Exploring Scottsdale, Arizona

I’m one of those people who love to fly, and I consider night time flights to be the ultimate. Drifting in and out of sleep knowing that you are tens of thousands of feet up in the air away from it all with nothing that you’re supposedto be doing and hours on end to indulge in a little you time. It’s just about the only time in the world that I don’t feel guilty for letting the hours just slip by.

When given the choice; I’ll always choose the window seat. And on this occasion, I’d never been so glad to be sat by the window. Half way through the flight I peered out of the window to find snow and ice as far as the eye could see. The breath-taking view stole my attention, and I am sure I sat there staring out of the window for the best part of an hour. We were flying over Labrador City, Canada, according to the ever-so glamorous British Airways air hostess.

A somewhat ten-hour flight later; we flew over the Mazatzel Mountains and into Phoenix International Airport. The view was everything that I’d hoped for and more; incessant and middle-of-nowhere Arizonian desert.

No sooner had I landed in Phoenix, I was arriving in sunny Scottsdale. Less than one hundred years old, home to just 250,000 people, and situated in the middle of the Sonoran Desert; Scottsdale is the city where no city should be.

Against all odds, Scottsdale stands to tell the tales of time – albeit, not a long stretch, but a stretch of time nonetheless.

After a long-haul flight and being awake for almost twenty hours, I was thankful to be checking-in to the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa and heading straight to bed. I woke in the morning to discover the majestic McDowell Mountains that surrounded the resort and was thankful that I’d made the decision the night prior to have breakfast brought to my room.

After a cup or two of coffee, I was ready for what Scottsdale had in store for me, but little did I know just quite how much it had to offer.

After a leisurely breakfast, I cycled into Old Town Scottsdale, along the Arizona Canal, and through Scottsdale’s Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt. And after several hours, it was safe to say that I’d worked up an appetite.

Just a four-hour drive from Mexico, Scottsdale’s food scene is very much influenced by its Latin neighbour. One of the best Mexican restaurants in town has to be Diego Pops: an Instagrammable diner boasting a unique menu of modern Mexican flavours with a tropical and cosmopolitan twist. While the classic tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole are tempting, the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Brussel Sprout Nachos absolutely steal the show. It sounds somewhat awful, I know, but made with corn, Mexican cheese, chilli, onion, house-roasted beet crema and even a fried egg – the Brussel Sprout Nachos are the talk of the town, and for good reason.

For the rest of the afternoon I wandered around Old Town Scottsdale. Filled with boutique shops, impressive designer homeware stores, and saloon-style bars; Scottsdale is everything you’d expect from a small town in Arizona. The Rusty Spur Saloon, the oldest bar in Scottsdale, is so old-worldly that you feel like there should be sawdust on the floor. Still the go-to place for locals on a Saturday night, The Rusty Spur Saloon and its live country music attracts men in chequered shirts and women in leather cowboy boots who line-dance the whole night through. Not forgetting Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Vince Vaughn or Jennifer Anniston who have walked through the bars’ swing doors to take in the Old West décor and live country music, too.

Back at the Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa, the Cantina Due bar is the go-to place for a tequila or two. The resort has partnered with Patron to create an exclusive ‘Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Trailblazer’ which is a special blend that they use to create distinct flavours for their margaritas and old-fashioned cocktails. With 149 other spirits on the menu to choose from, too, you are truly spoilt for choice.

The following morning, I woke to find the Sonoran Desert still in darkness. The temperature had dropped dramatically and the air was dead still. Not a single sound could be heard. I jumped into the back of the chauffer-driven vehicle that was waiting for me just steps from the hotel lobby and set off on an hour long journey deep into the desert.

As we pulled off the road and parked up, I felt my heart begin to race. I’d never stood beneath something that seemed so much greater than me – in all senses of the word.

I was about to climb into a handcrafted wicker basket and take to the skies until it suddenly dawned on me just how terrifying that was. It seemed somewhat illogical to trust only flames and the direction of the wind to carry me 5,000ft up into the sky and bring me back down to Earth safely again. But there I was, climbing into the basket and throwing caution to the wind. Pardon the pun.

As the balloon rose higher into the sky, I was stunned by how smooth-sailing the experience was. I am not sure what I expected, but this wasn’t it. The balloon only travels at a maximum of five miles an hour and sweeps through the sky without even the slightest jolt. As the sun rose above the desert, so did we, and it was truly magical.

Upon landing, a breakfast banquet laid waiting for our arrival in the middle of the desert. As we clinked our Champagne flutes I took a moment to look around at my surroundings and truly appreciate that there was desert dust beneath my feet and hundred-year-old cacti around me. I was having a Champagne breakfast in truly the best way I knew how.

