Click to book The Grand Del Mar

My wife and I talk often of renting a villa in Tuscany for a week.  We have explored Europe by Eurail with backpacks in tow, but now relish the idea of setting up headquarters, complete with housekeeping and a cook, from which we could set out and conquer Italy, day trip by day trip. 

The idea came to mind again, not coincidentally, as we basked in the sun by the pool at the newly-opened, $270 million Grand Del Mar resort in San Diego, California.

Architecture at the Grand Del Mar
Spanish amd Moorish influences.

In our dream, our villa has a long gravelly driveway that leads to an aged but well-maintained building with faded-plaster walls and a red-tile roof.  A wrought iron fence surrounds the yard and a squeaky iron gate opens onto a shady terrace, on which we can enjoy breakfast, or crisp white wine with cheese and olives. 

The days would be warm, evenings cool, and we would be lulled to sleep by cicadas and owls.  Day trips take us wine tasting, to local farmer’s markets, historic architectural sites, even a day at the beach.  And after the day is through, we return to our headquarters for a home-cooked meal to relax the evening away.

Mediterranean and Southern California
influences mingle to create a unique blend
of style and comfort.

We are brought out of our reverie by our impeccably friendly poolside server as she delivers the next round of cocktails.  We debate over what number she now holds on our list of most favorite people in the history of the world, and surmise that she’s definitely top ten.  And then the thought washes over us, like the first sip of a cold drink: we have found our headquarters.  Right here at the Grand Del Mar.  Although we were not in Italy, the $270 million Grand Del Mar certainly measures up to the finest accommodations Italy can offer.  And while not exactly aged (opened only in October 2007), it has the feel of a resort that has found its niche and is settling in comfortably.  Luxury.  Check.  Charm.  Check.  Delicious food.  Check.  Serenity.  Check.  Day trips?  Check, check, check. 

It is not a coincidence that the Grand Del Mar so closely resembles our villa dream.  As the newest creation of Papa Doug Manchester and the Manchester Financial Group, which already boasts the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego, the Grand Del Mar’s old-world Mediterranean style includes blends of Spanish, Portuguese, Moroccan and Venetian styles and finds its inspiration from Addison Mizner, an early twentieth century architect whose style blended these Mediterranean styles (and for whom the resort’s signature fine dining restaurant is named). “What really set him apart was his use of these distinctive fine architectural accents and finishes, such as ironwork, stained glass, carved stone and glazed tile,” says Chief design architect Robert Altevers.

Although San Diego beckons, a day spent in the comfort
of one of the 31 guest suites is a day well spent.

Part of the resort’s quality also stems from its location nestled in the lush Los Penasquitos Canyon Reserve, away from the hustle and bustle of urban San Diego, giving guests a sense of seclusion. 

The view from private verandas includes
that of the Tom Fazio-designed golf course
and of
Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve.

Although it is located several miles inland, the Grand Del benefits from a cool coastal breeze that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean, creating warm days and cool nights. 

The Spartan entrance to the Grand Del Mar belies the lavishness that is to be discovered deeper into the property.  A long winding driveway meanders through lush, green landscaping bordered by graded horse trails. (Being a horse person, my wife is instantly enamored.)  Occasional glimpses through the foliage reveal velvet green fairways, waterfalls and lakes (how could such beauty be considered a hazard?). 

After we have checked in and are wandering the resort grounds, we find more than a dozen water features, including a breathtaking 75-foot long reflecting pool with a 22-nozzle fountain flanked by towering Italian cypress trees and lined with gold, royal blue and white marble tiles. 

The view from the private veranda in our suite affords further glimpses of the grounds, as we gaze over the stunning Tom Fazio-designed golf course and the lush landscape of the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve. 

The stillness is absolute, interrupted only by the occasional and deeply satisfying tink of a distant tee shot.  The challenging 18-hole, 7,160-yard, par-72 Grand Golf Club spans 380 acres and accommodates all levels of play. 

Luxury is served at all hours
at the Grand Del Mar.

Although it has been open since 1999, the course underwent major upgrades as part of the resort development.   We hear that the best views of the resort can be seen from the golf cart that surrounds the course, but the resort discourages guests from the course unless they are playing.

Addison Mizner’s architectural influence becomes readily apparent once you step indoors, however.  After leaving our car with the valet in a courtyard filled with Mercedes, Porsches, BMWs and Bentleys, we enter though a lobby which is replete with stone columns and arches, vaulted ceilings and marbled flooring. 

We are hard-pressed to maintain our composure over the opulence.  I find myself head back, jaw agape as I gaze up at the wood-beams and intricate hand-stencils (interesting fact: 24 people hand-stenciled ceilings throughout the resort over the course of three months), then chin to chest, staring at the floor with the intricate marble detailing including Gallo Cleopatra, Jerusalem limestone and Rojo Alicante marble.

Each of the 249 guest rooms includes the same type of ornate architectural details- gilded gold and wrought iron accents and a deep blue, pale yellow and gold color palette.  Among the 31 suites is the stunning Palazzo Suite, ours for the weekend. 

Suites range from 1,010-square-foot executive
suites to 2,840-square-foot presidential suites.

