From the moment I arrive at the entrance of San Diego’s gorgeous Fairmont Grand Del Mar, greeted with an enormous bouquet of fresh flowers inside the marble and chandelier-filled lobby, I know that I’m in for an extraordinary level of luxury.
Fairmont Grand Del Mar is lushly landscaped with a backdrop of the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. The hotel design was inspired by American resort architect Addison Mizner in a combination of Spanish and French influences resembling an immense Mediterranean villa.
When opened eight years ago, the hotel’s original owner, “Papa Doug” Manchester envisioned a West Palm Beach, Florida Breakers-inspired resort on the west coast: a property embodying the aesthetics of a century-old building equipped with modern amenities.
This best-of-both-worlds scenario allows for larger guest rooms not often found in older properties. Half a billion dollars and two years later, the property was complete and ready to open its doors to visitors from around the globe seeking a luxurious home away from home.
The stonework throughout comes from a fourth-generation family business in Verona, while both grand and spa-entrance staircases are painted in 24-karat gold opulence (Fairmont Resorts took ownership of the property in early April of last year).
As I stroll through the numerous hallways, I immediately notice a variety of ornate stone and wrought-iron accents, decorative columns, gorgeous chandeliers and floral arrangements, parquet flooring and gracious verandas. After three days here, I’m still discovering photo-worthy spots throughout!
Three restaurants, four heated pools, a Tom Fazio-designed golf course, an equestrian centre and world-class spa vie for my attention while I’m here. There’s enough to keep you occupied here to fully enjoy the resort.
My very spacious room has one of the deepest soaker tubs I’ve yet experienced in a hotel. The decor is tasteful with gold accents, patterned wallpaper, wooden desks and dressers plus a welcoming balcony with two chairs and a small table. It’s a rich tapestry of cream tones with a few touches of royal blue that creates a welcoming, relaxing atmosphere.
A large shower, lots of marble counter space, clothes closet (containing an ironing board, iron and safe) and upholstered bench are all to be found in the spacious, elegant bathroom.
Next to the bed is a cozy curved sofa and an upholstered pouf for putting up my feet, a perfect corner for perusing a magazine, flipping through the remote of the wall-mounted flatscreen tv or tucking in for an afternoon catnap.
As for dining options, there’s six choices ranging from fine dining at Amaya to the Clubhouse Grill for casual fare. You can also dine poolside.
I rendezvous with one of my favourite chefs, Dana Hauser who relocated here in December from Vancouver’s Fairmont Waterfront. As Executive Chef, Dana’s working with the culinary team to revamp the menus this month and will soon oversee the banquet menu’s refresh as well (Fairmont Resorts acquired the Grand Del Mar last year).
Trained in Calgary, Chef Dana’s worked at resorts in Bermuda, Toronto and Vancouver prior to relocating here.
Amaya has two distinct atmospheres: interior and exterior. The dining room has chandeliers and cozy banquette seating with a room off to the side for long table-style dining by the fireplace.
Outside, the charming Mediterranean style patio contains striped red and white awnings with matching umbrellas, red cushions at the seats and terra cotta tile facing out to the lawn. At night, the romantic glow of the fireplace up front adds a relaxed vibe coupled with lounge music. The service and attention to detail are both top-notch.
One evening I enjoyed a baby beet salad with pistachio purée, local citrus and chevre followed by grilled Idaho trout in brown butter with crabmeat and French beans. The pastry chef is on the ball with some marvelous creations, my favourite being the gold-leaf topped frozen lemon meringue tart.
The cocktail menu is broken down into Del Mar Classics, Grand Signatures and Seasonal Sips. I also noticed a very large wine list with a full page devoted to Red Wines of Italy alone. Sommelier Wes Kurz takes great care in creating a fine selection of wines to please the most discerning palates.
