The hike up Phoenix, Arizona’s Camelback Mountain will take adventurers one of two ways: there is the Cholla trail, which winds up and around the giant rock, on a long but meandering cruise with a few instances of literal climbing; or there is the more intense Echo Canyon path, involving steep stair ascents and significant bouldering to reach the peak. Both journeys end up in the same place, looking out over the arid and rocky landscape of Scottsdale, the upscale Paradise Valley, and on further into downtown Phoenix.
Back on level ground, two nearby luxury hotels sit at the base of the mountain, beckoning travellers poolside and bar-side.
Considered a hotel within a hotel, The Canyon Suites at The Phoenician resort offer supreme comfort right by the entrance to the Cholla trail (special hiking packs filled with water bottles and sunscreen are even available for guests). The Forbes Five-Star/AAA Five Diamond Luxury Collection boutique hotel went under a complete renovation in the summer of 2016, and the results are stunning; excellent valet staff usher guests into the sparkling lobby, whose focal point is a gushing fountain that reflects soft water patterns onto the ceiling. Beyond the fountain and the chic lobby lounge, and through the high glass windows, the ridges of Camelback loom majestically.
The 1,200-square-foot One-Bedroom Canyon Suites are a spacious and fantastic option, with a living area, a four-person dining space, and large floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that let in copious amounts of natural light. Each suite has a private terrace with day bed, two 55-inch flat-screen televisions, and Bluetooth clock radios. Pillowtop king beds are unfathomably comfortable, especially when covered with Frette 400-Count Italian linens. In the marble master bathroom (because there is indeed a second washroom), a bath is matched by a 32-inch television, along with double sinks and a separate shower. There is a Nespresso coffee machine for early mornings, and local artwork on the walls for added ambience.
With only 60 rooms and a private pool separate from the rest of The Phoenician, The Canyon Suites really do feel like a separate hotel altogether. But of course, guests here can also take advantage of the amenities and services throughout The Phoenician (a hotel that has, by the way, hosted every sitting American president from Obama dating back to Reagan). In terms of wellness, The Centre for Well-Being spa has separate men’s and women’s saunas, along with a joint Meditation Atrium with zero-gravity chairs—with some orange water and a magazine, it’s hard not to want to spend the day there. Of course, there are treatments as well, including The Natural Man Organic Facial, perfect for male partners.
But food must be had, especially if a mountain was climbed that morning; consider The Phoenician’s Relish Burger Bistro, where the mighty hamburger reigns supreme. The hard part is choosing which one to get, but The Cowboy will certainly do the trick, piled with pickled jalapenos, bacon, cheddar, onion rings, and house-made steak sauce on a house-made bun. Served with a side of crispy tater tots and perhaps a thick vanilla milkshake, it’s a dreamy way to refuel. For dinner there is J&G Steakhouse, a fantastic offering from Michelin-star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, sitting right atop the hotel. Steak is indeed the way to go, such as the Six Peppercorn Prime NY Steak with a side of potato gratin, but first, indulge in share plates: Seared Diver Scallops served with bacon, spring peas, and lime; Sweet and Sour Pork Belly with ginger shallot confit; and Black Truffle Cheese Fritters with gooey gruyere. The cocktails are good, but so too is the wine list. Show up hungry and early, so that the sprawling city below can be seen from the massive windows.
For those looking to venture completely off property, the helpful concierge staff at The Canyon Suites are quick to provide a printed list of recommended restaurants, organized by category and highlighted with personal favourites. Back at home base after exploring Old Town Scottsdale, breakfast is served daily in the lobby salon, including a selection of miniature breakfast dishes of eggs and hashbrowns, along with fresh fruit, yogurt, and smoked salmon. Quiet, serene, and picturesque, the hotel emphasizes comfort and sophistication.
On the other side of Camelback Mountain sits the aptly-named Mountain Shadows, a brand-new take on the original hotel of the same name that was built in 1959. Beautifully re-imagined from the ground up, the current Mountain Shadows is mid-century modern meets contemporary. With a focus on grey concrete and white walls with high ceilings, the property has an immediate airiness to it that immediately sets a relaxed yet exciting tone.
A circle bar with plush velvet stools is great for grabbing an evening cocktail before heading into Hearth ’61, the onsite restaurant helmed by Charles Wiley, who the James Beard Foundation has called one of America’s best hotel chefs (before joining Mountain Shadows, he worked at the iconic Hotel Valley Ho’s Cafe Zuzu and Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain). Order “From the Hearth” dishes such as succulent beef tenderloin or Moroccan-spiced rack of lamb, or go for a “specialty” dish, including the unforgettable Charred Eggplant and Ancient Grains with asparagus, ricotta salata, roasted peppers, and shiitake mushrooms.
Floating to bed after a delicious meal is easy thanks to bold and modernly designed rooms with sleek wooden furniture and touches of brass in an open-concept layout. The cutest amenity might just be the classic cocktail cart, no doubt an ode to the days of the original Mountain Shadows (make sure to spot the archive photo that hangs on the wall, as well). Outside, patios with geometric white furniture allow for drinks al fresco.
Days are best spent near water in this desert heat, and the hotel has two lap pools and a hot tub that line the centre of the suite buildings. The cool water of the pools is hard to beat, except maybe by a refreshing local beer served chaise-side.
Camelback is front and centre the whole time; like the big rocks in Vancouver, it grounds and humbles the people living in and visiting Scottsdale and Paradise Valley. The mountain is a reassuring constant, whether you are summiting it or standing in its shadow.