As our capable and affable doorman shows us around, we find a kitchenette, full dining area, living room, two bathrooms and veranda.  Now all we need is a map.  We find rich brocade upholstery, cut crystal lamp bases, detailed crown moldings and millwork, and elegant burled wood and dark distressed wood furnishings with burnished gold accents.  It is the kind of suite that makes one want to spend the entire weekend indoors, in bed even, shuffling around in slippers and a robe. 

Bathrooms feature marble-cladding, 
European-style soaking tubs and
13-inch flat screen televisions.

And this was in fact Altevers’ goal when creating the Grand Del Mar: “I think we were able to achieve this richness of detail and articulation at The Grand Del Mar, especially in the guest room wings, which don’t look like cookie cutter modules,” Altevers says. “Rather, the guests feel like they are in a home, and this is because of our attention to each and every finish and every minute detail.” Had it not been for the sunshine and pool beckoning, not to mention a challenge from my wife to a croquet match, we just might have spent the entire weekend indoors. (She took 2 out 3 at croquet; her prize, poolside mojitos).

As I enjoy my poolside cocktail, I find my gaze wandering. Along one length of the pool, a handful of the 249 lavish guestrooms rooms overlooks the pool.  The light-rose mottled exterior finish topped by Roman pan tile does well to hide the youth of the resort, instead suggesting a long comfortable existence. 

Resort amenities include a
10,000-square-foot ballroom that
can be sectioned off into smaller areas

Guests can continue their dinner
conversation with a fireside digestif.

“The Grand Del Mar sets a new standard for San Diego luxury resorts,” says Altevers. “It is very stylized and makes a major architectural statement – locally and regionally.”  Along the opposite side, a row of palm trees brings me back to San Diego.  To my right stands a giant arch, through which a second and smaller pool can be found, and to my left, beyond the croquet pitch, is one of the resort restaurants, Amaya, and further beyond the resort’s 21,000-square-foot spa awaits.

With a philosophy of rejuvenation and renewal, the spa is the perfect way to begin a day, end a day or spend the day.  A full service menu includes facial cleansings as well as full-body treatments.  My first morning at the spa begins in stony silence.  Not because I had gotten in trouble with my better half for having had too many after-dinner drinks the night before, but because a relaxing massage coupled with warm, smooth surf stones placed on top of and beneath my body sounds like bliss.  Ninety minutes later, I ooze off the massage table, a little woozy, trying to imagine what a full day of such treatment would do to me. I float back to our suite, thankful for elevators, where my wife awaits with in-room breakfast and a bottle of champagne.  Back into my robe and slippers.  Life is good.

Now as all seasoned travelers knows, vacationing can be hard work, and one can work up an appetite.  While the in-room dining is in itself superb, the Grand Del Mar’s signature restaurant, Addison, led by Executive Chef William Bradley, is top of the charts.  Recognized by Esquire as one of “America’s Best New Restaurants for 2007,” Addison featured a “Chef’s surprise” menu the night we dined there.

Among the six dining options is Amaya, shown here from the outdoor patio, and Addison, the resort's signature restaurant

The Lobby Lounge offers live
entertainment and cocktails.

Naturally we felt it would be the most appropriate way for us to experience Bradley’s culinary style.  “I soon discovered that I loved cooking,” recalled Bradley, “and became obsessed with the notion of expressing myself through food and the related pleasure that I could give others.”  Highlights of the 7-course dinner included a briny yet tangy salmon tartar with chives and green apples; egg-white potato gnocchi with braised hearts of romaine; milk-fed veal tenderloin with wild mushrooms and caramelized garlic; and a dessert of chocolate canelé and Bing cherries filled with a pistachio puree. 

The evening also included a wine pairing by Wine Director Jesse Rodriguez, whose wine program has garnered praise from Wine Spectator,, Wines & Spirits, Santé and Food & Wine.  The wines hailed from around the globe, but standouts included a sweet Riesling with green apple undertones that contrasted perfectly with the briny salmon tartar, and a Brunello, whose reputation is although under fire as of late, made its nation proud with its play off of the braised hearts of romaine.  

Now should you be able to drag yourself away from the cozy confines of the resort- out of bed, away from the spa, out of the pool, away from the restaurants and off the croquet green, the Grand Del Mar serves as the perfect headquarters for exploring San Diego day by day. 

Outdoor enthusiasts will find ,many
activities, such as hiking, biking or jogging
in the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve.

Local attractions include the Del Mar horse races less than 15 minutes away, polo matches, equestrian events, the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park, wine tasting in Temecula, Sea World, Petco Park (home of the San Diego Padres), multiple beaches and Old Town San Diego.  A full week of day trips awaits, and the Grand Del Mar provides the perfect place from which to do it. 

As we eyed our gradually disappearing cocktails, we wondered about spending a week here.  It would certainly give us a chance to work our way through the complete spa menu and maybe even give me enough practice to beat my wife on the croquet green.  All of a sudden, the villa in Italy doesn’t seem as urgent, when we can enjoy la dolce vita right here in California.

— Feature by Misha Troyan, Jetsetters Magazine San Diego Correspondent.