The Grand Del Mar: Best Ever Girlfriend Getaway
When your best friend moves clear across the country, from New York to California, you have to create opportunities to meet and catch up. So Maggie and I try to have a Girlfriend Getaway once a year, and it’s usually in California, where the weather is (almost) always balmy and there are plenty of wonderful resorts with spas (a must). And that’s how we arrived, on a gorgeous California day, driving onto the sumptuous grounds of The Grand Del Mar. Though the Grand is only about a 20-minute drive from La Jolla (our starting point), it looked, as we approached, like a world apart — a grand Mediterranean palace in Tuscany or Spain, rather than a fairly recent (2007) creation in southern California.
Snugged against the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, this $300-million five-star resort evokes legendary architect Addison Mizner’s romantic creations in Palm Beach of the 1920s; comparisons have even been made to the glamour and grandeur of Hearst Castle. The colors are richly realized, the gold, terracotta and rose, accented by cooler shades of green and blue. To the grandeur of the past, architect Robert Altivers has infused a sense of comfort and hospitality, for while the resort impresses, it does not overwhelm.
After a warm welcome during the painless check-in, Maggie and I were escorted to a sumptuous suite that was larger than my entire New York apartment, with not one, but two very spacious bathrooms (each with a deep soaking tub, shower, double sink and upscale amenities), a sitting room fit for landed gentry, a dining room that could seat a holiday crowd and a well-equipped kitchen.
The heated terrace had commanding views of the lush Tom Fazio-designed golf course, but as neither of us was interested in the sport, we simply admired the view. Hunger led us to Amaya, the resort’s casual restaurant, though the service and food here are anything but casual.
The décor is Mediterranean, the dining room relaxed, the shaded terrace, appealing. The menu offers American food with Mediterranean influences. We both asked for variations on menu items and the response was: “Of course” and “My pleasure” – the same response we had to any request we made during our stay.
When our dishes arrived, Maggie said (to me): “When I make this at home, I usually serve it with a lot of sauce.” The server, standing nearby, asked: “Would you like me to bring more sauce?” And within minutes, she did. Just as it should be at southern California’s only triple five-star resort.
Later, we headed to the spa, 21,000 square feet of luxury. There are 11 spacious treatment rooms, a romantic couples’ suite, separate men and women’s lounges, with elegant relaxation rooms (with fireplaces), showers, steam and sauna areas and indoor whirlpools. Outdoors, there’s a shared whirlpool and a Relaxation Pool.
Though neither of us planned any vigorous exercise, we took note of the (complimentary) Fitness Center, which features state-of-the-art equipment, including a variety of cardio and weight machines, and free weights. Personal training (reservations required) and fitness classes in the Movement Studio are also available.
I was scheduled for the Renaissance Treatment (90 minutes, $310) followed by 30 minutes ($100) of MLD (Manual Lymph Drainage). My therapist extraordinaire, Jennifer Woog, explained that this was the spa’s signature body ritual, as she applied mineral-rich mud combined with warm aromatic oils to my body as I was cocooned in the womb-like embrace of the free-floating “soft pack” bed. The next part of the treatment was a bracing rosemary-infused Swiss shower followed by incredibly soothing tension-relieving touch therapy – not a massage but a series of gentle rhythmic rocking motions that almost put me to sleep. The finale to my two hours of relaxation and contentment was the Manual Lymph Drainage. As Jennifer began the delicate massage of my face and neck, I expressed surprise. In the past, when I’ve had a facial and it included what the esthetician described as “lymph drainage,” the touch was much firmer. No, Jennifer explained, the proper way to perform this treatment was what she was doing, to improve functioning of the immune system and to induce the “relaxation response” that allowed the body to heal itself. The treatment, she explained would reduce inflammation, minimize stress, and heal a number of conditions. Apparently clients who have had plastic surgery often choose MLD to accelerate heating and reduce the pain and discomfort following surgery.
When my treatment was over, I felt as if I could sleep for a week.
Maggie was signed up for the Extremities Treatment (90 minutes, $270). As described, that treatment begins with a therapeutic herbal footbath followed by a healing reflexology massage on the hands and feet; this is intended to stimulate energy pathways. Maggie said she was also served a lovely herbal tea. Next, she was treated to a soothing scalp, neck and shoulder massage with warm aromatic oils.
