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Barry Pollack's "Going Places"


The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts have a reputation for luxury and service. From the moment I stepped into their Aviara Resort in Carlsbad, they lived up to that acclaim. You cannot pass an employee who doesn't offer a pleasant greeting or inquire as to how you're enjoying your stay or how they can serve you better.

A half-hour north of San Diego, the Four Seasons Aviara Resort is a relatively new resort, opened in 1997. It is the first of several major Four Seasons planned with a community of lavish vacation villas, to be sold as timeshares, surrounding the main hotel. Other vacation ownership resorts are soon to open in Scottsdale and in Punta Mita, near Puerto Vallarta.

Walking a meandering cliffside path that surrounds the Aviara, I marveled at breathtaking views below - the hotel's world class Arnold Palmer designed golf course; the Batiquitos Lagoon, a wetlands wildlife preserve; Carlsbad's rolling hills; and in the distance, the Pacific. Palm trees interspersed with bougainvillea and irises surround hidden spas. Wonderful lifelike bronze statutes of workman, joggers, and children at play are posed about the grounds.

The main building houses 331 superbly appointed and spacious guest rooms. What they bill as their fine dining restaurant, the Vivace, earns every star. I'm a dessert aficionado and especially enjoyed their warm bittersweet chocolate melt with raspberries and pistachio ice cream. Their other restaurant, the California Bistro, is no less a fine dining experience. Though all their restaurants serve those trendy "healthier heart" meals, I still recommend you try the banana pecan pancakes for breakfast at the Argyle, their golf club's restaurant, overlooking a serene lake and the 18th hole.

Though its golf course is probably the Aviara's greatest draw, the hotel also has a wonderful fitness center and spa, tennis courts, a promenade of distinctive boutiques, a hair salon, and 30,000 square feet of meeting space.

"What," I asked the concierge, "is the secret of the Four Seasons' reputation?"
"We try to always answer 'yes' to our guests," he responded.

But behind the Four Seasons success is more than just a philosophy of service. Its success is probably due to two men. Very different men, worlds and cultures apart.

While there are a some more affordable vacation package rates for staying at the Four Seasons Aviara, I couldn't help but being curious as to what one gets staying in the $4100 a night three bedroom presidential suite. You see, I like to live vicariously through the lives of the "rich and famous." So, I asked if I could see it. Unfortunately, it was occupied. Was a rock star visiting? A Prime Minister? No. Isadore Sharp was visiting the hotel.

"That's why a Canadian flag flies in front of our hotels," the concierge explained. "Mr. Sharp is a Canadian and founder of the Four Seasons."

Isadore Sharp, an architect from Toronto, built his first hotel in 1961. He was an entrepreneur determined to succeed with a philosophy of building small but luxurious hotels with a reputation for service.

Several years ago, Sharp, intent on expanding his hotel chain, met with another astute businessman with a reputation as a demanding perfectionist, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd. The prince has been described as a "relationship guy", someone who thrives on not creating new businesses but enhancing partnerships.

As I walked a pleasant mile and a half hiking trail laid out between the wildlife lagoon and the Aviara's golf course, I thought about the meeting of Isadore Sharp, who is Jewish, and the Muslim prince. The prince conducts his business on the Kingdom, a 283 foot yacht formerly owned by Donald Trump, and usually docked in St. Tropez. He wears robes and a kaffiyeh, the Arab head dress.

A 1997 business article published in the San Jose Mercury News described that meeting.

"They were on Alwaleed's yacht when discussion turned to religion and possible tension between the two. 'I think we're religious in the same way,' Isadore Sharp said. 'I think this is a way to build bridges to peace.'"

These two businessmen put aside political and religious animosities, and finding common ground in what made good business sense, created first class hotels and resorts renown for their luxury and service.

Today there are Four Seasons luxury hotels built or under development in exotic places around the globe, from Bali to Boston, from Lisbon to Las Vegas, from Caracas to Carlsbad, and of course from Toronto to Riyadh.

The Four Seasons Aviara is not much more than a mile from another famous resort, La Costa. La Costa was perhaps San Diego County's premier resort of the 20th century. But with Aviara's hotel, restaurants, vacation villas, golf course, tennis courts, spa, walking trails, views, service, and a little Arab-Jewish business diplomacy thrown in for good measure, this resort takes over that title for the new millennium.