There are many different kinds of travelers out there, and the differences, in my experience, become even stronger when interests turn to exploring the wilderness. As you can imagine, here at the Gentleman’s Gazette, we’d like to enjoy the natural world up close without sacrificing comfort or style. Basically, we seek to travel elegantly, no matter the budget or destination. Today’s travel feature, Sedona, Arizona, is an ideal American destination to do exactly that. With towering red-hued cliffs, a temperate climate, and a unique small-town feel, Sedona is a best-of-both-worlds nature & luxury experience.
Arizona is first thought of as the Grand Canyon State, home to snow-covered mountains, Saguaro-dotted deserts and nearly 300 days of sunshine a year. It’s a distinctly sporting destination, but for those who enjoy a touch of sport in addition to unparalleled views, enlightened cuisine, the occasional spa treatment and a chance to doff linen early or late in the season, Sedona is an ideal location to enjoy a fashionable approach to seeing Arizona’s natural beauties.
Happily, Sedona is far more accessible that your average National Park (though not one itself), and getting there makes a 4- or 5-day stay not only possible but also enjoyable in a shorter time frame. The city lies nestled a 2-hour drive north from Phoenix, AZ which thankfully can be reached from most major US destinations with a non-stop flight. With so much space to sprawl in the desert, Phoenix’s airport is spacious and uncrowded, making arrival, retrieval of luggage and renting a car minimally painful – a benefit in comparison to many big-city destinations. It’s always a distinct pleasure, in my opinion, to begin a vacation with as little stress as possible.
Once on the road, the drive from Phoenix isn’t particularly remarkable until approaching the vicinity of the city; the non-descript desert landscape soon becomes punctuated with Sedona’s famously red sandstone rocks that eventually give way to cliffs, plateaus and peaks. Unlike a visit to the Grand Canyon, Sedona is located at the base of rock formations rather than on the rim; most places in and around the city offer interesting views of the landscape. The entire area is part of the Upper Sonoran Desert of Northern Arizona, but it’s elevation at 4500 feet provides comfortably mild weather, averaging about 60 in the winter and 90 in the summer. Shoulder travel seasons in spring and fall are ideal times to visit and won’t clash with traditional winter ski/beach and summer lakeside/sporting trips that might already be on your agenda.
Like many vacation destinations, Sedona has a premier hotel that stands above the rest in many ways – Enchantment Resort. Despite the whimsical name, this resort is serious in every respect, providing the optimal sensory experience with fine dining, a breathtaking location, and impeccable lodging. The mood of the resort is easily described as peaceful calm. Mii Amo, the spa, is a true destination in itself with extensive grounds, the same spectacular views, and full range of supporting services such a pool area, health-centric dining, meditation and yoga classes. Most importantly, make sure to obey the speed limit of 12.5 miles at all times!
Located away from the downtown area, Enchantment is nestled in Boynton Canyon within Oak Creek Canyon, where guests feel both surrounded by the close, stunning natural landscape and yet deliciously ensconced in the luxuries a top-notch hotel can offer. They aptly term it “casual sophistication.” For those interested in travelling with friends and family, Enchantment offers a much more flexible array of accommodations, from a standard king up to a full two-bedroom, three-bathroom suite that sleeps 8 comfortably – we were really surprised how well the space was designed for a large group when we stay there. Whatever you choose, the accommodations are flawlessly and richly executed in traditional but far-from-kitschy southwestern textures and patterns; our casita featured agate-like swirled green stone countertops, dark woodwork, a beehive fireplace and muted whites touched with orange, red and turquoise.
Oak Creek Canyon, a river gorge, is a destination in itself and Enchantment guests can enjoy hiking trails within it that adjoin or begin at the edge of the resort. While the hiking is easy to moderate in intensity around Enchantment, Sedona has a large network of public trails that cater to all levels. From almost anywhere in Sedona, there is a spectacular abundance of scenery along hiking trails. Gnarled evergreens such as Cyprus, Juniper, and Pinyon pine mix with yuccas, agaves, and prickly pear cactuses to create a varied landscape that layers brown and green against the rich red of the stone and soil. Morning and later afternoon hikes offer a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the changing landscape as the sun drifts across the rocks, lighting and darkening new sections as the sun rises and sets. Sedona would be a perfect place to bring your Safari jacket.
