Tucked between the rocks of Camelback Mountain, and almost invisible from below, Arizona’s Sanctuary Resort began life as the prestigious Paradise Valley Racquet Club. Back in the 1950s, it was the place for wealthy Californians to fly down to for tennis weekends.
This mountainside Shangri-La was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s protégés; Sydney Chaplin, son of Charlie, and the legendary Hollywood lothario John Ireland were two of the original investors.
It started off with a clubhouse, five tennis courts and a series of casitas (bungalows) set in their own grounds among the cacti and succulents. Big-name pros such as Ken Rosewall, and Pancho Gonzales would come to play matches with the stars.
In 1967, thanks to the efforts of Senator Barry Goldwater, all development of Camelback Mountain was halted above 1,700ft-level, preserving this luxury tennis ranch as an oasis in the red mountains. Celebrities such as Liza Minnelli, Dean Martin, Johnny Carson, Elton John and Bill Cosby were regulars at its programme of charitable events.
In the 1990s, as tennis began to lose its superstar cachet, the Racquet Club was transformed into a hotel, and eventually, after surrendering all but one of its courts to redevelopment and enduring many changes of name, Sanctuary was born in 2001.
Today, the hotel still houses its guests in casitas, and the atmosphere majors on rest and recuperation. Silent golf carts are used to ferry guests to rooms, and the only noise is the occasional flurry of wind or the sprinklers keeping the perfect grass green – you can almost hear the swoosh of a condor hundreds of feet overhead.
Guests of a slightly more active bent can float in the infinity pool, with its gorgeous view of Camelback, or allow themselves to be pampered in the spa. Anyone with energy to burn can scour the mountainside for rattle-snakes, bobcats, coyotes and lizards. But most folk just watch the sun rise and then watch it set. This is no place for rushing around.
Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa, 5700 East McDonald Drive, Paradise Valley, Arizona, US (001 480 948 2100; sanctuary oncamelback.com). The craggy red rocks of Camelback Mountain rise above the Sonoran Desert. Sanctuary sits in 53 acres on the mountain’s northern slope, facing away from Phoenix. In the early morning, you can watch the sun flood the soundless Paradise Valley, and understand how it came by its name. Yet less than 10 minutes away is the hyper-affluent suburb of Scottsdale – the Beverly Hills of Phoenix – with its upmarket mall and chichi restaurants.
Time from international airport: allow 20 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International, and budget $25 (£18) in a taxi.
There’s no hotel block; instead guests stay in the 98 casitas that are grouped either round the spa or up the mountainside. Each is furnished in a contemporary style, with huge, colourful sofas, black-and-white photographs, Pacific Coast goose-down feather beds, open lava-rock fireplaces (logs provided) and outdoor terraces. Some decks even have their own hot tubs.
Every casita has a gorgeous view of Paradise Valley, and is decorated with modern art. There is also a small kitchen for preparation of the all-important cup of American filter coffee.
Freebies: Bathroom products are by Red Flower and leave you reeking of orange blossom. The black towelling, flannel-lined robes exclusively made for Sanctuary by Chadsworth & Haig aren’t free, but are worth buying ($110/£79). At turndown, votive candles are lit in each of the guestrooms and a calming lavender spray on the linen. A bottle of that fragrant spray is presented to each guest on departure.
Keeping in touch: Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel and casitas, and there are several phones in every room. Flatscreen televisions offer 71 channels, and there are DVD players if you would really rather stay indoors.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms start at $442 (£316) per night, room only. Bookings can also be made via Small Luxury Hotels of the World (slh.com).
I’m not paying that: The Hideout at Redbuck Ranch (001 480 471 0011; redbuckranch.com) is a cosy Scottsdale B&B with just one luxury suite, which starts at $218 (£156), room only.