Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Framed by the Sonoran Desert and Camelback Mountains, magic became intrinsically meshed with my many sensory experiences during a recent visit to this exceptional area. Spa played a major component of the visit and included Aji Spa, Joya Spa, Spa Avania, Agave Spa and Willow Stream A Fairmont Spa. Each of these spas has their own distinctive and unique personality and purpose. Other sensory experiences, or spa sides included cuisine and culture (more on these elements later). Memorable experiences imprint the senses, defining that experience whenever recalled. All of my experiences nourished, nurtured, comforted and even informed.


Aji Spa ~ Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa (Chandler, AZ)

Treatment ~ O’Otham Kuklan, Native Herbs Cleansing Wrap
~ The treatment began with a thorough dry brushing, which primed the skin for the detoxifying and purifying body wrap. Warmed linens were used that had been soaked in Creosote (or Shegoi, which is a sacred healing plant in the Pima and Maricopa Native American tribes) and lavender. The aroma was very calming but without a distinctive note. My wonderful therapist was Dawn, a Pima Native American; Unique or Distinctive Elements ~ Authentic Native American treatments administered by Native Americans. Pima and Maricopa tribal elders sanction every aspect of the spa and resort, which preserves adherence to its revered traditions and history. The tribal elder involvement perpetuates the sacred aspects of traditional tribal beliefs and culture. Spiritually healing rituals are offered and guided by authentic Native Americans. Daily burning of sage throughout the spa is part of the property 's purification ritual. Sacred Shegoi plant (Creosote) and other indigenous ingredients incorporated into treatments.

Eco Commitments ~ No bottled water, 100% Pima Cotton from the community, composting of all organic waste from the Aji Café, growing own organic garden for use in Aji Café, paper, plastic and metal recycling, using organic treatment products as much as possible and buying local whenever possible. Resort uses recycled water and accumulated rainwater for exterior features (golf course, decorative streams and ponds).

Joya Spa ~ InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa (Paradise Valley, AZ)

Treatment ~ Joyambrosia Signature Massage
~ My treatment room transported me to another time and space. My exceptional therapist Elizabeth used the Spa's signature Joyambrosia scented massage oil that was a blend of organic oils, including the highly coveted Moroccan Argan oil. With scents of citrus, cinnamon and mint, the aroma mélange induced a sense of calm. A heated treatment bed was comforting. I was oblivious to the subtle background music and found it easy to fully concentrate on relaxing and getting the much-needed relief from very achy muscles and a painful back with my therapist’s wonderful technique. After the treatment, I was offered an organic dark chocolate, which contained some of the same spices as were in my massage oil; I was also given an opportunity to select a card, which had a reflective sentiment. These added touched which added to the element of intention and mindfulness. Products used, Layla & Qays; signature line formulated by an organic alchemist, Lotus Wei Organics. All treatments conclude with the selection of a “daily thought” and a mindful organic dark chocolate, handcrafted by Wei of Chocolate.

Unique or Distinctive Elements ~ Combination of Moroccan, Mediterranean, Spanish and Middle East inspired. The alchemist also developed the spa’s signature scent, “Joyambrosia”, which is based on the vibrational floral essence from the “Queen of the Night” cactus, which only blooms once a year and at midnight. Their “Joy of Discovery”, “Joy of Intention” and “Joy of Purification” measurably adds to the spa experience by actively involving the guest with their own personal journey of introspection and purpose. Other aspects include an authentic Hammam area that uses authentic treatment modalities and products; specially trained therapists administer the ritual. Salon features celebrity stylist Ray Issa. Rooftop cabanas. Enormous treatment suites for couples or groups that transport you to Morocco. Women’s relaxation area reminiscent of a Bedouin hideaway; individual reclining beds that can be shuttered closed with flowing silken draperies. The spa also offers a comprehensive “wellness” program by qualified practitioners.

Spa Avania ~ Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch (Scottsdale, AZ)

Treatment ~ Crushed Pearl Facial
~ It had been well over two months since my last facial and it definitely showed. My very capable esthetician, Naira, took the time to fully explain this multi-phase facial that was ideal for sensitive and aging skin. Products included those formulated with anti-age brightening ingredients, like crushed pearl known for adding luminosity to the skin. My skin was scrupulously cleaned, and steamed, while hydrating masks and another thorough cleansing, followed by toner and a super hydrating moisturizer. My skin’s texture was restored, wonderfully hydrated and noticeably brighter. Too bad I didn’t have a before and after picture for comparison results. Products used, Comfort Zone Absolute Pearl.

