Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends

Southwestern Spas and Resorts

by Elaine Sosa

The desert surrounding Phoenix is the stuff of a New Englander's dream. Trust me, I'm from Connecticut. Warm sunshine, dry air and prickly plants along the endless horizon. More than one developer saw opportunity in these vistas, and as a result, the Phoenix area is awash in spas and resorts which offer everything from cowboy charm to Palm Beach glitz. I'm a purist at heart, so give me the prairie and sandy hues at my dream destination. Lucky for me a few kind souls have done just that, so the following are my top three choices for fun in the desert sun.

Arizona Biltmore

The soul of Frank Lloyd Wright is alive and well at the Arizona Biltmore. Although he was technically a consulting architect on the project (Albert McArthur, who once worked with Wright, was the architect of record), the master's form is clearly evident in the geometric designs and play of light and shadow. The property's dominant motif is the use of sand-colored pre-cast concrete blocks imbedded with an inverted palm frond design. It's a sensuous touch (my interpretation, not necessarily Wright's). The whole of the property is planted squarely in the heart of vibrant Phoenix, which has grown around the 67-year-old landmark (nearby 24th and Camelback Road is a restaurant/shopping nexus).

Step into the lobby, a living room-like space full of couches ripe for reading and reflection, and you'll immediately start to relax. Don't bring a big agenda here, because that would be missing the point. You're here to unwind.The Squaw Peak Terrace is ideally suited for just that, a long sweep of an outdoor promenade chock-full of cushy chairs and low tables which are candlelit at twilight. In front of you is a lush lawn replete with flower beds and a fluid fountain. In the distance is stunning Squaw Peak. The morning paper and coffee will be all you need to complete the experience.

If a bit more activity suits your needs, consider the Biltmore Athletic Club, a complete workout facility which also offers massage and facials. The Paradise Pool may beckon, as well it should, because this oasis reeks of Casablanca, what with its bright-white cabanas dotting the perimeter of the cool blue pool. William Wrigley, he of chewing gum and Cubs fame, owned the property once upon a time, and his favorite watering hole was the Catalina Pool, awash in blue and yellow Catalina tile. The resort also offers two 18-hole golf courses, tennis, biking, hiking, a Kids Kabana for tyking, and five restaurants.

My recommendation is a visit to Wright's, a fine-dining experience which will send you on your way sated and elated. You can then opt for a final-final in the Squaw Peak Bar, or restful slumber in your spacious room, yet another splendid homage to Wright. Tomorrow, Scarlett, is another day at the Arizona Biltmore, one with endless possibilities. High-season rates are $330-$395 for room; villas are $1,270 for a one-bedroom and $1,705 for a two-bedroom . The Ultimate Slumber Party, a galfest extraordinaire, is one of many special packages offered.
Arizona Biltmore
24th Street & Missouri
(602) 955-6600

Marriott's Camelback Inn

The words over the front door state simply, "Where Time Stands Still." Time might, but you won't. There's too much to do here, and most of it is a whole lotta fun. Snugly nestled in the shadow of Mummy Mountain, the Camelback Inn is true to its roots. Step into the lobby, and you just might expect a real live cowboy to walk in at any moment, thanks to the hand-painted wood ceiling, flagstone floors and horsehair pillows gracing the ample wing chairs.

The Inn began as a winter resort for frost-tinged Northerners and Southern riders over sixty years ago, and was acquired by the Marriott hotel chain in 1967. Today it's the jewel among their 22 resort properties. Jewel of this particular property is the Spa at Camelback Inn, which was added in 1989. This spa will become your personal oasis in the desert. What will you do here? For starters, massages, fango facials (the secret is the therapeutic mud), fitness classes, adobe clay purification treatments (hey, it's the desert) and Ayurvedic Bindi herbal body wraps (courtesy of your own personal swami?). Of course, you could always just sift through reviews of the latest wrinkle creams, but this seems more stimulating if you ask me. There's also a Spa Salon for color and cut, manicures and pedicures with oceans of potions, makeup artists and skincare consultants, all while you pad around in a plump terrycloth robe.

Want to get more active? Consider aerobics, walking, hiking, biking, laps in the heated outdoor pool or a session of yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates. Not to be overlooked is a picturesque (and bracing) hike up Camelback Mountain. Nutritional counseling, which you won't need as long as you dine at the Spa's heart-healthy, light-filled Sprouts restaurant, is also available.

