Fairmont Grand Del Mar review: Find the off switch in San Diego

It isn't hard to find inner peace when you can start the day with yoga, golf lessons and 400 acres of prime California parkland

Fairmont Grand Del Mar

Space and tranquility – these are first things that strike you as you turn off the main road onto the drive leading to the Fairmont Grand Del Mar hotel in California. I arrived at dusk after a long journey, but the stresses of extended travel began to fall away as I moved through the rolling slopes of the resort. It was as if someone somewhere had flicked a switch marked "serenity".

The pervading sense of calm is enhanced as you walk through the hotel's main lobby. Although on three levels, the Grand Del Mar is built into the landscape so that its expansive front facade – mixing Mediterranean influences in gentle stucco shades of brown and pink – appears to rise little more than a single storey from the ground. Inside, the reception area is spacious and cool, its muted shades reflecting Italian and Spanish design influences.

It was fitting, therefore, that "wellness" was the theme of my visit to what TripAdvisor has nominated the best luxury hotel in the US. The Grand Del Mar is less than half an hour's drive from the centre of San Diego, and only five miles from the Pacific coast, yet once you have checked into your room – quiet, elegantly furnished, well appointed – you feel you have at last put the hurly-burly of modern life to one side.

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The hotel's location in more than 400 acres of immaculately tended terrain undoubtedly encourages the pursuit of physical and mental wellbeing. My intention was to sample the activities and treatments, from golf and yoga to visiting the hotel spa, while taking advantage of the guidance available from instructors and enjoying the resort's cuisine.

Much of the estate is taken up by the Grand Golf Club, a par-72, 18-hole course that accommodates all levels of play. Until my visit, I had lived without ever venturing onto a fairway, so my overriding sentiment when I shook hands with Erik Wilson, one of the PGA experts attached to the club, was one of curiosity tempered by mild apprehension.

Erik proved to be a superb teacher – relaxed, helpful and insightful, without ever giving the impression that he was above imparting his considerable wisdom to a Brit who had never previously shown any interest in his sport. In the course of a couple of sessions over two days, we went through the golfing basics: how to grip, how to swing, how to make contact with the ball. The personal tuition was backed up by computer video analysis, plus an emailed assessment when I got back to the UK.

If golf is not for you, other activities include tennis (a professional coach is at hand), riding and hiking – the grounds are sufficiently large to accommodate several trails. The weather when I was there was not quite warm enough to justify a visit to one of the four heated outdoor swimming pools, but I did spend a couple of sessions in the well-equipped gym, where I caught up on US politics via several TV monitors. Everyone was talking about a man called Trump.

In addition to traditional outdoor activities, the hotel has a wide selection of services that tap into the visitor's more contemplative self. The new-age movement – a fusion of eastern and western spiritual practices – was born in 1970s California, and its influence is plain in many of the therapies available at the spa. Having begun the day with an early morning Yoga Flow session, I returned to the spa in the afternoon for the Renaissance, a 90-minute treatment beginning with immersion in a free-floating bed, followed by a Swiss shower (think super-luxury carwash), and culminating in a wonderful full-body massage.

Food and drink are vital to a person's equanimity, and the Grand Del Mar offers an impressive range of dining choices. Some guests breakfast in their room, but I preferred to head down to hotel's Amaya restaurant, where you can eat inside or on a terrace overlooking the golf course. While the fare is predominantly Mediterranean, the portions are American. My continental breakfast came with numerous pastries and an overflowing bowl of fruit that I had to ask the waiter to pack for later.

One of the notable aspects of the Grand Del Mar is the extent to which it acknowledges its location, from the Hispanic influences in its architecture (Tijuana in Mexico is just 35 miles away) to the Californian spirit of the hotel spa.

That sense of place is further celebrated in the fine dining. On my first evening I ate at the Clubhouse Grill, a restaurant within the golf complex that serves what it calls "approachable" cuisine. My pan-seared sea bass, which was excellent, came with a selection of locally sourced ales – San Diego styles itself as America's craft beer capital.

Local produce was also in evidence on my final night, when I dined at the Addison, the hotel's signature restaurant, whose executive chef, William Bradley, has been garlanded with awards for his contemporary French cuisine.

I was the only vegetarian among five diners at my table, but the kitchen prepared a meat-free six-course menu to complement the carnivorous dishes. Highlights included the pithivier printemps, a small puff pastry pie with seasonal vegetables, and a delicate mascarpone agnolotti.

The wines accompanying each course, from a 2015 Arnot-Roberts chardonnay to a big 2013 Riverain cabernet sauvignon, were all Californian, although the wine list has nearly 3,500 options from across the globe.

Such is the sense of ease and tranquility at the Grand Del Mar that guests can forget there is a lively metropolis just 30 minutes away. San Diego, California's second-largest city, is home to a major naval base and its many beaches support a thriving and venerable surf culture.

But perhaps that's all for another time. I preferred to amble slowly back from the Addison, past the gentle inclines and manicured greens, as the sun set on another evening in this west coast Elysium.

Is it really time to flick back the switch marked "serenity"?

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