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Spa - Taneous Experiences in the Southwest

Spa Reviews in the Southwestern, United States

by Jeff Voth

The final leg of the flight into the city seemed destined to last forever. The Airbus A320 hovered above the ground as if it were suspended by an invisible string, gliding endlessly over the vast, horizontal landscape. Looking past the wing, I could see Phoenix, Arizona rising out of the desert, a shimmering oasis in an otherwise scorched land filled with red rock and Saguaro cactus.

In the summer, it's not uncommon for temperatures to soar past 42°C; the dry heat evaporating sweat faster than you can replenish it. But this was March, a perfect time of year to travel in the southwest, and I wasn't anticipating anything above 23°C. Even so, it would be a welcome change from the below zero temperatures I left back home.

Arizona highways are exceptional and stand in sharp contrast to those found throughout the eastern United States. Rarely does the temperature dip below freezing, and for the most part the only wrinkles in the road are the ones designed by the engineers. The drive over the next week would be enjoyable for many reasons.

Destination One:

Phoenix is a city whose outward boundaries seem constructed with a rubber band. From California to Canada, vast hordes of sun worshippers make their yearly pilgrimage to winter in Arizona. Many visitors end up staying, allowing Phoenix to maintain its position as one of the fastest growing cities in North America. A Mecca for golfers, athletes and plastic surgeons, it offers something for everyone.

The Phoenician Resort & Spa
The Phoenician Resort is a member of The Luxury Collection operated by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide and is an AAA Five Diamond Award winner.

The Phoenician Resort & Spa is located at the base of the Camelback Mountains in Scottsdale, AZ. A stroll through the pristine property showcases the resort's 250 acres of prime southwest real estate. The main building contains 474 guest rooms, 107 private casitas and 73 luxurious suites. Each room is superbly decorated, with plush carpeting, rich wood furnishings and luxurious marble and ceramic accents throughout.

There are a total of 9 swimming pools, one featuring a cool 165 ft. water slide. Guests looking to bite into a little sports action can head to the challenging 27-hole championship golf course, or pick up a racket and pound a ball on one of 12 tennis courts. With 11 restaurants to choose from, it is impossible to go hungry.

The Centre for Well-Being Spa takes inspiration from the mythical phoenix, a creature that rose from the ashes to be born anew. At 22,000 sq. ft, it offers a state of the art facility to revitalize both mind and body. The expert staff at the spa offer treatments indigenous to the area in 24 private treatment rooms. My personal favourite was the 80-minute Acussage™, a Phoenician Signature Treatment incorporating the healing powers of both acupuncture and therapeutic massage.

The Phoenician Resort is a member of The Luxury Collection operated by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide and is an AAA Five Diamond Award winner.

Destination Two:

Leaving the city, the drive south to Tucson on Highway #10 took less than 90 minutes and two cups of really bad roadside coffee. Differing from Phoenix, the city of Tucson is inspired by a definitive Mexican flavour.

The JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort
A total of 6 floors, 540 rooms and 35 suites define The JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort, with 88,000 sq. ft

The JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort is the newest addition to the Tucson resort scene, first opening its doors in February, 2005. With the distinction of being the only resort in Tucson Mountain Park, it offers exclusive amenities to discerning guests on a grand scale. From the balcony of my room, there are spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the cityscape below. At night, the city's lights dance in the distance, a competitive balance to the canopy of stars above. Tucson is renowned as a top destination for star gazing, and the Starr Pass Resort & Spa is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the many cloudless nights.

The resort is comprised of 6 floors, 540 rooms and 35 suites and includes 88,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. From the outside, the resort looks as if it were carved directly from the mountain. Inside, each room is defined by a southwest styled décor; with marble tiled bathrooms and expansive views of the freeform pool and the Arnold Palmer designed, 27 hole golf course.

Dining options abound with a total of eight restaurants on site, including the locally renowned Signature Grill and a Starbucks.

The Hashani Spa at the Starr Pass Resort is equally as grand, but still manages to provide a sense of familiarity and solitude. A spectacular stone entrance greets guests, while a spiral staircase winds itself around a three-story Saguaro cactus sculpture.

The spa offers 23 deluxe treatment rooms and a menu featuring unique treatments inspired by the healing principles of the Sonoran Desert. The private pool is a great place to meet new people under the Arizona sun, while a large outdoor terrace provides the perfect setting for yoga, tai chi or to just sit and enjoy the view.

With a sense of regret, it was time to leave the newest JW Marriott Resort and head north. Just outside Tucson was my next destination and I was looking forward to spending several days at what many consider to be the pre-eminent spa in North America.

Destination Three:

A forty minute drive from Tucson, the city of Catalina is an endless series of shopping malls, restaurants and banks. Situated in the Santa Catalina Mountains, it is very easy to miss the iron gates that mark the entrance to the resort. In one way, this is part of the charm that separates Miraval Resort & Spa from the competition. The theory being, if you can find it, then you were meant to be there.

The Miraval Resort & Spa
Miraval Resort & Spa is a member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World.

Located on over 300 unspoiled acres, Miraval was at one time an addiction recovery centre. Converted to a luxury resort in the mid 1990's, it offers therapeutic programs of varying length in an unmatched tranquil setting. Mountain biking, horseback riding and an onsite challenge course keep the sweat flowing, along with tennis, golf and swimming.

