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WESTERN TRAVEL | SLEEPOVER

Tucson desert hot spot gets spiffed up

January 01, 2006|Rosemary McClure | Times Staff Writer

Tucson — I was disappointed. I had checked into Loews Ventana Canyon Resort hoping for a room with a city view. The lights would be beautiful at night in the clear desert air, I thought.

But my room was tucked into the back of the 398-room hotel, facing the Santa Catalina Mountains. I had arrived late on an October day just in time for sunset. The flaming red sky I saw from my window was nice, but I still craved city lights. Until the next morning, that is, when I walked out onto my third-floor patio. A cactus wren chirped on the balcony. A saguaro skyline marked the rugged ridgeline. A thin waterfall dropped from the hill to the valley floor.

Ventana's natural charms worked their magic. I settled into a patio chair, the sights and sounds of the desert hillside lulling me into a blissful state. Why come to the desert to see a city? I asked myself. How silly.

Bunking down: The hotel, originally built in 1984, has just undergone a $10-million renovation; the rooms have been nicely redone in tones to match the desert: copper, slate and pecan wood. Woven leather headboards top cushy beds with rich ivory linens and earth-toned duvet covers. The bathrooms, known for their double-wide tubs, have granite countertops, slate tiles and a small TV.

One misstep in the new decor: No one changed the artwork on the walls. The same sunset that can be seen throughout hotels in Arizona still hangs on the walls of the Ventana's rooms.

Hanging around: The hotel, which Conde Nast Traveler magazine listed last January as one of the top 25 resorts in North America, has a new claim to fame. Its Ventana Room restaurant was awarded a five-diamond rating from the American Automobile Assn. The elegant restaurant is one of six at the hotel, including poolside dining. There are also two golf courses designed by Tom Fazio and a 7,000-square-foot spa. But my favorite activity was wandering the trails that wind through the Catalina foothills.

Going out: Renting a car is a must for visitors who arrive by air. Tucson is spread out and has no freeways slicing through the center of it. The Ventana is 24 miles from Tucson International Airport.

Among local sights: Sabino Canyon, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the beautiful Mission San Xavier del Bac. Baseball fans can catch spring training games of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox and Colorado Rockies.

Peeve and perk: The Ventana was designed to blend into the hillside and does such a good job that it's hard to find, especially after dark. But the isolation is worth it.

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Drive, Tucson, AZ 85750; (520) 299-2020 or (800) 23 LOEWS (235-6397), www.loewshotels.com. High season rates $189-$309.

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