Resorting to serene and chic Scottsdale

May 04, 2008|By Alan Solomon | Alan Solomon,Chicago Tribune

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's been a long time since cowboys parked their ponies on Main Street in what was once proudly marketed as the West's Most Western Town.

Today's Scottsdale is two P.F. Chang's, two California Pizza Kitchens and two Merrill Lynch offices.

It is art galleries and turquoise shops and boutiques and Beemer convertibles and monster shopping malls serving monster subdivisions hidden behind faux-adobe walls.

Fortunately, though you may have to look carefully, Scottsdale is still desert and the mountains -- or at least a short drive from desert and mountains. To those who pine and whine over "the old Scottsdale," we offer this from Jennifer Franklin, a native Scottsdalean who represents the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort:

"My old Scottsdale is the view of the mountains and seeing them turn purple in the afternoon," she says. "I grew up with these mountains. They still turn purple in the afternoon."

The Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau guide lists 71 hotels and resorts. I won't.

But among the 71 is a collection of resort-spas, often with a golf component, that's a concentration of the breed rivaled in this country only in and around Palm Springs, Calif. To provide a real good hint of what Scottsdale has to offer, here are profiles of six of these properties, some among America's premier resorts. They are not listed in any meaningful order.

A couple of more points: The listed room rates, though accurate as can be, turn to fiction as occupancy loosens or tightens -- so check the resorts' Web sites or call ahead; also, from mid-May (and sometimes earlier) until Labor Day (and sometimes later), when the weather here tends to get a little toasty, rates plummet, bringing luxury to within Best Western budgets.

Finally, regarding the featured "favorite spa treatments": None was actually attempted. I was just intrigued by the menu descriptions. You will be, too.

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

This large spread manages to be an astounding desert resort without screaming, "Aren't we an astounding desert resort?"

Take the spa, called Willow Stream. Remarkable. Inspired by the Grand Canyon and its Havasu Falls, cascades tumble down its multiple levels. "Just the power they have, in the middle of nowhere -- it's breathtaking," spa director Jill Eisenhut says of the originals. "We tried to depict that feeling."

The resort's La Hacienda regularly appears at the top among upscale Mexican restaurants in the U.S. Just added: Bourbon Steak, from award-winning chef Michael Mina.

Kids? Here's a clue: Across from the adult check-in area is one for kids -- yes, for kids -- with a mini-staircase to ease communication with the desk clerk.

Bigger kids? The TPC Stadium club, one of two on-site 18-hole courses, is home to the FBR Open, renowned among PGA tour events for its unique tolerance for, um, fan participation (that is, noise).

Five pools. A "fragrance garden" and a resident desert tortoise. But explorers will find ungroomed desert "within five minutes of leaving the parking lot," says a spokeswoman.

The rooms? Really, really nice.

Downside: It's a little away from the action. Minor.

Favorite spa treatment: Desert Moonlight Massage, $179.

Information: 7575 E. Princess Drive; 800-344-4758; fairmont.com/Scottsdale. 651 rooms, including suites 25 suites and 125 casitas; rates from $459.

Westin Kierland Resort & Spa

There's nothing wrong with this hotel, other than it feels like it got lost on its way to downtown Phoenix. Or downtown Dallas. Or suburban Kansas City, Mo.

This is an 11-story, 732-room (plus suites, plus casitas) Godzilla of a hotel in low-rise country that, try as it does, can't escape the sense it's a convention hotel with privileges, not the resuscitative "resort & spa" the name suggests.

Business people who haul the spouse and kids along will make the family happy. The requisites are in place: pools, water slides, a "lazy river," Kids Club, Teen Lounge, spa.

Of course, adjacent to the hotel is Kierland Commons: 70 "high-end" retailers. The three nines of golf are here. Also here: air-conditioned golf carts. Explains a spokeswoman: "Keeps you cool on the back of the neck when you're dripping sweat."

There are hints of Arizona -- a narrow Grand Canyon mural over a lobby bar, that sort of thing -- but no real sense of place.

The signature restaurant is the much-praised Deseo (nuevo Latino). The creative Agave spa offers such treatments as a Gingerbread Massage: "When you're all through, you get a gingerbread cookie." A bagpiper pipes in the sunset.

A first-rate hotel. Plenty of parking. Pet-friendly. If you're stuck in a meeting, the spouse and kids won't complain.

Favorite spa treatment: Ice Cream Pedicure (you pick the flavor), from $95.

Information: 6902 E. Greenway Parkway; 800-354-5892; kierlandresort.com. 732 rooms, plus 55 suites and 32 casitas; rates from $369.

FireSky Resort & Spa

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