The Grand Del Mar also has several local craft beers on tap. I sample all four currently available: a mild, refreshing Weihenstephaner Pilsner, 2015 US Beer Open Championship Gold winner Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, mildly hoppy Lost Abbey Devotion Ale and a deep brown St. Bernardus Prior 8 with aromas of oak, vanilla and brown sugar.
The Clubhouse Grill is perfect for a casual meal. I highly recommend the Ahi mixed greens salad with cucumber, avocado, sesame seeds in a ponzu vinaigrette. It’s light and refreshing following an action-packed day in the sunshine.
A good range of starters (think bacon-wrapped dates, bay scallop ceviche, white shrimp quesadilla) continues to salads, burgers, BBQ pork, roasted eggplant curry, and good ol’ London fish ‘n’ chips — something for every appetite and taste.
They’re also open for breakfast, lunch and early-evening tapas, while on the weekends, Club M opens its doors for live music with a DJ booth, in a room with beautiful tin-embossed ceilings and lovely chandeliers.
The Grand Del Mar offers an elegant afternoon tea service in the main lobby, in my case at a lovely little table by the window overlooking the balcony with gardens below.
A three-course menu ($40; $50 with glass of sommelier-selected bubbles) contains all the classics: finger sandwiches, scones with Devonshire cream, lemon curd and fresh fruit preserves, plus some of the nicest little sweets I’ve had the chance to savour in awhile, including a dark chocolate praline gateaux with silver foil (not to be outdone with a berry tart topped with the gold variety).
A selection of black, green, white or herbal tea accompanies the meal; amplify your enjoyment with a glass of prosecco, champagne, or reds and white wines.
As imagined, from the moment I lift myself up and into the king bed, I’ve found my second favourite room feature (next to that soaker tub).
I keep the balcony door slid open for mountain-fresh air and soon drift off between a set of fluffy pillows and luxury thread-count sheets.
A deep sleep after an afternoon of flying is only interrupted in the morning by the sweet notes of a solitary songbird and soon enough I’m showered and ready to start the day. But first, breakfast.
The Grand Del Mar helps keep guests in shape with fitness classes: Total Body Workout, Body Blast, Inspiring Yoga and Core Fit are but a few of what’s on offer. Golf and tennis clinics are also available. You can Body Blast your start to the day, then get a full swing clinic in at 1, a candlelight yoga session at 5 followed by salsa night at 7 (or simply head to the clubhouse for happy hour at 4).
This property is highly deserving of the accolades it’s receiving, from Trip Advisor’s Number One Resort in California to the number two resort in all of North America at present!
If you really want to enjoy the lovely surroundings, getting on a horse at the onsite equestrian center is a great way to experience it!
Monica took me out on a trail walk on a sun-splashed Sunday morning, where I had the chance to soak up the abundance of wildflowers, songbirds, and my first encounter with a rattlesnake (no photo here; best to keep that image to myself). I honestly felt much safer high up than with my feet on the ground and before I called out “snake”, I actually had a good at this dangerous yet beautiful creature, likely out enjoying the trail as much as we were.
Within seconds, my fearless leader was kicking up dust and the snake instantly receded into a nearby bush. Through an active day, my mind continues to recall that moment. Luckily the horse didn’t seem to pay much mind to the situation at hand. Trail rides are booked by the hour ($135).
If Everybody Had an Ocean
When you’re ready for a beach outing, reserve the complimentary Fairmont Beach service to and from Del Mar’s 18th Street beach. Everything’s taken care of: towels, bottled water, umbrella and beach chairs, boogie boards and sand toys! The resort can even prepare a wicker picnic hamper lunch so you never lose any precious sand-between-the-toes time.
My driver Louis was on time, fun to chat with in the car and shared some great local shopping and dining tips. Bring sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and a magazine and you’re all set.
The Fairmont Grand Del Mar is located at 5300 Grand Del Mar Court in San Diego.
I was a guest of Fairmont Grand Del Mar. Opinions, as always, are my own.