Like many who are increasingly time short, I needed somewhere to recover, or at least to catch a breath. Luxury Collection’s The Phoenician, in Scottsdale AZ, fitted the bill perfectly. This 645-key success-story hotel, part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, was built in 1988 on the site of Elizabeth Arden’s Main Chance. A few years back the 100 hectares of gorgeous landscape, 20 minutes from the airport, I felt were a mismatch with a hotel that was frankly old-fashioned and ‘a resort from a template’. Now, thanks to a complete re-do and design by Parker-Torres, who are based outside of Boston, it is absolutely gorgeous. Not surprisingly, at least 70% of business is domestic, especially interstate (apparently these folks feel their own smaller pools at home get too hot in summer but here the chilled pools are a big attraction).
Obviously the re-done 18-hole Phil Smith golf course is a draw and so too is the new two-floor Athletics Club: get exercise from the ten-minute walk to it from the main hotel, and then 27 stairs up to the upper floor’s 24/7 fitness, which has the really good, latest, Matrix. I was also thrilled with the spa, so soothing to look at, and with highly popular treatments – I had a facial which seemed to light up a tired face for several days, and I was quite tempted by the Fire & Ice special, a hot Himalayan stone massage complemented by a chilled foot massage with birch, menthol, peppermint and wintergreen. The spa has its own small gym, Technogym this time, but that room closes at 6pm, while treatment rooms, boutique and beauty salon continue to 7pm.
During cooler weather this is a major MICE hotel, but when the temperature is over 100F it is nearly all leisure, with average stay of 3.5 nights. Kids love it, and parents appreciate that the resort fee – yes, that daily surcharge that is something that you just have to put up with in the great US-of-A – covers Funicians Night Owls babysitting, plus, for adults, daytime biking and so much more.
Personally, I would return like a shot for the feel of the bedrooms, designed by Wimberly Interiors, part of global mammoth WAT&G. Apparently, too, those who are in the 60-suite separate Canyon Suites at The Phoenician, five minutes’ walk from the main hotel, are even more attached to their accommodation.
For me, one of the many high points of this lovely place is Mowry & Cotton restaurant, named for two of the early prospectors in the area. This is a most agreeable restaurant, the design hinting at the Wild West – eat outside, on the terrace, and you might expect to see Buffalo Bill galloping towards you. We had a superb dinner, helped by a glass of Madness and Cures Sanity Red Wine 2015 from Anderson Valley, Mendocino. The ‘Mowry chop’ salad had avocado, corn, peppers, cotija (a crumbly Mexican cheese), greens, and mole (a chili vinaigrette). The cowgirl ribeye, just right for riding with Buffalo B, came with tiniest cubes of pork belly. Dessert, believe it or not, was donuts, with three sauces. Cowpeople eat well. At breakfast, Mowry’s ‘breakfast BLT’ consisted of two fried eggs, MC sauce, Cheddar, brioche, and chili potatoes – and a falcon came by to say hello. Yes, this is a really agreeable urban-resort hotel.
Castle Hot Springs
From The Phoenician, I was driven to Scottsdale airport, about 20 minutes from Sky Harbor, and then to Western Sky Helicopters, in the adjacent block. There, thanks to the capable pilot of the five-passenger Bell 429-55, we flew over Phoenix and Scottsdale suburbs, and over Lake Pleasant, a 1500-hectare reservoir created in 1927 by the Carl Pleasant Dam. Shortly after, and 20 minutes flight time in all, the helicopter landed in the front garden of the retreat-luxury Castle Hot Springs resort, northwest of Phoenix.
Castle Hot Springs, in 445 acres of privately-owned land, gets its name for a reason. From about seven metres above the main lodge, a stream falls nearly vertically via a series of pools: it emerges from the mountainside at 49 degrees Celsius, and, thalassotherapy style, a lower pool is 43 degrees and the lowest is 32 degrees. Each pool is a divinely serene meditation and swimming spot. Ever since the lodge was built in 1896 this has been a retreat, and so it continues. There are two letting-bedrooms in the lodge but I much preferred the 29 individual villas, built in the last couple of years. Spring Bungalows, set up the steep incline behind the lodge, do have Toto toilets but I think I would choose a Sky View Cabin, down on the flat, just below the lodge. Number 31 is closest to the lodge but all have pastoral views over the immediate grounds.
Wherever you stay, rooms have heritage etceteras but are highly modern – apart from telephones (nil) and televisions (nil). Most cellphones do not work, but WiFi does. Compensate with real books and games and espresso machines and lots of exercise. There are watersports on Lake Pleasant, and you have biking, and of course swimming, and massages. What will also excite horticulturalists, naturalists and organic nutritionists is the garden. The resort agronomist (head gardener in layman’s terms), Ian Beger, who will have a team of three to help him full-time, loved this place so much he wanted his family to buy it. Now he has the best of both worlds, a paid job doing what he adores. Get him talking about growing ground-shade plants to shield more vulnerable species and you’ll learn up to PhD level in no time.
Everyone here, indeed, is passionate about the place. GM Ryan Tomm moved here, with his wife and toddler, from an urban Hilton – oh what a change. The eyes of Harvest restaurant’s chef, Chris Brugman, a would-be lawyer, light up when he talks about the produce he gathers and uses within minutes. He has, year-round, 300-plus herbs and vegetables that are grown here (the gardeners start at 5.30 a.m. because of the heat). It was 46 degrees last week, but it will have cooled down perfectly by the time the hotel re-opens on 7th October 2019, running through to 21 June 2020. Also, at 600 metres above sea level it is generally about four degrees cooler than Phoenix.
Castle Hot Springs, a Small Luxury Hotel of the World, is indeed a one-off and charming luxury retreat, related only to such thalasso venues as Dunton Hot Springs in Colorado, which also has heritage, and to ForteVillage Resort in Sardinia. And it complements The Phoenician perfectly.