By this point, you'll want to retire to your room, a sandy palette done in jewel tones and textures of the Southwest along with Native American accents. Suddenly needing a vacation from your vacation? If not, consider a guided jeep tour of the desert, a hot-air balloon ride, an art gallery walk, shopping in Old Town Scottsdale...High season rates are $324 for rooms, $339 including a full American breakfast buffet, and $354 including breakfast buffet and use of the spa facilities.
Marriott's Camelback Inn
5402 East Lincoln Drive
(602) 948-1700

The Boulders

The words "destination resort" have never been truer than at The Boulders. The name comes from the omnipresent piles of red rock dotting the landscape of this desert dreamscape. The rocks (okay, they're big enough to be called boulders) may seem unreal, but it's more like surreal when you consider that these mammoth forms, continually reshaped by the Sonoran desert winds, have been here for over twelve million years. The resort, which opened in 1985, fits seamlessly into its desert surroundings. Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report, the travel tome of the rich and famous, has ranked The Boulders as its #1 U.S. resort for the past ten years, which means you're in for a treat.

With over 650 employees to tend to guests in a mere 160 rooms, you'll get lots of attention, and just about everything that will capture your attention is right on the property. Among your choices are five restaurants, including the not-to-be-missed Lattia, with Executive Chef Charles Wiley's stunning regional American cuisine, and the Bakery Cafe at El Pedregal, filled with pastry chef Kevin Fornier's artistic and delectable sweets. Two 18-hole golf courses hug the property, and if you find yourself teeing off next to a cactus on the 13th hole, that's the idea.

The Sonoran Spa is the perfect way to dodge the noonday sun, while the shops at El Pedregal will keep you busy till dinnertime. You can also indulge in stargazing, geology tours, horticultural tours and art tours of the resort's own impressive collection. The best of the best at The Boulders, though, is much simpler than all of this. Stroll around the property. Note the thoughtfully-placed descriptions of the desert's flora and fauna while a jackrabbit hightails it in the distance. Indulge in the pleasures of your casita. Lie on the soft beige quilt, relax on the chaise or dream a deux in the cozy window seat. A masseuse from the spa will be happy to treat the two of you to a couples massage, and before she leaves your room, she'll light a few candles, run a warm bath and turn on some soothing music. No detail has been overlooked at The Boulders. You are in a special place, and the staff will do everything they can to make you feel special. You should also feel lucky. High season rates are $525 for a resort casita; pueblo villas range from $700-$1,100.
The Boulders
34631 North Tom Darlington Drive
(602) 488-9009

What Else?

A few other things to keep you busy (didn't I say TONS o' fun in the desert sun?)...
The Biltmore Fashion Park, at the jam-packed corner of 24th and Camelback in Phoenix, counts among its tenants Saks Fifth Avenue, Williams-Sonoma and Planet Hollywood. Shop till you drop, or at least until you can refuel at the Coffee Plantation cafe.

The Pointe Hilton Resort at Tapatio Cliffs has unveiled The Falls, a waterworld of freeform swimming pools and one mighty 40-foot waterfall cascading into twelve meandering travertine pools. Disney's got nothing on this place. While you're at the Pointe (and once you've toweled off), pay a visit to Different Pointe of View, the resort's showplace restaurant. The view is the best in the valley, and sommelier Jeff McCarty's knowledge of the extensive wine list (a Wine Spectator Grand Spectator Award-winner) is unbelievable. Chef Jeffrey Beeson's regional American cuisine can be enjoyed in the main dining room or at the chef's table in the wine cellar. You and the Lafittes.

Serious about taking it with you? The food, that is. Pay a visit to Barbara Fenzl's Les Gourmettes cooking school at Pinnacle Peak. Learn the secret of Southwest flavors, followed by a full-course meal. Guest chefs (Vincent Guerithault among them) do the honors on a regular basis.

The Heard Museum, established nearly seventy years ago by Dwight and Maie Heard, houses a fabulous collection of Native American artifacts. It wasn't too long ago that Phoenix was the only city in the country with an archaeologist on staff, so you can bet the Heard takes its mission pretty seriously.

The newly-renovated and expanded Phoenix Art Museum has added three new galleries: Art of Our Time, Art of Asia and Art of the Americas and Europe. Also added is the ArtWorks Gallery, a hands-on primer on art history for kids (and their parents, too). The museum project is an excellent example of urban renewal that worked.

Visit nearby Tempe, home of Arizona State University and a funky, thriving arts and nightlife scene along Mill Avenue. Some of the best coffeehouses in the Valley of the Sun (they love their java here, despite the temps) are on Mill.

The Desert Botanical Garden is home to more than 20,000 plants culled from deserts around the globe. Meander about this 145-acre garden paradise, and be sure to hit the half-mile-long "Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail." If all this walking whips up your appetite, pop into Chef Eddie Matney's Patio Cafe.

Taliesin West, the former winter residence and architectural school of Frank Lloyd Wright, is open and accessible to us all. Don't miss it (it's in nearby Scottsdale).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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