Phoenix, Arizona Resorts Five-Star Phoenix

Two Arizona resorts offer guests a lavish departure from the daily grind and near total seclusion from the worries of the world. Both luxury resorts are based near Phoenix, so driving is an option, putting the frills and those five star resort rates within reach.

For a genuine retreat, the elegant Arizona Biltmore, instills a sense of tranquility immediately upon entering the lobby, which probably owes to its status as the only existing hotel in the world with a design influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. Constructed on 39 impeccably landscaped acres beneath Squaw Peak, the low styled Biltmore is an expansive 700 guest rooms and cottages, eight swimming pools, seven tennis courts, an 18-hole championship golf course, spa, salon, fitness center and shopping village. Exploring every inch is a treat and one never has to leave the grounds.

Since opening in 1929— Chicago chewing gum businessman William Wrigley, Jr., became the sole owner a year later—the Biltmore has been a magnet for the rich. The Wrigley family owned and operated the Biltmore and hosted celebrities, heads of state, and captains of industry. Past guests include former Vice-President Dan Quayle and Smashing Pumpkins founder Billy Corgan. The Biltmore’s history is proudly displayed in photographs of presidents in its corridors—there’s even a Barry Goldwater Suite.

The Biltmore staff is relaxed, friendly, and professional and every feature, from the low, wide-open layout to the comfortable furniture and discreet lighting, is infused with a sense of openness, not the sterile, big-potted-plant feel of many other high-end resorts. If seeking refuge from an onslaught of breaking news about world destruction, the Arizona Biltmore offers an exceptional escape; at each turn, there is the indelible mark of a single, human mind. This is the place to get lost in craftsmanship.

Every light fixture and concrete block is integrated to Mr. Wright’s architectural idea and it feels good to walk around and explore. The resort's design was inspired by consulting architect Wright, who collaborated with his former student Albert Chase McArthur.

Despite the Biltmore’s renovations, there is room for improvement. For example, the guest room interior is poorly matched to Mr. Wright’s style, using ordinary furniture where there ought to be clean lines and angles. And expect to do a lot of walking, depending on the room’s location. It took fifteen minutes to get to breakfast each morning, but the journey—lined with palm trees, lush landscapes and garden statues—is worth the effort.

Save time and money for a visit to the Biltmore’s merchant village, which includes a Frank Lloyd Wright-themed shop; prices are about the same as the goods at Wright’s nearby architecture school, Taliesin West. There are a couple of restaurants, but the outdoor cafe, located near the shops, is clearly the choice among most guests for breakfast and lunch; table service is offered and the croissants, coffee and sandwiches menu is more affordable. Two muffins and two coffees are under twelve bucks.

For those willing to indulge, 23 private cabanas at the grand Paradise Pool, priced at a mighty steep $ 149 per day, make a day at the pool feel like forever. Cabana guests are fully pampered by the pool attendant and waiters, bearing fresh coffee, fluffy towels and an endless supply of ice water. The cabana, equipped with a toilet, shower, vanity, and a small TV for news junkies, features two sun loungers and a table for dining. The private mini-villa is yours all day long. The Paradise Pool features a 92-foot-long water slide.

The Biltmore also includes an intermediate path up to Squaw Peak, which is wisely tackled with a full stock of bottled water.

For a real visit to the desert, head for the Boulders, in Carefree, Arizona, but try to make the drive during the day because it’s easy to get lost finding this sprawling resort and even easier to get lost finding your private casita.

After a stay at the Biltmore, it’s hard not to notice that the more expensive Boulders is less distinctive. The inattentive staff bears the mark of a hotel chain employer—the Boulders is owned by the Wyndham chain—and the accommodations are somewhat disappointing. Opting for the huge family villa with three bedrooms and a kitchen, we were dismayed to find one modest dining table with four chairs and mediocre accommodations.

An advantage of staying on the villas is the money saved by eating in, but be warned that an overzealous cleaning crew can be a whirlwind force; ours swept in unannounced several times and, though polite, practically threw every item not nailed down, including full, opened bottles of water, into the trash. It’s probably better to book a smaller, perfectly appointed casita—we peeked at one—because they are located closer to the main lodge and dining. Generally, the casita offers the higher value.

Not that it matters much; the Boulders is really all about the boulders anyway. If the Biltmore puts the emphasis on everything manmade, the Boulders is rather plain, leaving design completely to nature. Walking across the grounds yields one quiet, wondrous encounter after another with a jackrabbit or a snake. Discovery consumes the senses as the Boulders lands are rich with saguaro cacti, coyote, deer, and the aroma of wood-burning fires and of course the vista of 12 million year old boulders, some of which are truly breathtaking.

A real highlight was the lodge service; simply sitting in the lounge talking with guests, while dining on light sandwiches by the fire, made some of the finest memories.

A word about driving to the Arizona Biltmore and The Boulders from Los Angeles: pump gas—especially for those SUVs—at Blythe, which is the last place to get gas for what seems like an eternity. Also, since Phoenix hotel rates are down nearly four percent from a year ago, according to Smith Travel Research, some hotels are willing to negotiate rates. Both the Biltmore and the Boulders offered lower rates. Spend the savings on your favorite indulgences, because these twin retreats have it all.

This 2002 article was published in the Los Angeles Daily News.

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