Isn’t it that time of year when the four-foot wall of snow blocking your driveway makes you think about a HOT, SUNNY ESCAPE?

Look no further…It is CLOSER than you think as I quickly discovered. I found a heavenly ‘Sanctuary’ where you can retreat, soak in a lot of sunshine, receive all the pampering you body can handle, delight your taste buds with exquisitely presented Asian fusion cuisine, and even get a dose of desert culture beneath the stars!

After logging in 35,000 frequent flier miles in just three months, I needed to find a place where I could plant myself even for a weekend where I could rejuvenate both mind and body. Being extremely fatigued, I definitely wasn’t looking for a fitness retreat where I would be treated like GI Jane. I wanted a spa retreat that would combine pampering with a low to moderate fitness routine. And, after consuming mostly generic airline meals, I also wanted to find one with a legendary reputation for fine dining. Tired west coast road warriors looking for restorative solitude have to look no further than the Sanctuary Resort and Spa, located on the north slope of Arizona’s famed Camelback Mountain.

Being raised and spoiled by Southern California’s own beach, “Riviera,” desert destinations were never the ones to top my “100 places to see before I die” list! And, who knew that on the edge of Scottsdale and Phoenix’s bustling city life, in an area appropriately called Paradise Valley, I would find 53 breathtaking acres of pure sun drenched Arizona desert that would allow this tired and weary traveler as much relaxation, serenity, and tranquility that I could possibly handle!

The minute I turned into the desertscape-designed driveway of The Sanctuary I was greeted by several tanned smiling faces (who appeared oblivious to the heat) asking me if I would like a nice cold bottle of water even before checking in. Within minutes I was guided to my own weekend ‘mountain casita’ terraced naturally into the rugged slope of the mountain. Right away my Hollywood stiletto shoes were flung aside. What was I thinking? I instantly grabbed for my comfy summer flats. The steep location of my little casita afforded me a beautiful postcard perfect view of Paradise Valley complete with its imposing and shifting mountain silhouette that reached peak beauty at sunset—absolutely worth the price of my daily mini-trek up and down to the resort’s base where many amenities awaited.

Desert Zen

The mountain casita is its own sanctuary and self-enclosed villa. It comes complete with feather beds and large bathrooms appointed with showers and tubs for those long after hours soak, but let’s face it—beautiful interiors are easy to come by in top resort destinations. What truly sets the Sanctuary apart is an almost inexplicable feeling of nature’s balance- one that touches your spirit and reminds you of the most important priorities in life. Some people may associate words like barren, lifeless, and dead of heat to the desert. But, the Sanctuary has created an intimate retreat utilizing life affirming architecture complete with meditation garden, reflecting ponds, watsu pool, indoor and outdoor treatment rooms all united with what nature generously offers—the overwhelming views.

It’s truly Zen-like and then some. It has extracted the refined elements commonly associated with exclusive spa resorts in Asia and brought them to the Arizona desert! Among its Asian-inspired treatments is Luk Pra Kope, which I immediately booked. Luk Pra Kope is a Thai expression that means “to massage with medicinal herbs.” It is exactly what my jet-lagged body needed. I learned the treatment has been used in Thailand for centuries.

My therapist began by soaking my feet in a fresh lime and essential-oil bath, and then followed it up with an exfoliation treatment using fine, white clay and fresh lime. And if that wasn’t blissful enough, it was combined with Thai massage—a medicinal blend of steamy, organically grown herbs, rolled, and massaged and pressed into my aching tight muscles and other problem areas which she had inquired about even before my treatment began. The heated compress soothes, enhances circulation, and reduces joint stiffness and before I knew it, my stresses just drifted away, and I found myself drifting into “never never land” as my treatment lasted 120 minutes. The indoor/outdoor layout of the spa allowed for what landscapers call “borrowed landscape” compliments of mother nature. You can hear the birds chirping—it was so pleasant that I had to ask at first if it was coming from the therapist CD. The only drawback—with access to the outdoors, I learned that you might end up with a souvenir or two—a la mosquito also looking for his desert escape!