Inside the resort, the blissful sounds of a trickling stream add to the relaxing ambience provided by the indigenous animals and birds who roam freely throughout.

Each of the 104 rooms and suites is casually decorated, the focus being on comfort and rest, not on lavish decoration or furnishings. From my room, sliding doors opened to a covered sitting area with two lounge chairs. At Miraval, life slows down quickly and it doesn't take long to get comfortable with the easy pace.

The Spa at Miraval is one reason why Condé Nast readers voted it the #1 Destination Spa in 2004. Here knowledge and skill meld together with the therapeutic qualities of massage and pampering.

A full menu of body and facial treatments are available by appointment. I took the opportunity to experience a Thai Body Workout- an ancient treatment from Thailand performed on a mat, incorporating yoga stretches with compressions. The basic 80 minute treatment stretches the muscles and stimulates energy flow. It also turns your body into a pretzel, but I happily survived to live another day.

Dining at Miraval plays an essential part in defining a life in balance. Healthy food is one thing, but if it isn't appealing, the guests may never return for a second visit. Local ingredients are highlighted at every opportunity and the presentation of food, as well as the portions, is exceptional. A culinary experience with few rivals, Miraval is truly a first class resort spa in every way.

Miraval Resort & Spa holds the distinction of being a member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World.

Destination Four:

The next leg of the journey would prove to be the most challenging. What lay ahead was an eleven hour drive from Tucson to Taos, New Mexico. Once in Taos, my destination would be the newest gem to arrive on the North American spa scene, the El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa.

Leaving Tucson, I headed north, eventually connecting with Hwy #66 as it winds its way through the San Carlos region and into Snowflake, Arizona. If the colors had been extraordinary in Phoenix, the mountainous regions of Arizona almost defied description. Noble red rock formations contrasted sharply with the deep hues of purple, blue and green provided by cactus and other desert vegetation.

Equally as stunning was the drive. I succumbed to the magic of deep mountain canyons and the twisting two lane highways that charted a steady course through the Apache backcountry.

Taos, New Mexico is first a skiing community and second an arts and culture haven with a history that dates back more than 6,000 years. It has been the backdrop for countless Hollywood movies and can even lay claim to having the original Doc Martin as the local country physician.

The El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa
The El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa boasts 35 luxurious suites and casitas that offer a unique portrayal on the world as a whole.

A short drive out of city leads to the El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa, a destination as unique as the city it resides in. The dream of entrepreneur Thomas Worrell, the resort is founded on the principles of environmentalism, replenishing the natural surroundings through the use of unique creations like the Living Machine®.

The Living Machine® treats and recycles water with natural filters and purifiers. This in turn creates a lavish garden paradise throughout the resort, where walking paths and wooden bridges traverse small ponds stocked with various fish and plant life.

The resort boasts 35 luxurious suites and casitas that offer a unique portrayal on the world as a whole.

Eighteen junior suites are featured as part of the Native American collection, taking their names from heroic figures such as Geronimo, Crazy Horse and football legend Jim Thorpe. The Trout and Magpie inspired Spa casitas offer a eccentric look into the local artistry of Jim Wagner, while the Exclusive casitas take on the flavour of exotic destinations such as Tibet, Bali and Egypt.

China, the two bedroom Global suite in which I stayed, was awash in deep red wall coloring and rich black pagoda styled cabinets. Each suite offers the ambience of a gas fireplace in the living area and an outdoor hot tub on a private deck.

Three dining experiences await guests staying at El Monte Sagrado. The Spanish style De la Tierra restaurant serves as the main dining room, while The Gardens offers a casual atmosphere for breakfast and lunch. For something a little more fun, the Anaconda Bar serves as the resort's hot spot.

The Spa at El Monte Sagrado offers an extensive menu of treatments including massage, body polish, facials and fitness classes. Never one to shy away from trying new things, I opted for the Signature High Desert Body Treatment. First, the body is exfoliated with a Zuni salt mixture. Then it is wrapped in a volcanic ash mask that is mineral rich and draws toxins from the body. The treatment finishes with a gentle hands-on massage.

El Monte Sagrado is also a distinguished member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World.

End of the Road:

Eventually it was time to return home, and my time spent wandering the grounds of the various spas turned into drifting through the airports of Denver and Pittsburgh. Such is life. For now, I will take comfort in the fact that I was able to experience the ecstasy of driving through some of the most amazing country in America and of having the opportunity to enjoy all the trappings of a spa-taneous experience in the U.S. southwest.


The Phoenician, Scottsdale
6000 East Camelback Road,
Scottsdale, AZ 85251 USA
North America: 800-888-8234
Worldwide: 480-941-8200

The JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa
3800 W. Starr Pass Blvd.
Tucson, AZ 85745
Tel: 520-792-3500
Fax: 520-792-3351

Miraval Resort & Spa
5000 E. Via Estancia Miraval
Catalina, Arizona 85739
Toll Free: 800-825-4000
Fax: 520-825-5163

El Monte Sagrado
317 Kit Carson Rd
Taos, New Mexico 87571
Toll free: 800-828-TAOS
Tel: 505-758-3502
Fax: 505-737-2985

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