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Tuesday, September 02, 2014         

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Upscale Sedona resort defines serenity

By Katherine Nichols / Special to the Star-Advertiser

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Sedona has it all. Breathtaking, sun-scorched mountains and a web of hiking trails from which to view them. Stores filled with New Age paraphernalia and psychics to read your crystals. Galleries brimming with works by local artists inspired by the dramatic surroundings and the lure of the nearby Grand Canyon. What could make you stay in your room?

The cozy, romantic atmosphere of L'Auberge de Sedona's cottages at the edge of Oak Creek. The newly renovated 11-acre resort makes the separate cottages and buildings — none more than two-stories high — feel like an upscale trip to the woods.

SEDONA, Ariz. » Sedona is one of those unique destinations that can satisfy a wide variety of travelers. Looking for energy vortexes, where the swirl of Earth's power can reportedly shift your mood for days? Many of them are outlined on hiking maps. Or maybe you want crystals, psychics, angel wings and UFOs (really, you can take your picture in front of one!).

Sedona has a mystical quality — and a thriving New Age community — that can be enthralling, comforting or tacky, depending on your perspective. But uptown Sedona also possesses its own cultured flair, with galleries displaying paintings, sculptures and blown glass from regional artists. Outdoor types will, of course, find themselves more attracted to the silent grandeur of the dramatic red rock formations all over the region.

We traveled to Sedona for its physical beauty and promise of adventure. Hiking! Balloon rides! Jeep tours! Access to the Grand Canyon! But we did almost none of it, finding ourselves more inclined to savor the cozy, romantic atmosphere inside one of L'Auberge de Sedona's cottages perched at the edge of Oak Creek. The 11-acre resort completed a $25 million renovation last year that makes the cottages and buildings — none more than two-stories high — feel like an upscale trip to the woods.

"We want to expand your outdoor experience in your indoor living space," said Debra Shinn, director of branding and development. That's the kind of thing public relations folks are supposed to say. But in this case, it actually works. The crisp fall air had stripped the trees to a sleek, beautiful minimum, and the constant, soothing murmur of Oak Creek completed the relaxing atmosphere, which felt comfy and familiar the minute we arrived. Our itinerary fell apart. This outdoor-loving, thrill-seeking couple really didn't leave the room.

SEDONA

GETTING THERE
Nonstop flights from Honolulu to Phoenix on Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines and US Air; Sedona is approximately two hours from Phoenix, without traffic

ACCOMMODATIONS
Sedona has plenty for travelers on a budget, but the most elegant resorts include:
» L'Auberge de Sedona: www.lauberge.com, from $195, with seasonal variations (one of Conde Nast Traveler's top 100 U.S. hotels in 2009)
» Adobe Grand Villas (each villa is decorated differently and some even have a second fireplace in the bathroom), from $399, www.adobegrandvillas.com
» Enchantment: A Southwest Luxury Resort, from $295, www.enchantmentresort.com
» Garland's Oak Creek Lodge: open April 1 through Nov. 21, www.garlandslodge.com

ACTIVITIES
» Red Rock Jeep Tours (www.redrockjeep.com)
» Grand Canyon tours (check www.sedona.net for links to activities)
» Northern Light Balloon Expeditions, www.northernlightballoon.com

 

With nothing but the river and trees around us, we could slide open the glass door to our deck and interact with nature without losing privacy. Newly vaulted ceilings make the 800- to 1,200-square-foot cabins containing a bed, couch, chair, desk and wood-burning fireplace seem even more spacious. Best of all, there was a steamy outdoor shower with a window cut into the wood wall to gaze out onto our private forest.

The spa cottages are decidedly different from those closer to the creek. More sleek and modern, the eco-friendly accommodations feature Jacuzzi tubs (no tub in our Creekside Cottage, but I didn't notice), outdoor showers, an indoor shower with dual heads, four-poster mahogany beds, bamboo flooring and gas fireplaces (maybe not quite as fun as our raging fire, but easier and safer). "It's a very different feel," said Shinn, "and it was meant to be."

Even if a somewhat pricey cabin isn't in the budget, you can still enjoy all of the resort's amenities. Twenty-one refurbished, more affordable rooms are located in The Lodge, whose lobby contains a fireplace, travel and art books, and a few games.

Other new additions include a gym and spa spread over three cabanas, and a 40-foot-long pool. The resort is constructing 18 Hillside cottages with spectacular red rock views. The upgraded 2,500-square-foot Creek House is available for corporate retreats, family reunions or weddings. "The intent is to have all kinds of little niches ... and new experiences," said Shinn.

Free yoga classes, Arabica coffee and freshly baked scones in the mornings, wine and cheese festivities each evening, duck feeding and stargazing added value to the resort experience, although they suffered from inconsistent delivery. To be fair, however, we were there in the off-season in the midst of construction, which could have disrupted the flow. But these shortcomings paled next to the warmth and comfort we felt in our cabin.

If you do decide to leave the room, it's fairly easy. Unlike the three or four other top-tier hotels in the area, the resort is in town, allowing easy access to restaurants or galleries, which was convenient when I wanted to shop, but less than ideal when I wanted immediate access to running trails.

There's also exceptional dining a few steps away at Auberge Restaurant on Oak Creek, a contemporary American restaurant with a French flair. Pricey, to be sure, but worth it. The restaurant's charming outdoor eating area next to the creek is open when the weather allows.

On the third day, we managed to get ourselves out for a two-hour hike through some of the many miles of established trails. On the way to the trailhead, we stopped at the Chapel of the Holy Cross (www.chapeloftheholycross.com), a structure built into the side of a massive, elevated red rock. Designed in 1932 by Marguerite Brunswig Staude and built in 1956, the small church features a 90-foot cross framed by a window that affords sprawling views of the rugged landscape.

Despite the steady parade of visitors bustling through the doors, we found tranquility inside the chapel, where we lit candles.

Then again, it is built over a vortex. Maybe there's something to that whole notion after all.

Katherine Nichols is a Honolulu-based freelance writer.






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