- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Frank Lloyd Wright began making annual pilgrimages in 1937 to the Arizona desert, where he would build his Taliesin West workshop and winter home, Scottsdale was a blip on the map. Its relative seclusion was what made the area so desirable to the great architect.

“I was struck by the beauty of the desert, by the dry, clear, sun-drenched air, the stark geometry of the mountains, the entire region was an inspiration in strong contrast to the lush, pastoral landscape of my native Wisconsin. And out of that experience, a revelation is what I guess you might call it, came the design of these buildings,” Mr. Wright said.

Located 26 miles from Phoenix, Taliesin West was off the beaten path at the time of its construction, removed almost entirely from civilization. Today it is in the center of Scottsdale’s most populated region. Despite years of encroachment from rapidly developing commercial and residential surroundings, Taliesin retains the feeling of being incorporated into its natural desert habitat. The walls are built of native rocks, sand and gravel in the cement.

Taliesin West was selected by the American Institute of Architects as one of 17 buildings across the country that exemplify Mr. Wright’s contribution to American architecture. It continues to function as the headquarters of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and winter home for the architecture school where as many as 70 students reside. Taliesin West also has become a tourist destination, and guided tours are conducted daily.

Architectural wonder also abounds in the many luxury resorts and hotels that have helped define Scottsdale’s identity and reputation as a premier tourist destination. An estimated 7.5 million people visit the city annually, and It has the highest number of spas per capita in the nation.

About a 10-minute drive from Taliesin West, five miles north on Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, is the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. Designed by the Scottsdale firm of Allen and Philp Architects, the Princess opened in 1987, the same year as the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour’s Phoenix Open, now referred to as the FBR Open, on the Stadium Course of the Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale. The Fairmont Scottsdale uses the TPC golf course as its foreground and the McDowell Mountains as its backdrop. The resort’s design is steeped in the Spanish colonial tradition of the desert Southwest.

“We were challenged by the magnitude of this resort and how to create intimate and memorable spaces within it; I think we succeeded,” says Mark Philp of the architectural firm.

The Princess is among the world’s most-sought-after golfing locales; guests can schedule tee times through a special golf concierge up to a year in advance. The concierge also can schedule post-golf spa treatments for men, such as the Post Game Facial, which includes a soothing massage of the head, neck, shoulders, legs and feet, in the MVP Room of the resort’s Willow Stream Spa. The Princess has numerous spa programs catering to the increasing number of men seeking spa therapies, and Conde Nast Traveler ranked the Willow Stream among the top 10 spas in North America and the Caribbean.

During a recent stay at the Princess, I made frequent visits to the spa’s waterfall therapy pool, followed by dips in the hot and cold plunge pools, relaxing in the sauna and steam rooms, an exhilarating 14-nozzle Swiss shower and a meditative session in the eucalyptus-inhalation room.

In the evening, I joined a friend for dinner at the Grill steakhouse. One of five restaurants on the Princess property, it’s a decadent haven that offers dry-aged cuts of beef as well as seasonal seafood, an extensive wine list and a cigar lounge.

The next evening, we dined at La Hacienda, one of two gourmet Mexican restaurants in the country to receive the AAA four-diamond rating. Our dinner included grilled beef tenderloin, and we sampled numerous other dishes. After dinner, we joined more friends at the Cazadores Bar, tucked away in a cozy and discreet location beside the Princess Plaza courtyard.

As if we needed something more to eat, we took an over-the-top brunch at the AAA five-diamond Marquesa restaurant the next morning.

Just on the other side of Scottsdale Road, the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa, which opened in 2002, is another AAA four-diamond resort. Almost a museum of Arizona history, it has covered its hallways, lobby and public areas with old maps, photographs and historical text written by Arizona’s official state historian, Marshall Trimble. The Westin Kierland’s theme, “Treasuring the Essence of Arizona,” was inspired by Kax Kierland Herberger, the matriarch of the family that owns the land and created the master-planned community and golf course by the resort.