Unique or Distinctive Elements ~ Their treatment offerings are synchronized to the time of day to compliment Chakras or one’s natural body rhythms and bring them into balance or maintain balance. Cuisine, teas and even the type of music played are also synchronized to the time of day for the same purpose. Regular presentation classes, such as “Sanitas per Aqua” Healing by Water 101 are offered to expand the guest’s knowledge and appreciation of spa aspects that include the benefits of mineral and sea water, exfoliants, peels, etc.; specific products are discussed and an interactive presentation that involves guests thoroughly testing products by touching and smelling. A French Celtic mineral pool is also available, which aids in balancing the immune system, a principal behind traditional balneotherapy; a private bath area is available for guests to use prepackaged seaweed to soak in the bath, maximizing the benefits of thalassotherapy. Natural light is a key part of the spa, which also serves as a component of the spa experience; garden relaxation areas designed beneath open-air skylights.

Agave Spa ~ Westin Kierland Resort & Spa (Scottsdale, AZ)

Treatments ~ Rollerssage and Guided Meditation
~ Rollerssage was developed by one of the spa’s massage therapists. Using the principal of hot stones, semi-precious stone spheres are heated and then used as the mechanism for delivering heat and massage pressure to targeted areas. My wonderful therapist Lynn gave my achy muscles a thorough going over, but occasionally the spheres penetrated too deeply along the boney areas and caused a slight bit of discomfort; stones usually don’t cause this due to the therapist using the flat part of the stone to massage over the area, which tends to distribute the pressure a bit more evenly, versus a sphere rolling over an area, which narrows or condenses the applied pressure. Jorinda led the Guided Meditation; she managed to totally relax me by taking me back to a pleasurable childhood memory. As I journeyed further back, I could feel my breathing becoming more evenly paced and less labored and erratic with her soothing and calming directions. Although I’ve never had a treatment like this before, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Unique or Distinctive Elements
~ Spa has its own outdoor lap poor, courtyard and garden areas ideal for seclusion and reflection. A “Nutrition Break” where a complimentary “super-foods” drink is offered to guests. Where possible, incorporating traditional and Native American aspects of culture and healing. Emphasizing more mind and body wellness and holistic treatment protocols. Native Agave plant is used in their indigenous treatments.

Eco Commitments
~ A “Be Greener” initiative program throughout the spa includes using organic treatment products and working with vendors that offer environmentally “friendly” products and services; other aspects include the recycling of plastic, glass and paper products, while targeting the end of year to incorporate the use of all corn-based disposable cups and containers used in food and beverage preparation in the spa’s “Juice Bar”.

Willow Stream A Fairmont Spa ~ Fairmont Scottsdale (Scottsdale, AZ)

Treatment ~ The Revitalizer
~ This full body treatment included a thorough exfoliation, a restorative body wrap, hair conditioning, body massage and moisturizing. Throughout this invigorating treatment the energizing essential oils of ginger and lemongrass were the picker-upper for a droopy and near-lethargic body. My exceptional therapist Diane also took the time to demonstrate to me various stretching and limbering movements to alleviate my chronic back problems, which were due to injury and arthritis. Watching her go through the movements made it easier for me to apply the concept into a daily stretching and strength building routine. Her technique definitely helped to lessen the affects of these injuries. Products used, Kerstin Florian.

Unique or Distinctive Elements
~ Emphasizes elements of Feng Shui (air, water, earth, wood and fire).


For the heart, mind and spirit
~ A must-do is spending time in the Heard Museum (Phoenix, AZ), which contains North American’s largest private collection of Native American artifacts, sculptures, pottery, jewelry, textiles, paintings and photo images. Offers educational interactive areas for kids and adults. Special exhibits offered throughout the year. The experience was very informative, engaging and thought provoking.

The Phoenix Art Museum (Phoenix, AZ) is another must-do. Contains an impressive and substantial representation of works and pieces from multiple art genres, including European, Native American, Latin American, Asian and Western American. Special exhibits are offered throughout the year.

