There's a living room-scaled lobby, and a restaurant comfortable enough to visit every day, and a concierge who watches over you and your needs like a good doorman on Park Avenue. Nearby Troon North will keep golfers happy, but you're not living on the course. There are wonderful desert walks to take, and a pleasant spa where you will get a massage rather than an "experience." The 210 rooms are spread across casitas on 40 acres, and the best of them have views of Pinnacle Peak. Southwestern loosely describes the style—gas kivas, beige palette—but it's not heavy-handed. You can always count on a Four Seasons for cool elegance: luxury without opulence, good service without a lot of fussing. It's the Bill Blass of the hotel world.
Royal Palms Resort & Spa Every city has a Royal Palms: a house-hotel from another era that keeps getting better with age. If the Hotel Bel-Air is your idea of heaven, the Royal Palms will be, too. It began life in 1929 as a residence, and has grown over the years in a higgledy-piggledy way. And what a location it has, at the foot of Camelback Mountain. The Royal Palms is far more lush than the desert is supposed to be. These towering palms weren't trucked in yesterday, and you might walk through a fine old orange orchard on the way to your room.
The 116 rooms are more Spanish than Southwestern—a little more luxurious, a little more European. My favorites were the Valencia Casitas, away from Camelback Road and in view of the orange trees. T. Cook's, the hotel's well-regarded restaurant, serves a Mediterranean menu in the atmospheric old house; hold your nose and have a drink in the smoker, the most charming room of them all. The major news here, however, is a lovely new spa called Alvadora, which is pretty and large enough to offer the works, but not so big that it doesn't feel private. I can imagine few things more restorative than checking into the Royal Palms, taking it easy by the pool, having a treatment daily, generally hiding out, and emerging only to head to the airport.
Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spas The Arizona Biltmore was here before all the others, in 1929. Its distinction has always been that the great, if slightly weird, Frank Lloyd Wright had an unmistakable hand in its design. Never an easy property to manage, it felt betwixt and between on my recent visit. The rooms were being redecorated, but with no particular inspiration, and mine was noticeably underfurnished. The spa, lavish when opened in 1998, now has some catching up to do. And although there was rather good food in the dining room, Wright's, what you remember is the general dreariness and the spotlight in your eyes. Families and conventioneers seem to settle in nicely here, but as the expansion marches on—a new five-story garage, 100,000 square feet of "newly refined" meeting space—the classic hotel underneath it all is becoming harder and harder to find.
A LITTLE SMALLER, PLEASE...
CopperWynd Resort & Club If CopperWynd were 15 minutes in a different direction, everybody would be calling it a gem and flocking there. As it is, this three-year-old resort sits on a scenic ridge at the edge of far-suburban Fountain Hills, doing what it does quietly and wonderfully. There are 32 rooms and eight villas with a European feel, fireplaces, and killer views; a restaurant called Alchemy with a hip menu, a hip look, and more views; a spa, golf, and lots of tennis. It's not the place for a first-time visitor, but for someone who knows his way around, has family nearby, or has tried the big resorts and wants a relaxed getaway. A lot of people seemed to have this idea. And wasn't that Billie Jean King on the tennis courts?
Hermosa Inn Bed-and-breakfast types will want to check into the Hermosa Inn, a classic hacienda that has been here since 1930. It's hidden among the houses of Paradise Valley, where zoning laws preserve the magnificent darkness of the vast night sky. The 35 rooms are all different and decorated in high Georgia O'Keeffe style, with baskets and antlers and straw hats and other charming touches, so you'd better like charm. And quiet, since you won't find the cruise-ship frenzy of a resort here. The inn does wake up at night, however. The restaurant, Lon's, is a favorite of locals and was expanded considerably this past winter. If you're looking for value and don't need the facilities of a resort, you won't do better: Hermosa isn't cheap, but then nothing is during high season in Phoenix.