I enjoyed wandering through the resort’s halls, reading Mr. Trimble’s writings on Arizona history, which served as an appropriate segue for an upcoming journey to the southeastern corner of the state, including a hike through the Chiricahua Mountains, where Apache leaders Cochise and later Geronimo once ruled.

Besides its celebration of Arizona’s historical culture, the Westin Kierland also offers many amenities, such as the Agave Arizona Spa, a 27-hole championship golf course, a 9,000-square-foot water park and a pair of oversized swimming pools. My friends and I enjoyed afternoon margaritas at J. Swilling’s Pool Bar & Grill, and each night, a bagpipe player serenaded the sunset from the lawn beside the lobby.

The resort’s Nellie Cashman’s Monday Club Cafe, where I had breakfast, was named for a pioneer woman and gold prospector. Deseo restaurant serves Latin-influenced dishes, including such specialties as ceviches and main courses ranging from Cuban enchilada shrimp to churrasco of beef with crab mojo and herb chimichurri. Before dinner, we gathered for mojitos at the restaurant’s adjoining Muddle Bar, and later in the evening, we visited the Waltz & Weiser Saloon, an Old West cowboy bar where you can purchase pre-Castro 1940 Gurkha “Shaggies” Cuban cigars for $150 each.

Many of the Scottsdale resorts incorporate elements of the Spanish colonial style and traditional Sonoran Desert Mexican design and appear as if they were native to the desert landscape. About 10 miles to the east of the Princess and Westin Kierland, surrounded by low-lying mountains and spectacular rock formations, the Four Seasons Scottsdale Resort is perfectly woven into the desert tapestry of the Pinnacle Peak foothills and has received the AAA five-diamond rating for six years.

The Four Seasons is built on the site of the Crescent Moon Ranch, once the residence of a Kellogg heiress. While there, I climbed Crescent Butte, a dramatic pile of boulders near the resort’s entrance. Although a regular hike is carved out on trails leading to nearby Pinnacle Peak, I found the spontaneous rock climb with the chance of running into a wild bobcat or rattlesnake more exhilarating, and the view of the Greater Phoenix and Scottsdale metropolitan area across the valley was a fine reward.

At night, the absence of city lights in the quiet desert makes for great stargazing, for which suites are equipped with telescopes; some also have private pools. Most of the rooms at the Four Seasons have large backyard patios that share the great view. The large bathrooms reminded me of a scene from Mel Brooks’ “Silent Movie,” in which the trim of the men’s room at the offices of the evil Engulf and Devour conglomerate reads, “Our bathrooms are nicer than most people’s homes.”

At the resort’s Acacia steakhouse — with another fantastic view — the delicious 8-ounce buffalo tenderloin was wrapped in a slice of pancetta, my choice from a menu that included an 18-ounce Kansas City strip loin, an 18-ounce bone-in rib-eye, an 8-ounce sashimi-style big-eye tuna, plus grilled seafood, lamb, duck and other cuts of beef. Our wine, appropriately, was Acacia Pinot Noir. The resort’s Lobby Lounge Bar was named by Phoenix magazine as the “Valley’s best spot for a sumptuous margarita with a view to match.”

On my last morning, I made an appointment at the spa for the Golfers Massage, focusing on muscle groups used while playing the sport and incorporating heated golf balls applied to pressure points.

The Four Seasons partners with the neighboring Troon North Golf Club and offers guests priority access to the golf courses ranked as No. 1 and No. 2 in Arizona.

The Four Seasons staff was friendly. When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see Bruce Boepple, a high school chum from more than 25 years ago, working one night a week behind the bar in the Lobby Lounge and soon became acquainted with his co-workers. One very interesting fellow I met was Miroslav Komlenovic, a Bosnian refugee, who came to work at the Four Seasons through the resort’s relationship with the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit, nonsectarian voluntary agency that provides assistance to refugees around the world.

