A Grand Experience: Stealing away for luxury in Alabama

2602-22Our journey of rejuvenation and pampering began as we arrived near dusk at the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club and Spa located in Point Clear, Alabama. As the sun melted into the lavender and pink sky and a brisk wind blew, we entered the lush grounds lined with moss-draped ancient oaks and at once felt as if we had come home. Everyone was so gracious and hospitable.

Known as the Queen of Southern Resorts for more than 150 years, the Grand Hotel has a loyal following among families, while celebrities come here to get lost in the quiet, dreamy setting filled with history and tradition. Generations have gathered here year after year to experience the hospitality, luxury, and sweeping views. Regulars like it so much that a residential area was created so that those who love the Grand can choose to live here.

Each afternoon there is a patriotic military canon salute followed by afternoon tea and cookies in the main lobby. Residents from nearby Fairhope, Point Clear, and Mobile enjoy guest amenities as part of their membership in the Grand’s Lakewood country club. It is a place where folks gather, year round, to dine well, play golf and tennis, luxuriate in the 20,000-square-foot European-style spa, take a dip in the 500,000-gallon pool complete with waterfalls and whirlpools, go on bike rides around the grounds, charter boats for fishing, sailing, or cruising, and take Saturday morning cooking classes at the Grand Culinary Academy with acclaimed Executive Chef Mike Wallace.

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Five buildings with 400 large newly refurbished guest rooms and suites are spread across 550 acres. Each building has a distinct character all its own. After checking into the handsome lobby, with its deep sofas and crackling fireplace, antique cabinets filled with fine china, and live jazz wafting in from Bucky’s Birdcage Lounge, we took a drive to our luxurious suite in the Spa building and relaxed on the balcony overlooking sailboats in the marina before dinner at the AAA Four Diamond Award Grand Dining Room. It was a culinary experience we had been anticipating, and it exceeded all our expectations.

After getting dressed in our finery, we decided to call the bellhop and get picked up in a golf cart to return to the main building that houses the upscale Grand Dining Room, in addition to the more casual Saltwater Grill, where families enjoy fresh seafood in a relaxing environment. As we stepped down into the elegant dining room, surrounded by windows overlooking the bay, pianist Jeanie Perkins was performing romantic hits such as “Moonlight in Vermont,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans” on the baby grand.

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We began with an amuse bouche and a trio of freshly baked breads with a tiny artisan pot filled with sun-dried tomato pesto for spreading. We delved into starters including a trilogy of fois gras, followed by seafood risotto with lobster, shrimp, scallops, crawfish, and chanterelles in a pool of lobster Alfredo sauce, topped with a Parmesan tuile, and the caviar for two on ice with buckwheat blinis and all the trimmings. Presentations at the Grand Dining Room are dramatic and artful.

Executive Chef Mike Wallace greeted us at the table like old friends and made us feel right at home. After sampling the luscious crab cake with Cajun hollandaise sauce and a quail egg on top, we were refreshed with a palate-cleansing sorbet served in a crystal tear drop.

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Steaks were in order so we enjoyed the Diablo filet marinated in premium tequila with a pico de gallo hollandaise and a chipotle potato cake, and the Kobe beef filet that melted in the mouth, served with Yukon baby potatoes stuffed with crème fraiche and caviar, and a medley of baby vegetables with a cognac gastrique, served with a black truffle reduction sauce. Wine pairings are available with each course; you can order a la carte or choose a three-course, four-course, five-course, or the opulent chef’s table menu.

For dessert we enjoyed the triple chocolate decadence, which translates to three desserts including a flourless, bittersweet chocolate cake, a milk chocolate Napoleon, and a Godiva white chocolate shooter; and also bananas Foster flamed tableside. Service was very warm and hospitable in the romantic, softly lit main dining room.

Before heading back to our room we stepped into Bucky’s Birdcage Lounge and walked out into the courtyard and sat in wicker chairs, warming ourselves around fire pits as we watched the stars twinkling in the moonlit sky. The Grand isn’t just for summer fun, it is perfect anytime of the year, even in cold weather (there is an indoor heated pool).

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The next morning it was time to get pampered in the spa, which offers everything from hydrotherapy to massages, skin care treatments, waxing services, facial enhancements, and body experiences such as the French body polish and the sugar and spice scrub. I have been to many spas around the country but this one is my favorite because of its ambience. As you enter, the dimly lit hall is filled with candles and there is also a spacious “hall of whispers” quiet room where you can relax (in peace) after your treatments, or take a soak in the whirlpool. We had marvelous massages followed by fruit snacks at the spa, then headed out for a bit of touring and shopping.

We took a brisk walk around the grounds (there is a walking path) and enjoyed the enormous oak trees, pool area complete with a playground and waterfalls, and the adjacent beach. I contemplated our next trip to the Grand, when we plan to take out a charter boat on the bay, and of course have another day at the spa.

After our stay at the Grand Hotel was over, we left refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to head back home to the real world. During the drive back I reflected on fois gras and caviar, massages and saunas, sailboats and sunsets, and flickering fire pits under starlit skies that stretched to eternity.

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