the front was the balcony area, where we enjoyed a scrumptious to-go lunch we had purchased in one of the lobby shops. The second half of our suite was comprised of a bedroom and sitting area featuring a king-size bed and another balcony. The luxurious bath area had perhaps the biggest and best tub we have ever experienced as well as a shower area and granite vanities.
The choices for activities seemed endless – there are four swimming pools, tennis, golf, an elaborate fitness center and even trails and a waterfall for those who want to get out and experience a nature hike with a professional naturalist. The beach is about a 15-minute drive.
Since this trip was really for my wife – while I, of course, suffered through these luxurious amenities – the first order of business was to get her down to the Spa at the Grand Del Mar for her pre-arranged treatment. The spa offers a full selection of natural therapies including cleansing facials, hydrotherapy body treatments as well as fitness consultation and classes including yoga and weight training. My wife would have the Renaissance body treatment in which they would apply a mineral rich mud coupled with warmed aromatic oils, a Swiss shower and a massage.
Sandi first lay down under a warm towel on a hard covered flat surface while the mud was applied to her body. Her eyes were then covered with a weighted warm cloth and she was mummy-wrapped in warm towels. Then her bed was lowered into a kind of cocoon where she stayed for about 20 minutes, massaged lightly by the spa therapist. Upon emerging from the cocoon, Sandi experienced an invigorating rosemary-infused Swiss shower with multiple jets of warm water coming from three directions and a gentle rain shower from above. Next, after toweling off, she proceeded to the massage table where every joint in her body was alternately massaged with warm oil and stretched for renewed flexibility.
Sandi gave this treatment rave reviews with special kudos to Melinda, her therapist. She does note, however, that those who are claustrophobic might do well to choose another option because the experience in the cocoon is dark and silent and feels enclosed -- but comforting.
As invigorating as the spa treatment was, the highlight of this birthday visit was dinner at Addison, located on the resort property, which features contemporary French cuisine prepared under the direction of Chef William Bradley. Set aside a couple of hours for this exquisite experience because, for most of us, this is not an everyday occurrence. Dinner at Addison is a little like going to the theater and watching a four-act play -- except these are four courses that you will be savoring as you experience new tastes and delight at new discoveries that will sometimes seem as surprising as they are amazing.
With service no less spectacular than we found everywhere else at the Grand Del Mar, the Addison experience is one you'll be talking about at the water cooler. You'll enjoy sharing with friends your impressions of these taste combinations and maybe bragging just a little about an experience that seems as if it was created for royalty.
Our four courses were all quite different – in fact, you can order just three courses if you prefer – and we asked for wine pairings to see how the wine worked in tandem with the particular foods to create an unusual and quite complementary taste experience. They'll even come up with non-alcoholic pairings that also seem to work really well – which they did for my wife, who doesn't drink wine.
While portions may seem small for each course, the total presentation is quite filling when combined with the wine pairings and fresh-baked breads brought with each course. In fact, you wouldn't want large portions of these rich preparations because, by the end of the night, it would just seem like it was all too much.
What were some of the choices? We feasted on such items as Calamari Grille, Alaskan King Crab, Foie Gras Macaroons, Confit of Porc Salee, Loup De Mer, Lamb Rack Persille, Coconut Custard and Tourte au Chocolate. Each course had four choices and – fear not – the English translations and ingredients are spelled out on the menu for each item.
No matter what the occasion, if you're looking to surpass all previous special-occasion getaways, start saving now – the Grand Del Mar was created with just that kind occasion in mind.
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: The Grand Del Mar is just a few miles east of the coastal village of Del Mar, just north of San Diego.
WHAT: The Grand Del Mar is one of California's top luxury resorts and ideal for the special occasion in which you feel like splurging.
WHEN: Year-round. The San Diego area offers the best year-round climate in the U.S. and, even in winter, will generally have sunny days for lots of outdoor activities.
WHY: With $270 million spent on this resort, it should come as no surprise that the Grand Del Mar has it all. Everything.
HOW: For more information on the Grand Del Mar, please phone 1-858-314-2000 or visit www.thegranddelmar.com.
Photos, from top: competition size pool is centerpiece near main hotel; from hallways to rooms, everything at the Grand Del Mar is first-rate; Cupcakes are available in one of the lobby shops; A fountain greets visitors to the Grand Del Mar at the main entrance
Photos by CARY and SANDI ORDWAY