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Pampering -- and inner peace

In Sedona, half a dozen new retreats keep things fresh in Arizona's land of vortexes, hot tubs and spa treatments.

November 27, 2005|David Ferrell | Special to The Times

Sedona, Ariz. — VISITORS to Arizona's high desert quickly exhaust their superlatives. Once they get beyond "stunning," "awe-inspiring" and "the artwork of God," many stumble trying to articulate how they feel amid the red cliffs and wind-sculpted rocks.

"There is a definite energy here," says Steve Segner, who opened a 12-room inn here two years ago. "You just feel something's different. When you're looking up at 300-million-year-old cliffs, it puts things in perspective."

Whether it's the energy vortexes that psychics claim to have found here or just the overwhelming beauty of the place, Sedona has a powerful allure. It drew the 57-year-old Segner for good.

He sold his Los Angeles-based pet food company and his home in Pasadena and immersed himself in building one of Sedona's distinctive new resorts. El Portal -- crafted of adobe, flagstone and salvaged bridge trestles -- is one of half a dozen such luxury retreats that have opened here in recent years, ranging in size from intimate to immense.

Two hours north of Phoenix and at an elevation of 4,300 feet, Sedona combines elements of the stark desert with the pines and deciduous trees of the Coconino National Forest. Greater Sedona is part artists' colony, part sportsmen's paradise and part New Age mecca. About 17,500 people live here; 3 million more visit each year.

So although no one can say Sedona has been newly discovered, it has continued to boom even as hotel development has slowed in other parts of the U.S. The growth reflects the town's growing prominence and the lasting success of venerable retreats such as Enchantment and L'Auberge de Sedona.

Newcomers include Adobe Grand Villas, a boutique inn with custom-designed suites, and significantly larger accommodations such as Amara Creekside Resort and Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa. Even the giants, Hyatt and Hilton, have entered a market founded on magnificent desert vistas.

New properties emulate the old standards but sometimes with a twist. El Portal, for example, next door to the opulent Los Abrigados Resort & Spa, treats visitors as "house guests" -- they pre-register by phone or Web, so there's no formal check-in; snacks are dispensed from a common refrigerator on the honor system; and on checkout day, they find the paperwork at their door.

Rooms feature kivas (adobe fireplaces), walls 20 inches thick and other custom touches. In the evening, quiet soirees unfold in a grass courtyard lighted by quaint strings of electric bulbs.

At the year-old Adobe Grand Villas, the rooms are over-the-top customized, with waterfall showers, whirlpool tubs and living room and bathroom fireplaces. Guests arrive to the aroma of baking bread, a nicety fostered by bread machines in every room. One suite is designed to evoke a French country inn; others have western themes. In one, the bed is a covered wagon, and an iron pump fills the tub.

Villas guest Jeff Heimpel of Kitchener, Canada, brought his mother, Norah, for a weeklong visit. They were staying in the rustic, two-bedroom Silver Spur Suite and regretted only that they couldn't sample all the themed environments.

Altogether, there are 16 squarish units, stacked irregularly around the swimming pool, with the feel of an upscale adobe village. Breakfast is served poolside. Afterward, those who seek special pampering are ushered into the spa for therapies that may include deep-tissue massage, reiki, reflexology or work with crystals or hot stones.

In Sedona's coveted uptown area, Amara Creekside Resort is trading on its almost incomparable views. It faces craggy cliffs that feature two of Sedona's most identifiable formations -- Lucy Rock and Snoopy Rock -- which evoke surprisingly vivid silhouettes of the Peanuts characters.

The 100-room resort was built two years ago on the tree-shrouded banks of Oak Creek, adjacent to L'Auberge de Sedona. Unlike that French-styled neighbor, Amara has a modernistic feel that bows slightly toward New Age. The design incorporates the elements of water, earth, wind and fire.

Earth is represented by a Zen garden in the lobby. Stylized, wind-propelled sculptures move languidly on the lawns above the creek. At night, guests dine and drink around a bonfire on the patio. And finally, there's a saltwater swimming pool.

"Saltwater is excellent at removing toxins from the body," explains Lisa Rocha, marketing director. "And it's good for the skin."

Aesthetics are paramount at Amara. Interior walls exhibit art from seven local galleries. Guests pass through a jumbo picture frame to enter the bar and restaurant, where other paintings and sculptures are available for sale.

Sedona Rouge, a few miles west, emphasizes the enticements of its spa. Built near the imposing flanks of Thunder Mountain, the 77-room resort opened just five months ago. Its contemporary -- some might say spartan -- look is accented with hints of antiquity; huge olive-oil vessels stand near the pool, hot tub and fire pit.

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