Phoenix, Scottsdale and Sedona – all in Arizona, offer red rock views and elegant surroundings for a single travel escape from the winter chill.
Arizona has two career fields that are safe bets for success: pool maintenance and air conditioning service. The short flight from LAX (or six-hour drive) to Phoenix and adjacent Scottsdale promises plenty of dry, summer heat, and the red-rock Arizona mountains dotted with cacti are reminiscent of old western movies from yesteryear. Yet nowadays, the chic, modern spas and resorts stand at the ready to welcome parched travelers with comfort and services that more than compensate for the desert climate.
I recently visited the Phoenician Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, where the mercury rose to 107 degrees by day and hovered around 78 degrees at midnight. But, as they say, it’s a dry heat and has that same kind of clay baked sensation you find in a Swedish sauna. The Phoenician property has an entrance in its namesake city of Phoenix, and another in Scottsdale, so you can imagine the close proximity of these two cities.
The heat has created an alternative lifestyle for those who live there. The locals try to complete any summer outdoor activity before 10 a.m. Breakfast meetings and golf at dawn are the norm, along with early opening hours at shops and museums. I joined a group tour of Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix at the beat-the-heat time of 7 a.m. In other seasons of the year, perhaps a later start time would allow for a snooze button, but the affordable off-season prices and the choice of accommodations are likely to be less abundant in the peak winter months.
The Botanical Gardens tour dispelled the myth that one can survive on cactus “milk” when stranded, and early morning visitors can witness a variety of desert night blooms that have yet to close their flowers for the day. Doves nesting on top of tall cacti coo throughout the park.
After a family-friendly tour of the Botanical Gardens, I continued my agricultural studies in the ultimate adult fashion: winery tours. Arizona has award-winning vineyards and bottling companies, with tastings available in many wineries. Singles can join scheduled group tours or sidle up to the bar solo for tastings.
For the greatest concentration of wineries, I ventured to Sedona. Besides sounding rhythmic and cool (say Sedona, Arizona out loud, everyone), this region is a two-hour drive from Phoenix, and displays an array of foliage and slightly cooler weather. Temperatures are generally ten degrees lower at this higher elevation, and evergreen trees and babbling brooks make one feel like Colorado has suddenly risen out of the desert.
A quaint artist’s village called Jerome in the Sedona area has become a destination drive for tourists. Jerome’s shops, wineries and hilly streets bespeak a bygone era of a boom-town in the Old West. The best way to explore is on foot, and indeed the pedestrian traffic in this tiny village is a large contrast to downtown Phoenix and Scottsdale’s empty pavement when the sun is high.
After a driving day of wine tastings and viewing the beauty around Sedona, I changed resort addresses near the base of Camelback Mountain in Phoenix and took in the astounding Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture at the historic Arizona Biltmore.
Photos of celebrities and a honeymooning couple named Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Reagan adorn the Biltmore’s halls that were designed by a student of the famed architect. From the saltshakers, to the flying buttresses, to the stained glass windows — every stone, wood or glass inch of the Biltmore oozes magnificence and intoxicates guests with its beauty.
If the Biltmore’s fountains, restaurants, architectural tours and expansive rooms don’t trigger a response, with the art deco wonders around every corner, a five-minute taxi ride takes you to the ultimate Moroccan and Mediterranean experience at the Intercontinental Montelucia in Scottsdale. Experiencing Arizona’s top-rated wedding destination shouldn’t make singulars skittish – rather, awaken their individual senses at this enchanting oasis.
Managing Director Valeriano Antonioli was a gallant host, providing a private tour through the Kasbah-inspired spa treatment rooms, styling salon, gift shop, and guest rooms. Live music in the plaza, outside the wonderful Italian restaurant Prado, somehow melds with the Moroccan décor and 300-year-old castle doors found on the property. President and Mrs. Obama have stayed here, and it’s no wonder … the very best of everything is provided in a fantasy-like atmosphere.
Even more fantastic was the dreamy feel of their Joya Spa with its summer happy hour specials including a shampoo and styling, nail care and makeup application for your evening out for only $50. Other specials include room combos that pair dinner and a spa treatment. You’ll think you’ve found paradise on a pauper’s budget.
The resorts aren’t the only places to enjoy fine dining. One of my favorite restaurants was Quiessence at The Farm at South Mountain. Organic herbs and fresh garden produce are raised on the property and then used to create fresh, delectable dishes. The menu changes according to the garden’s offerings, and the renovated farmhouse is a lovely dining venue. Chefs bake their fresh breads in an outdoor clay oven and serve vino from local wineries.
Harvesting grapes in Arizona may be a paradoxical idea, since the hot climate doesn’t seem appropriate; but in fact, Sedona area vineyards must protect their crops from frost at certain points in the year, even though they’re just a short drive north from the arid temps in Phoenix. Wine lovers in California watch out — Arizona is a contender with many award-winning labels.
Staying sober and cool were two constants throughout my wine tour, so I was keenly aware of my surroundings. One very odd element in Phoenix, a city that ranks fifth in the nation for population, was the sensation of being in a ghost town for most of the day. During a 90-minute lunch in downtown Scottsdale, only a few cars passed and there were absolutely no pedestrians on the sidewalks. Coming from the teeming streets of Los Angeles, even on a hot day, this was a strange phenomenon.
We often think of native Arizona Indian tribes and their rich influence in art and culture when envisioning Western heritage. But you may not know that a secondary influence in Arizona is the Scottish lineage, which brought golf to the resorts. In fact, that Scottish heritage is profiled each evening at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa with a bagpipe player strolling along the golf course, just beyond the outdoor fireplaces on the Westin Hotel veranda. Apparently, wine isn’t the only imbibement known to the locals, as scotch is a trademark there, as well.
Our neighboring state offers year round photogenic vistas and world class accommodations for your summer getaway, whether you’re an air-conditioned aristocrat or a California casual enthusiast. Grab sunscreen and pad your beverage budget (water and juices to stay hydrated) for a Phoenix jaunt that can be surprisingly affordable. After a few days around Phoenix, you’ll realize the early hours are precious and beautiful, and the desert way of life doesn’t seem so very different from that of our Inland Empire, minus the smog, of course.
Copyright © JC Russell / 2014 Singular Communications, LLC.