To soothe the tasty beast ~ The cuisine and flavors of these restaurants are cultural hybrids and represent the culinary arts at their finest. Foremost, however, is the extraordinary emphasis and commitment to local, sustainable and organic. At these restaurants, farm to table is a passion, not an empty promise. The results are always fresh, inventive, and tantalizing, regardless of the season. Following are some of the establishments that tweaked my taste buds:

Aji Spa Café (Sheraton Wild Horse Pass) ~ Ideal for unwinding or reflecting on the spa experience.
Arcadia Farms (Phoenix Art Museum) ~ Ideal respite after digesting all of the artwork.
Nellie Cashman’s (Westin Kierland) ~ This is the area’s definitive brunch, offering an extensive array of savories and sweets to tempt any palate.
Zinc Bistro (Kierland Commons) ~ France meets West with a menu that’s full of flair and élan, familiar and the unusually paired (like truffle French fries).
True Food (Biltmore Fashion Park) ~ Thank Dr. Andrew Weil for having a major hand in developing this popular organic taste feast; foodies of all types will love the inventive menu that is healthy. Elevates tofu to haute cuisine (well, almost).
Digestif (Scottsdale) ~ Asian, Tex-Mex, or down-home vittles influenced; the condensed menu is creative and unusual, verses catering to the culinary trends of the moment (like sushi, which isn’t spoken there).
Frank & Albert (Arizona Biltmore) ~ The inventive menu selection is extensive; the food fare was delicious; extensive wine and libation selections.
LV Bistro (Fairmont Scottsdale) ~ Hearty flavors of standard American cuisine are accentuated with culinary spins of ingredient pairings that bring out the best in up to the moment freshness.
Prado (InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa) ~ Upscale, award-winning restaurant with globally themed tantalizing Mediterranean, Spanish and European food fare. Here, the Slow Food Movement is alive and well; extensive wine cellar.


InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa (Paradise Valley, AZ) ~ A wonderful resort that transports the guest to exotic locales like the Mediterranean, Spain or Morocco. Its backdrop is the Sonoran Desert and Camelback Mountains. My room had a balcony with an exquisite view overlooking a major portion of the resort framed by the stoic and contemplative Camelback Mountains. Sleeping was a sheer and decadent joy on my plush four-post-bed. Resort attention to authenticity in detail makes this a remarkable and exotic experience. Exemplary service.

Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa (Phoenix, AZ) ~ An historic landmark destination, this resort is also known as the “Jewel of the Desert”, and is as much a part of the landscape as the mountains. The sprawling resort is another desert beauty. The new Ocatilla section, where my upscale room was, is a new offering to guests; it’s a unique hotel within a hotel concept, and includes its own pool, concierge, lounge and dining areas (where select beverage and menu offerings are included in the room rate). Nightly turndown included an optional drawn bath containing aromatic bath salts; a luxurious and relaxing way to end a busy day. I also loved the in-room French Press coffee pot. Exemplary service.

Fairmont Scottsdale (Scottsdale, AZ) ~ Another upscale room to unwind and recharge, especially on the exquisite bed; down bedding added to the experience. My room was secluded from the vibrancy of the resort-proper. Another desert beauty. Exemplary service.

For any experience to be remarkable or memorable, it needs to engage all of the senses as favorably as possible. All of these recent experiences in the Greater Phoenix, Arizona area did just that. From resort, to dining, to culture, to spa, all of my senses were engaged at various times. I’d love to return to the area and spend a bit more time discovering other aspects of the area, and in the process, discover other aspects of myself. Sensory-driven experiences should also accomplish this. This trip made me realize that as well.

By Terry Herman

Terry Herman is a recognized expert in the spa industry, and regularly covers issues that include business, management, operations, customer care, treatments, products, and trends. In addition to writing and reviewing, she is also a management consultant and motivational speaker. You can email her at


(Photo of Willow Stream Spa garden exterior, provided by Fairmont Scottsdale)

1 comment:

  1. Great reviews of the treatments, Terry. I certainly agree with that the best experiences at a spa engage all the senses. It not only makes it memorable but it treats the whole person.


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