For the ultimate Sedona/Enchantment stay, consider the following highlights:
Day One: Arrive mid-day and drink in the red rock scenery with lunch at Tii Gavo, Enchantment’s casual restaurant. While the food is not outstanding, the patio views offer some of the best dining scenery in town. Check in and explore the grounds; tennis, mountain bikes, croquet and a putting green offer relaxing afternoon activities. On a colder day, tuck away in a corner of the steamy indoor spa pool with a book to relax in the calm. Finish the evening with an elegantly attired dinner at Chi-Ah-Chi. Choose wild game and Arizona- made wine for a locavore experience. Enjoy a nightcap by the bonfire pit, and watch the sun sink behind the rocks.
Day Two: Begin the day with southwestern flavor with the Hopi Blue Corn Waffle from the exclusive-to-guests Mii Amo Café. Follow with a free fitness class or venture out to hike to local trails. Schedule an afternoon spa treatment and follow with a nap and snack from the pool bar. In the cooler evening hours, pull on a summer weather suit in Fresco wool or an open-weave cotton and stop at View 180 to sample the wine list, “Best of Award of Excellence” winner from Wine Spectator. Continue to Café Elote in Sedona; they don’t take reservations, but it will be worth the wait for some of the best Mexican food you’ll ever taste in a variety of foodie-approved preparations. If you’re feeling adventurous, investigate the separate tequila menu. Take a post-dinner walk in the dark to stargaze away from the city lights.
Spend the morning relaxing poolside with a Panama hat, some classic polarized specs (notice the Sedona background!), and your favorite swimwear. Not sure what kind to buy? Check out our recent swimwear guide. In the afternoon, get further off the beaten trail and take a half-day Jeep tour. Spend a little time in town before hand and consider picking up some local spirits; the desert is the home to Juniper and Agave, the plants used in gin and tequila, respectively. Book the tour in the afternoon to catch a spectacular sunset as you return to town. Change out of trail clothes and into some bright seersucker for another meal at charming Tii Gavo restaurant. Order a prickly-pear margarita in one of the few places where cactus is a local and frequent menu item.
As you can imagine from the above itinerary, it would be easy to enjoy Sedona from Enchantment alone. At the time of publication, a 5-day June trip would cost $368 a night. In other words, it’s absolutely worth the splurge.
Amara Resort & Spa
Delightful experience aside, there are many good reasons to NOT splurge on best hotel in town, obvious budget concerns aside. For us, we often choose to spend less in order to stretch our travel dollars over more trips. Some simply prefer the intimacy of a boutique hotel, and others don’t spend much time at the hotel while travelling. Considering Sedona’s many attractions, there is an excellent little resort in the downtown area that won’t make you feel any comforts were sacrificed. With an average nightly rate of $193 for a 5-day over-weekend stay in June, quick access to downtown restaurants and shops, and a beautiful view of Oak Creek, Amara Resort & Spa offers all the charms of an intimate hotel but the attractions of a larger resort – most notably the Amara Spa and the Hundred Rox restaurant.
he above itinerary is easily adapted to a stay at Amara; travel to farther flung trail heads for hiking or walk along peaceful Oak Creek, accessible directly from the resort property. Since the resort is downtown, it’s easy to see the downtown area by foot, or simply enjoy the scenery by the quiet pool area. Substitute the nearby L’Auberge on Oak Creek as a casually elegant dinner destination, Cucina Rustica for southwestern-influenced Italian, or pop into local favorite Sedona Memories for a picnic lunch.
Or, stay at Amara for a meal. I have a general aversion to hotel restaurants – they tend to be an unmemorable last resort when too tired to go elsewhere – but this restaurant is an exception. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Hundred Rox menu is southwestern with Asian and European influences. During our dinner there, I enjoyed a particularly memorable red pepper soup to start, and the execution was both tasty and visually pleasing across all the courses. The variety of menu choices will suit both classic and more developed tastes.
Packing & Conclusion
Packing certainly depends on many factors – the time of year, where you’re staying, and what you’ll be doing. By most measures Arizona is a sartorially causal state, and the proximity to nature brings down the formality even further, but don’t let that deter you. Evenings in the desert are cool most of the year, so don’t hesitate to pack sportcoats, mid- to lightweight suits, suede shoes, and colorful accessories. For more rigorous day activities, sturdy hiking boots are du rigeur if you want to venture onto more advanced trails, both to protect you feet from injury and also from the tough plant life. Sneakers will suffice, but only if you’re prepared to leave them behind – the red dirt is pervasive. Bring some kind of backpack for carrying water, plus ample sunscreen and a hat. Otherwise, traditional resort wear is a good choice.
Despite having been to Sedona twice already, we would happily return again for all the myriad reasons listed above. In short, Sedona is an ideal destination for those wishing to enjoy the natural world without having to leave comfort, style and access behind. What are your experiences with Sedona? How do you change your style to suit more formal or casual travel destinations?