From desert sunrises to scrumptious farm fresh feasts, Paradise Valley’s newest resort is emerging from the shadow of Camelback Mountain and climbing onto travellers’ bucket lists. Our writer discovers how a stay at Mountain Shadows Resort can offer the most in modern luxury by tapping into its glamourous past.
Contrary to what some will say, 6 a.m. is too early.
Especially if it’s a 6 a.m. wake-up call after an evening of margaritas and tequila.
In my defense, I couldn’t refuse the offer from Tequila Goddess (aka sommelier) Katie Schnurr to tutor me in the 200-plus varieties of tequila housed in Fairmont Scottsdale Princess’ Tequila Bar catalogue. It’s also how I ended up imbibing on the signature Snakebite Flight – a shot each of sotol, mezcal and tequila presented between the head and tail of a rattlesnake – amongst other libations.
It’s a wonder I made it back to my room at nearby Mountain Shadows with time enough to rest. But here I am, reluctantly pulling myself from the comfortable embrace of my plush bedding – the Herculean effort that’s wholly motivated by the promise of seeing a spectacular sunrise on the hot air balloon ride I’ve committed to.
Garden Premium Guestroom
As I’m taken to the meeting point for the excursion via the resort’s complimentary Tesla service, I think back to last night’s dinner at modern Mexican La Hacienda. The memories of the bold and vibrant flavours in the barbacoa tacos – the soft, handmade tortillas in which guajillo braised beef was enveloped – bring a smile to my face. Flashbacks of the tableside-made chipotle-laced guacamole come back to me, including the version that was topped with shredded crab, bacon and heirloom cherry tomatoes. I lick my lips thinking about the salt left on them from the bottomless baskets of tortilla chips, and those too-dangerous-for-my-own-good margaritas.
Ay, Chihuahua, those tequila-laced margaritas!
Hot Air Expeditions
It’s mid-morning when my fellow ballooners and I toast one another, tipping our Bellini-filled flutes to a spectacular hour-long voyage above the Sonoran Desert. While tucking into warm croissants and vegetable quiches catered by Vincent on Camelback, I question why I had been apprehensive about floating 914-metres above solid ground (likely because I’m acrophobic), even though Google had suggested it’s one of the safest forms of flight known to humankind.
We survived – with great memories, photos and a commemorative flight certificate to prove it. And it’s only 9:30 a.m. so the rest of the day remains mine to enjoy.
Mountain Shadows Resort
There are plenty of options to while away the day for those spending nights at Mountain Shadows, which happens to be a new, upscale, boutique resort in Paradise Valley, Arizona, just outside of Scottsdale. Named like its iconic predecessor, the ‘60s hideout of Hollywood stars and notables, the $100-million rebuild also sits in the afternoon shadows cast by neighbouring Camelback Mountain and Mummy Mountain.
For example, I could take advantage of the resort’s 18-hole, par 3 Forrest Richardson-designed Short Course, since access is included in resort fee. In that case, I’d visit Rusty’s after a round for a beer on the patio and casual bites like their shaved and griddled cheesesteak sandwich with a side of onion rings.
Hole 7 | The Short Course
If the weather was warmer, I’d probably split my time between either of the resort’s sparkling 23-metre outdoor pools and a private cabana.
The Citizens Club | Mountain Shadows Resort The Citizens Club | Mountain Shadows Resort
I consider taking a class like aerial yoga at The Citizens Club, a serious 4,000 square-foot wellness center that puts every hotel gym to shame. In that scenerio I'd finish a workout with something special from its Juice Bar, even if it’s spike with activated charcoal like the Black Magic, a local favourite.
Mountain Shadows Resort | Black Magic
But instead, I head out for a hike on Camelback Mountain before the sun’s rays reach their peak. Given timing and confidence in my own fitness abilities (I swear the tequila has nothing to do with it), I choose the slightly shorter but more challenging Echo Canyon Trail. It’s a steep scramble up the granite and sandstone spine of the sleeping camel that eventually rewards me with magnificent panoramic vistas. I resist the temptation to idle too long, knowing that I only have a few hours to spare before my lunch reservation.
The Living Room & Bar | Mountain Shadows Resort
I’m famished by the time I sit down at Hearth '61, Mountain Shadows’ signature restaurant. Helmed by James Beard Foundation and Food & Wine recognized chef Charles Wiley, the ingredient-driven contemporary American menu offers an array of share-friendly options.
