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This new L’Auberge is a stark contrast, our hostess told us, from the old. Whereas the former version of the hotel had an enclosed, “tired, steakhouse feel,” the new property, which reopened in June after being shuttered for nearly seven months, is anything but. The new L’Auberge Del Mar is swathed in shades of sea green, sand dollar white and warm teak accents, making it feel more like a mini resort or estate.
And it should, given its renovation price of $25 million — or little more than $200,000 spent per room.
Stepping outside of the lobby, guests enter a multi-level, wooden patio home to the Waterfall Terrace, a casual outdoor dining area, and the popular Bleu Bar, complete with a fire pit that burns brightly in the evenings. A little further in, past an iron-wrought gate, and you’ll find yourself poolside.
Each of the property’s 120 rooms, meant to recreate the feel of a breezy beach home, were decorated by famed interior designer Barclay Butera; this is the first time Butera has designed for a hotel property. Accommodations range from Plaza to Premier Deluxe; most Premier Deluxe rooms have private balconies overlooking the pool area and easy-to-use fireplaces. Each room features an all-marble bathroom with walk-in shower; plush bed(s) and bedding; a 42-inch plasma television; an iPod docking station; bathrobes; a fully stocked minibar and fridge and complimentary turndown service.
Indeed, given the luxury home-like atmosphere of the rooms and the casual, estate-like feel of the patio, it’s no wonder the property’s management, Destination Hotels & Resorts, is proud of what it has accomplished.
“The hotel was 20-years-old and we believe this is an iconic location. We also believed the market could sustain a high-end boutique facility and in 20 years the hotel has never been touched from an overhaul standpoint; it was about time it needed to be done,” Michael J. Slosser, vice president and managing director of operations for Destination Hotels & Resorts told TravelAgeWest. “We’ve had an overwhelming response to what we’ve built.”
I have to admit, however, there are some indications that the hotel is still in a bit of transition. I’m confident, though, that given a few months, any and all kinks should work themselves out.
For one, dining options at the property are somewhat limited and service can be a little slow, but that should change once L’Auberge’s $4½-million signature restaurant, to be manned by James Beard chef Paul McCabe, opens in October. For now, the innovative and resourceful McCabe works out of a tiny custom kitchen which he uses to deliver exciting tasting menus for meetings and conventions, full, three-course wedding banquets and satisfying meals for patrons of the Waterfall Terrace and Bleu Bar. The Waterfall Terrace is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers tasty items such as California omelets, beefy organic burgers, well-seasoned flank steak, hearty salads and memorable desserts; a baked peach dessert, served with a brown butter tart and bold sauce was a hands-down favorite in my group.
I saw McCabe hard at work firsthand, since a wedding and two separate meetings took place the same weekend I visited, only three weeks after the official, grand reopening on June 6. L’Auberge Del Mar has always been a favorite wedding locale and it’s no wonder, given the stunning location. Ditto for small corporate meetings and conventions. It’s even better now with L’Auberge’s new 2,000-square foot Sunset Terrace, perched at the very top of the resort. In all, the property boasts more than 15,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space.
Another part of the resort yet to open is the spa’s brand-new 4,500 square-foot freestanding facility, planned for a December opening. Until then, the spa continues to operate in the basement level of the property as it did before the remodel. L’Auberge Del Mar’s European-style spa is a local favorite and it offers a wide variety of signature spa treatments.
I had my very first facial there and the experience was pleasant and relaxing. Called Las Delicias, this anti-free radical facial is one of the spa’s most popular since it promises to moisturize skin, fight premature aging and improve skin texture using a powerful self-heating and self-cooling mask.
There are a number of activities for guests to participate in and around the hotel, too. Del Mar is noted for its famous race track and fairgrounds by the sea. For years, the property has attracted racing enthusiasts. L’Auberge sits on the historic site of the original Stratford Inn, which eventually became the original Hotel Del Mar — a favorite getaway for celebrities such as Bing Crosby, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball.
Just north of the main property are two lighted, championship tennis courts for individual or mini tournament play. Guests can request private, semi-private and group lessons, too. Until the hotel’s new fitness center is completed in January 2009, guests receive complimentary access and transportation to a full-service fitness center located less than a mile away. The hotel is also within short driving distance of many golf courses, including Torrey Pines Golf Course, site of this year’s U.S. Open.
L’Auberge Del Mar sits in the heart of the small beach city’s quaint downtown, filled with quirky, stylish boutiques and well-established bars and restaurants. Directly across the street from the hotel is the popular Del Mar Plaza, home to nine eateries and more than 30 shops.
The resort’s central location to the beach is both a major draw and, for some, a somewhat minor nuisance. In the past, some guests have complained that reaching the beach is a treacherous ordeal, thanks to the set of train tracks that lies right behind the hotel and parallel to the shoreline. You can hear the train horns from time to time, even at night, but the noise is easily remedied by the shuttered patio doors and windows in each guestroom.
It’s a small price to pay for an otherwise peaceful and relaxing resort. I can’t wait to see how L’Auberge Del Mar will be once its transformation is complete.
L’Auberge Del Mar800-245-9757www.laubergedelmar.com
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“We have a travel agent rate that is subject to availability,” Slosser added. “This hotel has a tremendous reputation and a very high repeat factor.” Packages: Special offers include a Wining and Dining Connoisseur Package, Romantic Retreat Package and a Deluxe Pampered Pooch Package where four-legged guests are treated to a stay in a VIP Canine Suite at nearby Helen Woodward Animal Center, as well as a decadent massage and grooming session. Average room rates start at $335 per night in the off season (fall through winter) and at $375 during the summer racing season.