Iron Chef Delights

What more of the uniquely unexpected can I experience during my visit to the Arizona desert? Well, I decided after having such a restful experience, I was ready to venture out. But not before I sample some of Elements’ celebrated Chef Beau’s signature dishes. As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, take one look at this pan seared wild king salmon dish, presented with bok choy, udon noodles, snow peas, and just a touch of sesame and ginger, and tell me if you are not just salivating. It tasted even better than this photo conveys. I was not surprised to learn that Chef Beau (MacMillan) recently dethroned Iron Chef America’s Grill Master, Bobby Flay on the popular hit reality TV show, Iron Chef! Also, if you should ever find yourself dining poolside by the Sanctuary’s peaceful infinity pool, remember to order the seared ahi salad with avocado and ginger vinaigrette. It’s tasty and light—just the right blend to keep your swimsuit fitting sleek.

Ballet Stars Aglow

Rested and nourished, now, I was definitely ready to explore Arizona’s bustling Camelback valley. I quickly discovered that these desert communities, richly connected by one emerald green golf course after another, are also rich in culture—so I decided to take in Ballet Arizona’s world premiere performance entitled, PLAY. This ballet program described by Arizona Republic’s dance critic as ‘7-courses of artistic delight that both plays with its name and plays off it.”

The first-half illuminates the brilliant artistic direction of the lighting director as the dancers begin in a star-lit stage to Mozart’s variations of “Twinkle Twinkle little Star” and builds in seriousness to the passionate heat of a pas de deux by Ballet Arizona’s danseur, Astrit Zejnati and ballerina, Natalia Magnicaballi. Dressed in the briefest of costumes, Zejnaati and Magnicaballi dance entwining their bodies slowly and sinuously, never breaking body contact. As Richard Nilsen of the Arizona Republic notes, “…there is nothing vulgar or salacious about this dance; it is refined and aesthetic but, like the best art, manages to remind us that art is ultimately about the facts of life.”

If you’ve noted a definite international flavor to the names of Ballet Arizona’s dancers—they’re representative of the caliber of global talents at Ballet Arizona. Internationally admired both as a dancer and choreographer, Danish born, Ib Anderson, Ballet Arizona’s Artistic Director, has no qualms about recruiting the best dancers from all corners of the world as well as its own backyard. And, it is clear that this Ballet Company is deep in talent and support. Drawing from Scottsdale, Phoenix, and other nearby desert communities, the packed house at Phoenix’s Symphony Hall illustrates how much they’re truly appreciated by the community.

Perhaps it’s because Ballet Arizona’s community involvement extends beyond Symphony Hall. With programs like Ballet Under The Stars, a series of free performances in community parks Valley-wide, they bring classical and contemporary ballet to a wider and more diverse audience—many of whom experience ballet for the first time. In addition, their Community Angel Nights partners Ballet Arizona with family and children’s service agencies to provide magical experiences of live ballet at no cost for the children and their families who would not otherwise have the opportunity.

But just in case the dancers’ delicate forms aren’t enough to give you goose bumps the live music by the Phoenix Symphony under conductor Timothy Russell, surely will. He is known to music critics as an artist that “brings an intellectual curiosity to everything he does…versatility and virtuosity…Russell’s infectious enthusiasm, knack for innovation, and artistic sensibility have inspired support vital to the continued success of any artistic enterprise.

My weekend retreat to the Arizona desert fulfilled more than just my need to find ‘a place of refuge’ – it was a feast for the mind, body, and soul. I drove away with my spirits renewed and as I took one final look towards the Sanctuary, three beautiful ballerinas were poised in an outdoor Yoga class. The Sanctuary is a desert haven for those living inside and outside of the desert.

I hope you have an opportunity to experience this desert haven, where the staff is as warm as the Arizona sun!

Onward now, to more blissful escapes for 2008,

Escapeseeker, Mel

Getting there:

Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain is located eight miles north of Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport and less than five minutes from downtown Scottsdale.

For your own desert escape experience at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa, contact:

Reservations: 1-800-245-2051
Sanctuary Camelback Mountain
5700 East McDonald Drive
Paradise Valley, Arizona 85253

For Ballet Arizona tickets and info:

Ballet Arizona Box Office
+1 602 381 1096

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