Hearth 61 | Niman Aged Tomahawk Rib-Eye
The first thing I spot in the glimmering exhibition kitchen is the stone oven, so I start with the flatbread. Under a flavourful combination of shaved speck, sweet figs, creamy chevre and lightly-dressed arugula, the paper-thin crust somehow remains crackling crisp. I’d gladly make this a daily ritual, pairing it with the Arizonan white wine that my server recommends from the tome of options. I also take her up on the suggestion to try the baked spaghetti squash. It’s easy to appreciate Wiley’s traditional cooking style through the dish’s tender medley of tangled squash, hearty wilted greens and thick spicy marinara sauce, while pine nuts and Parmesan cheese give the signature dish umami-depth.
Hearth 61 | Panzanella Salad
Reenergized, it’s off to see Japanese American artist Jun Kaneko’s exhibit at the world-renowned Desert Botanical Garden. It’s incredible how dramatic Kaneko’s bold and colourful large-scale, hand-built, glazed ceramic sculptures look against the dense background of towering cacti, desert shrubs, spindly succulents and vibrant wildflowers.
Joining a tour of the Sonoran Desert Natural Loop Trail, volunteer guide Dan Saddoris leads our group down paved paths, educating us on the region’s diversity and the extraordinary characteristics a cactus possesses. We’re also taken on a behind-the-scenes look at the Hazel Hare Centre for Plant Science and learn about the sustainable horticultural practices used to protect rare, endangered and threatened species.
Desert Botanical Garden | Ryan Cordwell for Experience Scottsdale
It’s as the evening sky starts to bleed beautiful hues of reds and yellows that I make my way to the botanical garden’s on-site restaurant, Gertrude’s, for dinner. Named after Garden-founder and forward-thinking environmentalist Gertrude Divine Webster, the restaurant prides itself on using Arizona-grown products that are fermented, cured and smoked in-house, plus herbs grown here as well.
I get lost in the surprisingly addictive fried lollipop kale leaves that are tossed with country ham and black pepper feta. If fresh could be plated, it would be embodied in the gorgeous shaved beets salad that’s dressed in golden beet vinaigrette. I have a moment with the yucca croquettes siding my juicy bison tenderloin, loving the crisp crunchy crust shielding it moist and fluffy interior.
The Mission | Constance Higley for Experience Scottsdale
Scottsdale is known for Southwestern cuisine, and so, on the last day of my visit, I encounter a refined version of pozole, a traditional Mexican dish, at The Mission, a sophisticated-yet-casual modern Latin Adobe-style restaurant in Old Town. Full of pulled smoked pork set against bright avocado and fat nuggets of starchy hominy, the stew is crowned with matchstick-thin fried tortilla strips and accompanied by finely sliced peppers, radishes and red onions. I make it a meal with an order of chunky chipotle-laced guacamole. Made tableside, it’s seasoned to taste, and dusted with toasted pepitas. If I hadn’t already eaten my weight in the restaurant’s whisper thin tortilla chips, then I’m sure to tip the scale with the gooey, scotch-soaked pumpkin bread pudding and refreshing elderflower Paloma margarita.
Back at the resort, I bump into local art curator John Reyes who guides me through the rotating museum-quality artwork he’s hand-selected for The Gallery, including pieces from Frank Lloyd Wright (the respected architect’s winter home and school, Taliesin West, is located in Scottsdale), and other artists who have a strong connection to the Arizona community. It’s an incredible collection and I’d linger longer, but I can hear The Living Room calling me.
The Bar at Hearth 61 | Figgy Old Fashioned
Still channelling its hideaway vibes from its past, the sunken lounge is strategically placed opposite The Bar at Hearth ’61, which I’m told makes excellent crafted cocktails. Who am I to argue against following in the footsteps of those before me? If it’s good enough for the Rat Pack, then it’s good enough for me.
When You Go:
Where to stay
Immersive Premium Guestroom Bathtub | Mountain Shadows Resort
Guestrooms at Mountain Shadows Resort are available from $179 to $529 USD a night (depending on seasonality). Consider splurging on the 104square-metre Camelback Presidential Suite, 59-square-metre patio. This is available from $819 to $1,099 USD a night.
What to do
Join Hot Air Expedition for a morning or sunset flight over the Sonoran Desert for $179 USD per person (or invest $395-495 US for a private excursion). Take a midday tour of Scottsdale with JoyRides AZ, or spend a full day at the Desert Botanical Garden exploring the various desert flora, $24.95 US for adults.
Where to eat
At much praised FnB in downtown Scottsdale, Chef Charleen Badman transforms local produce into playful, globally-influenced seasonal menu that pairs with co-owner Pavle Milic’s Arizona-focused wine list. 7125 E. 5th Ave Suite 31, Scottsdale; 480-425-9463,
Chef Gio Osso’s Virtù Honest Craft has been wowing crowds with his simple, changing, Mediterranean-inspired food from its cozy 30-seat dining room inside Bespoke Inn since day one, snagging best new restaurant recognition nationally from Esquire and nominated for a James Beard Award. 3701 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale; 480-946-3477.