Founded at the request of Albert Einstein during World War II, the organization helps people fleeing from racial and religious persecution as well as war and violence. Mr. Komlenovic, a civil engineer in Bosnia, was separated from his Croatian wife when their homeland was torn asunder during the ethnic conflicts in the Balkans in the late 1990s.

“I never wanted to move from Bosnia. I graduated from the University of Belgrade,” he said. “I had a good job. I was working in management for a railway station. My wife was an editor. We had a nice life. We were making good money, had the weekends off. I used to go skiing. I had good friends, nice friends. My best friends were Muslims. I had friends of all nationalities, and we never asked ‘Who are you? How do you call your god?’

“But in 1992, when this crazy war started in my country, everybody around me knew what was coming, but I believed in my people. I said, ‘We are not crazy. We are not going to fight each other and kill each other.’ Because my wife was from Croatia, I sent her and my kids to Croatia. I told her: ‘You stay in Croatia a couple of months, and everything in Bosnia will be OK.’ I thought it would be about six months, and then it was six years that I was separated from my family. In December of 1998, I got a call for an interview to move to the U.S.A. I was sponsored by the IRC, and they found me a job, and I was able to be reunited with my family.”

Without knowing a word of English, Mr. Komlenovic took a job at the Four Seasons as a busboy seven years ago. “I felt handicapped because I did not speak English, but I did not have time for school because I had two kids and a wife, so the Four Seasons was my school,” he said. “The restaurant was my school. I learned English from guests.”

In a short while, Mr. Komlenovic climbed the company ladder, getting promoted to food runner, server and banquet captain, earning numerous Employee of the Month honors and accolades along the way. In 2005, he was named the Four Seasons Scottsdale’s Employee of the Year.

Half a dozen resorts south of the Four Seasons and Kierland Westin, the FireSky Resort & Spa, formerly Caleo, provides a peaceful respite amid the bustling Old Town and downtown center of Scottsdale.

FireSky’s poolside balcony rooms face a luscious Sonoran desert garden oasis with rock sculptures and waterfalls, and mesquite-burning fire pits at night. I stayed at FireSky while in town for Cactus League spring-training baseball games at the conveniently located Scottsdale Stadium, about 11/2 miles away. FireSky offers a swanky Cadillac Escalade shuttle into town. On a rainy day, I consoled myself with other guests who had planned on going to the ballpark, lazily whiling away the afternoon.

“Our CEO, Tom LaTour, is Kimpton’s wine guru,” said Wendy Zane, the executive meeting manager. “He is a winemaker himself with a vineyard in Napa Valley and helped launch our Kimpton Wine Club, which extends beyond our hotels all year long. I look forward to hosting our wine hour every day.”

While relatively new in its current incarnation, the FireSky property has a rich history dating to the mid-1960s, when it was known as the Sunburst Hotel, one of Scottsdale’s first resort hotels. In 2005, it was purchased by the Kimpton hotel management group and converted into the Caleo Resort, which received the AAA four-diamond rating in 2006. Recent renovations and remodeling have transformed it into FireSky, still a Kimpton Hotels property.

“We’re becoming a little more upscale, contemporary and modern, but the resort will retain its Southwest charm,” said Tori McLaughlin, director of sales and marketing. “Kimpton is a boutique-style-hotel company, and design is a very important aspect to all of its properties.”

The resort’s Jurlique Spa, which operates at resorts around the world, features treatments that incorporate Eastern and Western spa philosophies using plant-based products grown on Jurlique’s herb farms in Australia. Six facial treatments are available for men and women, ranging in time and price from 30 minutes and $70 to 90 minutes and $190, as well as body treatments, massages, water-therapy baths and spa ritual combinations.

FireSky is a pet-friendly property, catering especially to dogs, which get red-carpet treatment upon arrival. On my most recent visit to FireSky, I noticed a welcome sign heralding the arrival of Bosco, a regular canine guest who also received a complimentary water bowl, a soft mat for lounging and other treats. The concierge can book appointments at a local grooming spa; doggie day care and walking services are available, and a house pet vet is on call.

