Spa Wonderland

by Rona Berg

Perhaps the most famous spa destination in the country, Scottsdale has something for everyone

Scottsdale, Arizona, is a true spa mecca, possibly even the most famous spa destination in the country. Hands down, it seems as though there are more spas per capita here than anywhere else, with the number increasing—and Scottsdale growing—at a fantastic rate. What is it about this particular part of the American Southwest? It is beautiful, no doubt, but according to Sylvia Sepielli, founder of SPAd (Sylvia Planning And Design), and creator of many of the world’s top spas, including Arizona’s Mii Amo, and the Joya Spa at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa, in Scottsdale, the answer is simple: “It’s the weather. And people move to Arizona for their health.” In other words, where there are health-conscious people, well, there are spas. In recent years, Scottsdale is also emerging as a top culinary destination, with the James Beard Award-winner Charleen Badman of FnB, and rising star Branden Levine of Sel leading the way. Scottsdale also offers gorgeous red rock hiking trails, cultural monuments like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, mountain biking, museums, and, of course, the golf—over 100 courses—that it is famous for. With its beautiful Sonoran Desert landscape and Spanish flair, no matter what you’re looking for, you will find it here.

SANCTUARY CAMELBACK MOUNTAIN RESORT

The first thing to do when you arrive at Sanctuary is gaze up at the jagged Camelback Mountain, with its red rock “humps” and the “Praying Monk” rock that protrudes off to the side. Then, assuming you are there in the right season—fall, winter or spring—slip into your swimsuit and head for the spacious hot tub, next to the infinity pool, near the spa, so that you can let the jets dissolve any muscle tension while you are perfectly positioned, once again, to gaze at the awe-inspiring mountain. If you want to warm your bones—coming from a chilly NYC winter, as I did—head into the 12-room spa afterward and claim a spot in the spacious eucalyptus steam. Then try the magical Wild Lime Blossom Massage, a 90-minute massage starting with a head, scalp, neck and shoulder focus, then evolving into a relaxing full-body massage. The treatment room features two gorgeous stone wall panels inspired by the Praying Monk on Camelback Mountain, and a quiet that is meditative.The 24 beautiful spa casitas—the most recent build on the property—are commodious and comfortable, and close to everything, including the happening Jade Bar, with fireplace and mountain views, and the fantastic Elements restaurant, which is extremely low-key and romantic. Chef Beau MacMillan hails from Plymouth, Massachusetts, and his farm-to-table menu incorporates many bright, light and innovative twists on Asian classics, including tender carrot millet potstickers, Asian oysters rockefeller with spinach and hijiki, and tender Korean BBQ wagyu beef. Whether you plan to hike, spa, head into town or simply relax and unwind on property, Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort is just that: a true sanctuary. sanctuaryoncamelback.com

OMNI SCOTTSDALE RESORT & SPA AT MONTELUCIA

When you enter the resort, you feel immediately transport-ed to Spain: orange trees, Spanish tiles, even paella on the menu. In fact, the inspiration for Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia came from Granada, Spain, because the original owner felt there was an affinity between the land in Scottsdale and that part of Spain. The Resort is a tranquil, beautiful place, where you can loll around the pool all day and feel a deep and abiding sense of peace. The 31,000-square-foot Spanish/Moroccan-inspired Joya Spa, created and implemented by Sylvia Sepielli, in collaboration with Scottsdale architect Mark Philp of Allen + Philp Architects, is a true gem, and, like any rare and priceless jewel, it is spectacular to experience and behold. Enter the spa and start at the Joy of Intention room, where you stop to set an intention and choose from five healing stones to set the tone for your day. The Room of Purification is next, and it contains a stunning 55-pound quartz crystal that radiates colored light, with a constellation replicating stars from Granada, Spain, overhead. Guests place both hands on the crystal, take a deep breath in, and exhale stress and negative energy. A series of stops and starts are intended to slow you down, and allow you to enter a more deeply relaxed, contempla-tive state. There is a gorgeous hammam, and a hot and cold hydrother-apy course to follow, which is not to be missed. Whatever spa treatment you choose, make the hammam part of your journey. “Because the Arabs had such a rich heritage of the hamman and healing in Spain, the concept really called for that,” says Sepielli. “The intention was to make it look like the hotel had been there for a while, and it does,” says Sepielli. “It transports you.” omnihotels.com/hotels/scottsdale-montelucia

