While I'm currently wrapped up in extra puffy Patagonia, en route (after some serious delays) to chilly Pennsylvania, I'm day dreaming about a recent winter trip to sun-drenched Scottsdale. The opening of mid-century stunner Mountain Shadows in Scottsdale's Paradise Valley is what inspired a trip to the desert, but the active adventure around every corner is really what put the area on my list of new favorite wellness escapes.
The just-opened desert resort with mod-glam rooms, weekly SUP yoga and a house Tesla that regularly shuttles guests to the trailhead at Camelback Mountain and Sanctuary Spa, is the ultimate home base for an outdoorsy long weekend of self-care. And because all it takes to get me jazzed are are the words 'nighttime SUP' and 'soaking tub overlooking the mountains', I decided to try my hand at the mid-century outdoor retreat.
Originally opened in 1959 as a desert escape for Hollywood jet-setters including Lucille Ball and Elizabeth Taylor, the original Mountain Shadows hotel was purchased by Marriott in 1981 and then shuttered in 2004. After years of sitting vacant, the resort was demolished in 2014. This past spring, backed by new owners who know a thing or two about operating mid-century heritage hotels (they also own downtown Scottsdale property Hotel Valley Ho), Mountain Shadows reopened it as a sprawling mid-century desert dream, complete with a buzzy pool scene and three-par golf course. Cap the day off with a nightly Champagne sabering and toast; because that's how desert dwellers cool off.
Nearly every local I spoke with on a recent visit said they start their day as often as possible with a mountain trek. Likely because the trails are stunning, but also because going at any other time is advised against—this is the desert after all and can get up to 120 degrees in the peak of summer. So, after a cold-pressed green juice from an onsite juice bar, I began my first morning with a 6am, 4.5 mile trek up the Sonoran Preserve with a guide from local outfit Arizona Outback Adventures. After getting scooped from Mountain Shadows, we hit the road for a 20 minute drive to the trailhead—which interestingly had the fanciest trail bathrooms I've ever seen—and started our hike up the mountain on the 'Gateway Loop' trail. After a heart rate pumping uphill climb and a few stops for photo opps at the top (as well as lessons on flora and fauna along the way) we ventured back down in time for lunch and recovery spa treatments.
And as far as hearty healthy meals and 'wtf-amazing spa treatments' go, Scottsdale is impressively innovative. Each day, I treated myself to post-hike spa time to melt sore muscles and prompt a speedy recovery. (What even is a winter getaway without some serious sauna action and bodywork, right?) I explored a combination of acupuncture and cupping at Scottsdale classic Well & Being Spa at the Fairmont Princess, and a combo of craniosacral therapy and hammam (human car wash as I like to call it) at the Mediterranean-inspired Joya Spa down the street from Mountain Shadows at the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Montelucia. Both felt so decadent and restorative. The icing on the cake was a meditation/B-12 shot combo at Second Nature Clinic's new Thursday night 'Zen Lounge'. As many afternoon and evening meals as possible were eaten at anti-inflammation eatery True Food Kitchen, the Bay Area newcomer that started in Scottsdale. After the yin-yang combo of activity and recovery each day, the best part was a soak in Mountain Shadows' soaking tub with a view (inside every room).
For a slightly more hardcore approach to the activity-recovery duo, or one better suited to getting up and out after dawn, Scottsdale's downtown fitness scene is like SF's brunch scene: legit and serious. About 10 minutes from Mountain Shadows, downtown's BODI gym is a combination of bootcamp and Crossfit with you and 60 of your closest friends. Instructors range from former NBA dancers to Nike master trainers. I left drenched in sweat, and skipped the BODI team happy hour for a visit to neighboring Balunsd for some recovery time. Here, I indulged in the cold plunge studio frequented by elite athletes, bodybuilders and those popping by casually from the gym next door. It works just how it sounds: inspired by Nordic ocean bathing, you hop into a miniature cold pool and sit in it as long as you can stand. For me that was four minutes, but for the experienced (including new friends I met while fearing my internal organs were shutting down), it can be closer to 20. The pain was worth it, and everything including my tweaky lower back felt born again.
For some help in planning how to continue new healthy habits picked up in the desert, Well & Being Spa's Fitness Prescription is an in-depth approach to make it a regular thing: a Bod Pod body fat measurement and Basal Metabolic Rate test to assess a baseline, and customized fitness and nutrition recommendations to achieve wellness goals. Pro tip for carrying that wellness vibe back home? Nab some of the Red Flower bath salts from Mountain Shadows soaking tubs on the DL for a DIY retreat throughout the holiday season. // Mountain Shadows rates start at $239. 5445 E. Lincoln Dr., Paradise Valley (Scottsdale). www.mountainshadows.com, www.experiencescottsdale.com