Guests traveling without a pet can receive one through FireSky’s Guppy Love program — a goldfish is delivered to guest rooms upon request.

About 11/2 miles away but half a century removed historically and by design, the Hotel Valley Ho, built in 1956, was a popular haven for the Hollywood set, with a guest list including Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Durante, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. It’s also where Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood held their wedding reception in 1957.

It was renovated recently by the same Allen and Philp Architects who designed the Scottsdale Princess. Though the revival is trendy with glitz and glamour, it contains a nod of recognition to the past, embracing elements of its original Edward Varney design with plenty of open spaces. Guest rooms have an element of feng shui to them, with glass-block walls only partially separating sleeping areas from elegant bathrooms containing a variety of oversized bathtubs. In some rooms and suites, the bathtub is the center of activity around which everything else revolves. Glass walls also open onto private balconies and patios.

The lobby bar is an active singles scene, with a bevy of people in their beautiful 20s and 30s on the prowl. Hotel Valley Ho also has two restaurants, Cafe ZuZu, specializing in such comfort foods as meatloaf and chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and the newest of the famed Polynesian classic Trader Vic’s chain with a happy hour of its usual tropical drinks.

Like any Scottsdale resort, Valley Ho would be incomplete without its VH Spa and fitness center, featuring seven private treatment rooms and a fitness room with FreeMotion workout equipment. Glass walls open onto a deck for fresh-air workouts.

The center of downtown Scottsdale unfolds into the art-gallery district, where every Thursday, the Scottsdale Art Association sponsors an Art Walk from 7 to 9 p.m. Many of the more than 125 galleries, which feature the work of local and nationally known artists, are open and offer wine and hors d’oeuvres. The walk, along Old Town’s Main Street and Marshall Way, also features public artworks, including modern sculptures and fountains, and passes through Scottsdale’s busy night-life district, where restaurants, bars and nightclubs abound.

The Old Town and downtown areas are adjacent to Scottsdale’s shopping district, home to name brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Escada. Near the corner of Scottsdale and Camelback roads, Fashion Square Mall is very large — more than 1.8 million square feet — with more than 225 stores, restaurants and entertainment venues making it the largest shopping destination in the Southwest.

The outdoor Kierland Commons is an upscale shopping development with more than 70 high-end specialty stores, a Cohiba Cigar Lounge, and numerous men’s and women’s designer-clothing shops and restaurants.

The Borgata is a cobblestone medieval-style Italian village with 50 boutiques, outdoor cafes and restaurants. It features a European Market every Friday during the winter months.

Located where Old Town meets downtown, the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, on the colorful grounds of the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall, is a hub of activity, with a yearlong series of performing-arts programs, including regular performances of Arizona’s longest-running play, “Late Night Catechism,” and concerts from jazz to classical.

Scottsdale has been called “the West’s Most Western Town,” and that’s still true in many ways. The city has grown into a much more sophisticated and cosmopolitan metropolis with options and attractions to please its many visitors and make them return.

• • •

Taliesin West, 12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, 480/860-2700, www.franklloydwright.com

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, 7575 E. Scottsdale Road, 480/585-4848, www.scottsdaleprincess.com

Four Seasons Scottsdale Resort at Troon North, 10650 E. Crescent Moon Drive, 480/515-5700; www.fourseasons.com/scottsdale

FireSky Resort and Spa, 4925 N. Scottsdale Road, 480/945-7666, www.fireskykresort.com

Hotel Valley Ho, 6850 E. Main St., 480/248-2000, www.hotelvalleyho.com

Fashion Square Mall, 7014-590 E. Camelback Road

Kierland Commons, 15205 N. Kierland Blvd.

Borgata, 6166 Scottsdale Road.

Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7374 E. Second St., 480/994-2787, www.scottsdalearts.org

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