We met later in the relaxation room, both content to drift away the remainder of the afternoon until it was time to dress for our much-anticipated dinner at the resort’s celebrated Addison restaurant.
Addison is something of a legend in the San Diego area. Director and Executive Chef William Bradley has garnered kudos from Esquire, the Los Angeles Times and Forbes.com for his outstanding and creative contemporary French cuisine and for presiding over one of the nation’s top chef’s tables. The prestigious Relais & Chateaux hotel restaurant named Bradley one of their distinguished Grand Chefs, making him one of only 160 in the entire world. (A great chef attracts the attention of other chefs and I wasn’t surprised to learn that master chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame has dined here.)
The restaurant is the like the resort – opulent, beautifully decorated, with soft lighting and elegant limestone and marble flooring, suggesting the dining room of an old world country home. Tables are well-spaced, allowing for comfort and private conversation; upholstered chairs and a fireplace create a cozy ambiance.
The tasting menu at Addison is $100 ($195 with wine pairing) – and it is worth every penny. We began with a raspberry consommé amuse bouche accompanied by pink champagne – as if we weren’t already in a celebratory mood! The first course was caramelized endive with whipped chèvre and candied quince; the wine, a lovely 2010 German Riesling exclusively bottled for Addison. Next came a baked St. Pierre, calamari grillé and bouillabaisse with a Domaine de Fenouillet, Syrah/Grenache, Ventoux, France 2010.
Though I’m not always fond of duck, the Canard Rôti with liquorice, leeks and ruby red beets was a rare treat, succulent yet light; the wine, Bodegas Ontañón, Temparillo, Rioja, Spain 2004.
With our selection of artisanal cheese came homemade water crackers so light and airy, they were simply a platform for the cheese plate. I should mention that all the bread products served are homemade, save for the brioche with fleur de sel, which came from the nearby Village Mill. (Our server explained that Chef Bradley likes these – and that he also likes to support local products.) My favorite baked items were the homemade grissini with Meyer lemon.
The dessert course was a caramelized banana break with salted-caramel crème glaçage accompanied by a raspberry Belgian ale. This sounds like an odd pairing, but believe me, it was not.
This also sounds like a great deal of food; to me it was exactly right. The tasting portions are enough to satisfy robust appetites, but not daunting for someone who prefers lighter meals.
The wine pairings were truly exceptional, chosen by Wine Director Jesse Rodriguez, who presides over the resort’s 36,000-bottle inventory and who was named one of Wine & Spirits’ “Best New Sommeliers” in 2007. What I especially liked was finding that the wines I enjoyed most were readily accessible at home and not terribly expensive.
After a dining experience like this, with food as nourishment, as entertainment, and as sheer pleasure, we had to pay our respects to the chef, who is as gracious and articulate as he is creative. He spoke about respecting his ingredients, of being product-driven and of offering seasonal menus based on local foods and products. His kitchen was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.
After a glorious day like this, there was nothing to do but enjoy the comforts of our suite. The following morning we shared a room-service breakfast that arrived dead on time. The standout dish was the “Mediterranean Breakfast,” a delightful selection of cheeses, olives, fine cold cuts and bread.
Amply fortified, I took a tour of the property, which has a grand ballroom and various venues for weddings and special events. Outdoors, I found a stable and some friendly horses, for English dressage or Western trail rides. There are three self-guided walking or jogging routes with views of the canyon along the resort’s perimeter. And for more ambitious hikers, there are complimentary guided canyon walks. During my walk, a staff member noticed that one of the straps on my tote bag had torn.
When I returned to the suite, the phone rang; a concerned voice asked if I would like someone, perhaps one of the Grand’s seamstresses to repair my bag. I was, as the British say, gobsmacked. Fine service is one thing; this was definitely “above and beyond.” I thanked the caller and said no repair was necessary as this was an older bag that could be discarded.
While I had been exploring, Maggie had been back to the spa for yet another treatment. Neither of us wanted to leave this magical place, and we both agreed it had been our best ever Girlfriend Getaway.