Desert Dreams

By Alan Luke & Jacquie Durand

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Mega-ships on a sea cruise are not too dissimilar to spa resorts in a desert oasis. Here, the three Rs of well-being – relaxation, revitalization and romance – constitute the trifecta of the great getaway. Averaging 300 days of sunshine annually, we launched an Arizona escape to sample the attributes of some established upscale spa resorts.

Arizona Biltmore

Phoenix's first resort was the Arizona Biltmore, which opened in early 1929, ushering in the tourism industry. Frank Lloyd Wright served as the consulting architect of this fabled resort that was crowned the "Jewel of the Desert."

"The Arizona Biltmore not only remains architecturally unique to this day, but has become the symbol of grand hospitality recognized worldwide," says Becky Blaine, Resort Historian and Public Relations Manager.

In 1930, Chicago chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. became the sole owner until 1973. Anecdotes abound pertaining the Hollywood elite, so it is no coincidence that their annual "Hollywood and Wine" Festival continues its successful historic connection to Tinseltown.

"Numerous celebrities have frequented the resort over the years. Irving Berlin penned ‘White Christmas’ while sitting in the sun at Paradise Pool," explains General Manager Andrew Stegen.

Celebrity bands in concert, tastings with celebrity winemakers and extensive movie screenings, as well as live theatre productions highlight the festival.

Situated at the foot of Phoenix Mountain Preserve, this landmark offers 740 guest accommodations over a 39-acre expanse, including eight swimming pools, six restaurants and lounges. The spa utilizes natural elements and organic ingredients that awaken your spirit and invigorate your senses.  The Biltmore Spa opened with a fitness centre and full-service beauty salon in 1998.

Royal Palms Resort & Spa

El Vernadero was originally built the same year as the Biltmore, although as a romantic winter retreat. Situated just north of the Biltmore, it was created for Cunard Steamship Executive Delos Cooke and his beloved wife, Florence. The couple only resided at their romantic estate together for two years with the death of Florence in 1931. Although theirs was a bittersweet love story, the resort continues to honour their legacy, even though, during extensive renovation in 1996, the heart-shaped pool was reluctantly removed.

"The original pool had a fun sense of humour and kept within the properties of a true love story," says Erin Stremcha, Director of Marketing and Public Relations.

Currently named Royal Palms, it is located at the southern base of Camelback Mountain. This intimate retreat exhibits Spanish Colonial architecture in the Old World milieu on nine acres of Tuscan-style landscaping. Botanical lushness, exotic plant and flower gardens accent the resort, which is further adorned by exquisite tapestries, stone fireplaces, blue tile fountains and murals.

Obligatory romantic antics may be pursued on the premises. With the introduction of "Romantication," spearheaded by the resident Director of Romance and Director of Guest Experiences, several packaged romance retreats facilitate intimate escapes. The Royal Palms was rated the No. 1 Romantic Getaway in the World for 2011 as selected by AAA.

The original owner was an ardent world traveller, who discovered that people have used the therapeutic qualities of their natural environment for well-being, and that each new dawn affords one the opportunity for rejuvenation. Apparently, ancients referred to this awakening as "Alvadora." Henceforth, the name was adopted with the advent of the spa in 2003.

Offering 10 decorated treatment areas, the two-level, open-air Alvadora Spa is a veritable haven to enhance romance and revitalize with assorted massages, water therapies and skin treatments. Spa Director Michelle Kinney says "we offer our guests an experience, not just a treatment."

Scottsdale Four Seasons Resort

The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North is nicely nestled in the foothills of Pinnacle Peak, northwest of downtown Phoenix. This Sonoran Desert oasis has moved sandy coloured casitas covering the landscape, which is stocked with sturdy saguaro cacti. The versatile prickly pear cactus produces both a fruit and vegetable. Used in salads and to create syrups, jellies and confections; prickly pear iced tea and lemonade make sweet thirst quenchers in the arid environment. Even a large prickly pear painting greets you before you enter the spa waiting room, where one may await a Jojoba and Prickly Pear Body Polish for replenishment. This constitutes a full-body exfoliation combining penetrating jojoba oil with the healing properties of prickly pear to leave the skin smooth and moisturized.

Myriad massage selections on the spa menu include the Thai, Swedish, hot stone and healing hiker treatment. One can enjoy signature offerings such as Four Seasons in One (medley of massage techniques) and a Sedona Earth Clay Body Mask. An "in-casita" session allows you to experience massage therapy in the comfort and privacy of your own guestroom or on your terrace under the night sky.

Enchantment Resort & Mii Amo Spa

For a genuine awe-inspiring entanglement with nature, we encountered the Enchantment Resort and Mii Amo Spa. Aptly named "Mii Amo,” which translates from Native American into "journey," there are five spa journeys created for individual needs. These reflect life-enhancing physical and emotional well-being, as well as spiritual renewal. Condé Nast Traveler magazine rated the Enchantment in the Top Ten Resort Spas on Mainland US in their 2011 readers’ poll based on the criteria of staff, treatments and facilities.

The resort operates with a sustainable coexistence commitment as plant species and wildlife remain seamlessly undeterred between their natural habitat and property boundaries. We ventured along the marked trails into the Boynton Canyon bordered by Sedona's Secret Mountain Wilderness and surrounded by Coconino National Forest.

With an attractive red rock backdrop (of sandstone rich in iron content), we ventured along the Boynton Canyon Trail taking the fork to the Vista Trail. This led us to the nine-metre-high knoll and one of the four main energy vortexes in Sedona. Due to the axial twists in the surrounding juniper trees, they were evidently responding to the spiraling energy zone. Apparently, the energy at the Boynton Vortex strengthens the masculine-feminine or Yin-Yang balance.

As an extension of this hike, we visited the Crystal Grotto at the spa, where elements of earth, wind, water and fire blend for both meditation and rejuvenation. Dana Katz, who performed the smudging ceremony, revealed to us that "life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."

The Enchantment honours the Native American Spirit that graces the red rock as it radiates mystical energy in ancient Native American sites (vortexes) surrounding the resort. One may also savour the assorted sensory stimuli with their renowned prickly pear Mojito or Margarita in hand, viewing the vista from the elevated outdoor terrace.

As a premier spiritual retreat and spa resort, it offers a plethora of programs and activities, which encompass fitness and nutrition, nature and creativity, and mindfulness and spirituality. Whether you delve into your inner sanctum or focus on enhancing external aspects of oneself, we discovered we could harness elements of energy and relaxation to coexist.

We selected the Neuromuscular Therapy Massage (NMT) and Stone Massage from their extensive “Spa Services Menu.” NMT is beneficial for chronic pain and increases the elasticity of muscles, while the latter used smooth, heated basalt river rocks combined with Swedish massage techniques for alleviating tensions and stress.

Any time is an ideal time in which to venture into the Sonoran Desert to experience some romance, relaxation or revitalization. High-end havens hasten these sensibilities while their exceptional accommodations, dining, service and treatment remain a constant.

* Arizona Office of Tourism:
* Arizona Biltmore:
* Royal Palms Resort & Spa:
* Scottsdale Four Seasons Resort:
* Enchantment Resort & Mii Amo Spa:




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