SAN DIEGO (MainStreet) If you've ever dreamt of staying in a luxurious Tuscan compound, nestled amid rolling hills and shrouded in peaceful tranquillity, there's no need to travel to Italy.
TripAdvisor users say The Grand Del Mar, a stunning hotel in California, is all that and more.
In fact, TripAdvisor users rated The Grand Del Mar the best hotel in the United States for 2014 and the top luxury hotel in the country.
The hotel got the two awards as part of the 12th annual Travelers' Choice awards, determined based on the reviews and opinions of millions of TripAdvisor travelers from around the globe.
In total, 7,123 unique properties worldwide won Travelers Choice awards this year. Awards are given in the categories of top hotels, bargain, B&Bs and inns, family, luxury, romance and small hotels.
Hotels in Italy got the most awards, with 152 winners. The U.K. had 145 properties recognized, and the U.S. and France each had 144.
All of which means it's not easy earning the distinction of best hotel in any category, let alone best in the United States.
"One of the things we kept seeing and hearing about The Grand Del Mar is that guests just have an amazing experience at the hotel. They also talked a lot about the quality of the hotel and the service the hotel offers its guests," says TripAdvisor's Kevin Carter, senior public relations manager.
Achieving the No. 1 slot is a move up in the rankings for the hotel, which last year was named No. 10 in the U.S. and fifth in the luxury category, Carter says.
It's not hard to understand why guests rave about The Grand Del Mar, which oozes with elegance and the feel of private Mediterranean mansion or compound -- one surrounded by four sparkling swimming pools, tennis courts and San Diego's only Tom Fazio-designed golf course. There's also a Renaissance-inspired spa and a Relais & Chateaux rated restaurant on site.
About $300 million was spent to build the 249-room Grand Del Mar. The hotel's architects and designers scoured the globe for inspiration and imported fabrics, stone, wood and tile from around the world when it came time to start building.
During a recent tour, Grand Del Mar President Tom Voss described the Travelers' Choice award as humbling, but was hesitant to give away many secrets of the hotel's success.
Voss grew up in the hotel industry, learning the trade at a hotel owned by his father in Germany. He said he feels The Grand Del Mar, which was built about seven years ago, has definitely hit its stride.
"I think we accomplished this synergy within the first couple of years," Voss says, attributing much of the success to the staff. "We're hiring the most amazing, genuine, friendly staff members."
Staff at The Grand Del Mar are not hired because they bring the exact set of skills needed, but because they have a certain personality, one that exhibits a willingness to go above and beyond. Specific work skills, Voss says, can be taught, but that warm, welcoming personality cannot.
Only about 1 out of every 10 applicants are hired, he says.
Voss and his staff also work diligently every day to maintain the hotel's elegant and immaculate standards and appearance. Voss, for instance, is known for walking around the hotel with his iPhone and taking pictures of anything he sees amiss, sending the pictures to the appropriate department head to be remedied.
"It's not about who is wrong, but let's fix it," Voss says.
In the end, Voss says, he and his staff are not focused on winning awards, but on providing the best service possible to the guests.
The other winners in the United States are French Quarter Inn, Charleston, S.C.; Bardessono, Yountville, Calif.; Allison Inn & Spa, Newberg, Ore.; Five Pine Lodge & Spa, Sisters, Ore.; 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville, Bentonville, Ark.; Tivoli Lodge, Vail, Colo.; The Sherry-Netherland Hotel, New York City; Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka'upulehu, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii; The Oxford Hotel, Bend, Ore.
The Top Luxury Hotel in the World, according to this year's Travelers' Choice awards, is the Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guesthouse in South Africa.
TripAdvisor claims to be the largest travel site in the world, with more than 260 million unique monthly visitors, says Carter, and more than 125 million reviews on its site.
"It is that massive amount of content that informs these awards. You are really getting the wisdom of the crowd," Carter says.
By Mia Taylor