The approach to Arizona’s Phoenician Resort is dramatic: set in the heart of Scottsdale, at the base of Camelback Mountain, all 250 acres (101 hectares) sprawl before me, the fresh green of pristine golf courses a stark contrast to the area’s red earth and the deep blue sky.
The 645-bed hotel – built in the late 1980s, and now part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection – has recently undergone extensive renovations, including an overhaul of the spa, a three-storey, freestanding building with 24 treatment rooms, which has been expanded with help from consultants Spa Strategy (see p66).
I arrive at the spa lobby, where cool grey marble floors are a relief from the desert heat, and a team of three receptionists welcomes me. Subtle iconography of the phoenix appears throughout, including an abstract motif on the wall and a dramatic light sculpture that hangs from the cathedral-style ceilings. Like the mythical bird for which the surrounding city is named, the Phoenician Spa hopes its guests will “rise brilliantly and emerge anew, peaceful and stronger than before in body and spirit. Reborn as well as transformed”.
In the locker room the shades of grey continue and the decor is simple and uncluttered: graceful orchids and candles set with crystals, are a nod to the area’s new age spirituality. The spa attendant, Ariadna, flits around unobtrusively, ensuring not only that I have everything I need, but also that everything remains as it should be: wet puddles quickly mopped up, used towels carted away – even the paper towels are fanned out in perfect form, like a phoenix’s tail.
I slip into my minky, charcoal-coloured robe and head to the new hydrotherapy suite before my treatment. Part of the spa’s design remit was to take advantage of its spectacular position at the base of Camelback Mountain, and the hydrotherapy area features floor-to-ceiling glass to allow mountain views to aid relaxation.
I begin with the hydrotherapy pool, and again, I’m struck by the small details – snug covers are fitted over the metal handrails to protect fingers from the heat – but it’s not until I’m sitting in the pool with a jet at my back, that I realise someone has calculated the perfect angle to gaze up at the mountain, something I could have easily done for hours.
Instead, I venture into the sauna, which is set to a moderate temperature – in line with American, rather than Finnish tastes – and boasts lovely cedar smells. The steamroom is lush with moisture, and lined in earth-toned tiles that change with the light, revealing shimmering, incandescent tones, much like the mountains that change with the sunlight, from orange to red to dusky blue.
I take some iced cucumbers for my eyes (another nice detail) as I retire to a lounger, and soon, Ariadna comes to tell me it’s almost time for my treatment. I chose one of the spa’s signatures: the 80-minute Phoenix Rising Scrub and Massage which costs U$280 (€245, £221) off peak and US$290 (€254, £229) at the weekend. Essences of clove, myrrh and frankincense – my therapist, Ben, tells me that this is what the phoenix lined its nest with – are combined with sage and salt crystals for the body polish. Ben says it’s also infused with magnesium to help with energy levels and muscle function.
When asked, I say I like firm pressure, and my neck and shoulder blades could use some particular attention. Ben gets to work, applying the body polish with fluid motions, then adding water, which turns it to a rich cream – all the while, not only massaging my muscles, but also stretching my limbs, so that by the time he finishes, not only is my skin silky smooth, but my body is limber.
With my skin perfectly exfoliated, Ben moves on to the massage, working pressure points in my shoulders and asking me to breathe into each move. This is an active massage and between the breathing and the stretching Ben is chatty, telling me of his love of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and commenting on the bits of tension he’s working through. I don’t always like a talkative therapist, but somehow in this case, it adds to the treatment, establishing a level of trust and a sense of true caring.
Ben finds – and works – the knots in my shoulder blades, and tells me I can do a bit of self-care at home with a baseball and the weight of my body. My shoulders are stretched one into the other as he releases tension in my hip, and throughout, Ben seems to respond to my body and its particular problems and needs, so that the whole treatment feels as though it was tailor-made for me. After the treatment, he recommends the hydrotherapy circuit, or a mineral soak with Epsom salts later, which can be bought at the spa’s retail shop and will prolong the effects of the treatment.
Since I have limited time, I take the elevator to the third floor to see the new rooftop swimming pool, where the views continue in all directions – Camelback Mountain to one side, and the city, its lights twinkling at sunset, to the other. I breathe in the cool of the desert evening, and feel – dare I say it? – as if I’ve emerged, peaceful and stronger, reborn and transformed. Risen, you might say.