Carried away by a desert detox
Like armed guardians of the Sonoran desert, the saguaro cacti stand tall, their chunky arms bent upwards towards the piercing blue sky.Capable of growing up to 78 feet high, the saguaro doesn’t sprout until the tree is way over 50 years old. Then it produces the state’s “wildflower of Arizona”.
Scottsdale has a reputation as a place of health and wellness and I’ve come here for a desert detox at some of the state’s top spa resorts. Clearly, the desert environment works wonders on ancient cacti, but what can it do for a not-so-ancient spa rookie like me?
At the Four Seasons Resort at Troon North (Scottsdale), I will select my own custom-blended massage oils, be massaged, stretched, scrubbed, exfoliated, polished, moisturised and wrapped, and generally have my yin sorted from my yang.
A typical morning finds us hiking by 6am through the 150-acre Pinnacle Peak Park on a moderate 3.5-mile route covered in pretty wild flowers, cactus, jojoba shrubs and banana yuccas. A delicate cactus wren watches us from the tip of a thorny-armed saguaro, while gritty desert textures contrast with a smooth blue sky.
Carefully avoiding impalement, we stop at a prickle-free space for an outdoor yoga session, commencing with a Mountain Pose. As we ground our feet in the mineral-rich red dirt, joggers, mountain bikers, speed walkers, dog walkers and speed-walking dog walkers flit past us.
The Four Seasons boasts an award-winning spa, with 14 ultra-modern treatment rooms and 210 luxurious but delightfully cosy guest casitas (little houses) with views across the desert. From the outside they are practically identical, but mine has a unique-looking cactus outside the door, making it easily identifiable. This is handy in the dark, after a tipple or two (not part of the detox), when the wide, winding path might not be so easy to navigate.
Before breakfast I join instructor, Jake Zinn, who introduces me to the healing art of tai chi. It’s a soft, reflective and invigorating start to the day.
Then it’s time for a fitting visit to Proof, the hotel’s Americana canteen, with its soda fountain and retro games. Its home-style dishes include fried green tomatoes and seared salmon with grilled peaches. The resort recently introduced a Spanish steakhouse called Talavera, with a tapas bar boasting a variety of tasty handcrafted gins.
Many foodie experiences are available off-resort, too: for breakfast I can pop into the health-conscious Kale & Clover or Farm and Craft. For lunch there is Postino Highland, a quirky and cool hangout. For coffee or a snack I like New Wave Market, which has unique chocolate bacon caramel corn, duck fat toffee and mesquite chocolate chip cookies.
For dinner, vegetarians are catered for at trendy FnB Restaurant, known for its creative vegetable dishes, or the Herb Box, where they put a savoury twist on authentic cuisine. For carnivores there is The Taco Guild, with Mexican food, a lively atmosphere and tasty tacos, and The Mission, which has modern Latin-based dishes including Malbec-braised short rib and chorizo porchetta.
Another beautiful day dawns, and I join outdoor specialists Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA) for a guided hike along the McDowell Sonoran Preserve’s Gateway Loop trail, a 4.5-mile moderate track that climbs to a saddle before winding back to the trailhead. AOA also offer mountain biking, river rafting and stand-up paddle boarding or kayaking adventure day trips.
And another spectacular spa awaits. I’m at CIVANA Carefree, a luxurious, carbon-neutral spa where the entrance fee gives you access to on-site wellness experts, 20 acres of land to roam, five fitness and movement studios, and ten programmes. Their four “pillars of wellness” are movement, spa, nourishment and discovery. They feature a specialised hydrotherapy thermal circuit.
There I am treated to Himalayan singing bowls, and suspended off the ground for aerial yoga.
Expert therapists place the handmade singing bowls on and around the body. Then they create healing vibrations by running sticks around the rims, making an ethereal sound, which balances mind, body and soul.
Aerial yoga takes time to perfect, involving gentle aerobatics, performed whilst dangling upside down from a hammock a few feet off the ground. Inelegant, and giggling like schoolgirls, our group soon improve their moves, and eventually we’re so relaxed that we almost fall asleep.
CIVANA Carefree sells healthy lunch dishes to complement your workout at the Terras restaurant, or lighter bites at their Café Meto.
A detour from spas to Taliesin West, the home of iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright, starts with a 90-minute tour through Wright’s personal quarters, offering detailed information about the house. It was built by Wright and his apprentices in three sections, wrapped around a hill, using rocks collected from the desert. It was Wright’s home, studio and architectural laboratory, and today it still functions as an acclaimed architectural school.
My afternoon is spent at the bustling Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort, whose 750 rooms sprawl over 65 acres. The Well & Being Spa is spectacular, with a beautiful rooftop pool, a grotto waterfall, a yoga studio, a steam room and, of course, plenty of massage studios among its features.
The Phoenician is a grand hotel situated at the base of the iconic Camelback Mountain. The recommended hike up Camelback offers great views of the valley below. The Phoenician recently opened its award-winning J&G Steakhouse, which offers treats such as Wagyu Tomahawk Ribeye, rack of lamb and Alaskan king crab legs, and is well worth a visit.
In 2018 The Phoenician launched its spectacular three-storey spa. The reception is grand, modern and sleek, and there I’m whisked away to one of many treatment rooms, where Amanda, my facial specialist, is waiting for me.
My 90-minute facial includes cleansing, eye treatments, repair creams, lip care, extractions and finally a dermal massage with suction. I literally shine, and my cynical self has to accept that my skin has never looked so fresh, healthy or clean.
I’m a spa newbie, unaccustomed to in-depth pampering, but my desert detox and healthy eating has rubbed off some of that attitude along with some dead skin, and this convert is feeling refreshed, relaxed, renewed and clearly cut out for this lifestyle after all.
Tourist Office: www.experiencescottsdale.com
Four Seasons Resort at Troon, Scottsdale: (fourseasons.com/scottsdale) rates start from $669 per room, per night in high season (January to May and September to December) and $209 per room, per night in low season (typically June to August)
The Phoenician: rates start from $329 per room, per night in autumn/winter, $569 per room, per night in spring and $199 per room, per night in summer (marriott.com)
CIVANA Carefree: for prices visit civanacarefree.com
Fairmont Princess: for prices visit fairmont.com/scottsdale/
British Airways: for return flight prices from Edinburgh-London-Phoenix visit: britishairways.com