THE PHOENICIAN

After a vast multimillion-dollar renovation, the huge and ultra-modern Phoenician reopened recently with a brand new 37,000-square-foot, three-story, spa, which took almost a year to finish. It features a rooftop pool, which is a great place to enjoy lunch alone or with friends, before or after a treatment. There is also a Drybar, 24 treatment rooms, a couple’s Tranquili-ty Suite, Quiet Relaxation Room, locker rooms with hot tub, steam and sauna, fitness center, movement studio and nail salon.The signature 80-minute Body and Soul Treatment infuses organic lavender, sage and arnica, into a therapeutic massage that targets muscle aches and pains, and inflammation, with steaming hot towels and essential oils that bring mind and body into balance. Other recent additions to the property include the Phoeni-cian Athletic Club, a two-story, state-of-the-art facility with far-reaching desert views, offering everything from virtual workouts to yoga, tennis, pickleball and more. The award-win-ning J&G Steakhouse, a fine-dining restaurant that is part of the Jean-Georges group, also got a refresh. (If you are not a meat eater, you can enjoy a stupendous fish entree.) This is a stylish place to enjoy a unique cocktail at the friendly bar, and stare out of the floor-to-ceiling windows. The Phoenician is vast, and features several other restaurants, a lobby lounge, boutiques, nine swimming pools and a very family-friendly vibe. thephoenician.com

ROYAL PALMS RESORT

Nestled near Scottsdale’s famous Camelback Mountain, the Royal Palms Resort was built as a private residence in 1929, by Delos Cooke, a man who traveled to Spain regularly, and wanted to bring that flavor back home to Arizona. An archway opens to a tiled courtyard, fountains, bougain-villea and palm trees, and when you look up, terra cotta meets a clear blue sky. Alvadora Spa, a charming wood and stone structure, with tiled pathways open to outdoor courtyards, is studded with adobe kiva fireplaces. In a desert climate, temperatures drop and it is a good idea to warm yourself by the fire while you wait for your treatment. Royal Palms feels intimate, with 119 charming guest rooms and casitas, pocket gardens and citrus trees that transport to a villa on the Mediterranean. With a lush tangle of local plants and herbs thriving nearby, it makes sense that the latest addition to the spa menu is a session with a local herbalist and massage therapist, for an 80-minute Spanish Sage & Olive Stone Scrub and Wrap. Rachel mixes the oils and scrubs from local organic plants, and the treatment starts with a full-body exfoliation, green clay wrap, outdoor tiled shower and relaxing massage. Back to the kiva, then take a swim in the private pool, work out at the fitness center, enjoy a hike or bike ride, or a game of tennis. Even though there are many top restaurants that beckon not far away, you will not want to miss a laid-back, romantic dinner on the outdoor patio at T. Cook’s, on property, where highlights include organic green salad, hot stone ahi tuna, and more. Then, enjoy another bout of mountain-gazing from your private patio before you turn in. royalpalmshotel.com

HOT SPOTS IN SCOTTSDALE

Aside from hiking up the red rock trails, gazing at the stars and soaking in a hot tub, here are some of my favorite things to do in Scottsdale.

Seeing

TALIESIN WEST 

Frank Lloyd Wright’s house in the desert, also the home of his School of Architecture at Taliesin, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019. Wright came here to work on the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in 1927, fell in love with the desert and decided to open an architecture school.

MUSEUM OF THE WEST

The Museum of the West is close to downtown art galleries and puts you smack in the middle of the Art Walk, a weekly Thursday night event, from 7-9 p.m., along Main Street and Marshall Way. The museum features a rotation of excellent exhibits focusing on Southwestern artists and historical artifacts.

COSANTI

Cosanti was the studio and residence of controversial Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri. Soleri studied briefly with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, before they had an epic parting of the ways. He is known for Arcosanti, a community based on “arcology”—a vision that melded architecture and ecology.

Tasting

SEL RESTAURANT 

The simple decor at this downtown storefront restaurant belies the utter sophistication of Chef Branden Levine’s elegant American cuisine. Levine, who was featured on the Food Network, has created a neighborhood spot for fine dining based on local, organic and seasonal ingredients. The four-course prix fixe menus at the cozy 50-seat restaurant change weekly; guests can also dine a la carte. Call ahead and ask for a special vegan or vegetarian menu.

MUSEUM OF THE WEST

A great spot to grab lunch, with a menu fully loaded with healthy options plus a seasonal wellness menu. Choose from anti-inflammatory, probiotic, antioxidant, gluten-free and organic dishes.

TRUE FOOD KITCHEN

Dr. Andrew Weil is a partner in True Food Kitchen, and it features a seasonal menu that is vast and always changing. The restaurant, a great lunch spot, celebrates local ingredients in simple dishes that are fresh, vibrant and delicious.

LDV WINERY TASTING ROOM

Scottsdale is now up to five wine tasting rooms. LDV highlights organic and sustainable wines, such as 2015 Sky Island Viognier and 2014 Building Block Petite Syrah.

Shopping

RIVER TRADING POST

A beautiful gallery featuring authentic Native American crafts in a lovely, spacious setting. The co-owners are extraordinarily knowledgeable and helpful and the vintage and contemporary rugs, jewelry, pottery and bags are tasteful and beautiful.

EARTHENWARE

A shop in the center of town where Southwestern-style earrings, bracelets and other jewelry are handmade. One day Bruce Springsteen strolled in and chose a handsome leather and bead bracelet, which the owners then named “Born to Run.” No surprise, it’s been a best-seller ever since.

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