After an early morning start, a day at the spa was definitely in order. The Hyatt Regency is home to Spa Avania where I took full advantage of lying by the outdoor pool and smelling the heavenly scent of Jasmine that wafted from the Spa garden every so often. As I sipped on herbal tea and soaked up the sun, I began to feel my jet lag dissipate.

In between treatments, I made my way to the Himalayan Salt Room which I had heard so much about. As I stepped inside and shut the door behind me, I was intrigued by the entire experience. I laid back on the bed and inhaled pure, dry, salt air particles deep into my lungs for thirty minutes to absorb any bacteria and pollutants and restore my internal body back to health.

Later that afternoon, I left the spa feeling utterly renewed and ready to check out of the hotel and into the newest property in town, Mountain Shadows.

A boutique resort in Paradise Valley, Arizona – adjacent to Scottsdale – Mountain Shadows occupies one of the most enviable spots in the state. Nestled just below the Camelback and Mummy Mountains, the resort earned its namesake from the shadows cast by the iconic silhouettes each afternoon.

From the first moment I stepped foot inside the hotel, it was not hard to see why Mountain Shadows is considered to be one of the most luxurious properties in the state. As guests arrive at the hotel, they are welcomed by a sheet of glass spanning the entire height and width of the wall, bringing the grandeur of Camelback Mountain into the lobby. The clinking of wine glasses and hum of conversation can be heard from the open-plan bar which lay just around the corner, while around the opposite corner, old-fashioned photographs from years-gone-by hang proudly on the walls.

It was the sort of place where I was not at all surprised to see photographs of John Wayne and Elizabeth Taylor gracing the walls. Photographs of when they stayed at the hotel, that is.

Moments later, as I pressed the key card against my hotel room door, I heard that distinctive whirring sound of the lock turning and found myself stood still for a moment before I pushed open the door. I just knew that what lay beyond was going to be stunning, and I wasn’t wrong.

The interior décor of each room at Mountain Shadows is second-to-none. A marble and glass cube-like shower stands centre stage in the middle of the room, while a marble dresser and dressing room lie adjacent. The bedroom that lies just beyond it is complete with a portable BOSE sound system and the most impressive mini-bar I’ve ever seen. And the best bit? The sliding glass doors that open up to a modern and contemporary patio overlooking Camelback Mountain. ‘Might I stay here forever?’, I thought to myself.

Later that evening, I made my way to The Mission in Scottsdale’s Old Town. Upon arrival, a waitress took us through the restaurant and seated us an outdoor table in the restaurant’s romantic dimly lit courtyard. Inside, palm wood floors flood the entire space setting the stage for the marble bar, faux rainwater walls, ornate chandeliers and the impressive wall of salt blocks straight from the Himalayas.

The Mission is famed for its tableside guacamole, and so I of course had to try it. The smartly dressed waiter came over, stood next to the table, and began scooping out the avocado right before our eyes – all the while adding nothing but an array of fresh ingredients. I couldn’t believe guacamole could be made so simply yet so to-die-for.

The following day was the moment I’d been waiting for since I’d arrived in Arizona. It was time to hold onto the handlebars and cruise through the Sonoran Desert on an ATV adventure. Weaving between the cacti and through the desert’s many canyons, I experienced the desert from a completely different perspective. As we thrashed across the desert sand with the sun beating down on our skin and our eyes wide-open looking for rattle snakes; we were in the thick of the Sonoran Desert.

Later that evening, after we’d washed the thick layer of desert dust off our skin, we made our way to the Nirvana Food and Wine Festival at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain. What is Sanctuary, you ask? Oh, it’s only the hotel where Beyoncé and Jay-Z spent their honeymoon – nothing too special.

Nestled high on the north slope of Camelback Mountain in the Paradise Valley, Sanctuary offers sweeping views from luxurious mountainside casitas, but best of all… it offers the Nirvana Food and Wine Festival.

As the stars twinkled in the clear night sky above Camelback Mountain, I wandered through the hotel and its grounds tasting the best of the west. The order of the night was to be holding a canapé in one hand and a glass of wine in the other at all times, and who was I to argue with that?

The following morning, before checking into our final hotel, we paddled through the desert. Yes, you read that right – I was surprised at the thought of there being enough water in the desert to paddle in, too. We hopped into our kayaks and floated down the Salt River surrounded by unobstructed views of four different mountain ranges. The water was still and the river was silent – the perfect invitation for wild horses who often visit the river to drink from.

Later that afternoon we checked into Hotel Valley Ho, a true icon in downtown Scottsdale. The hotel, which originally opened in 1956 and has recently been restored to its former glory, represents one of America’s best-preserved examples of mid-century modern architecture.

Dragging myself away from the splendour of the lobby and the tempting poolside cabanas; I made my way up to my suite. As I pressed against the door, I was welcomed by an open plan space that was complete with a high-gloss mustard coloured kitchen, floor to ceiling glass that spanned the entire length of the suite, and a master en-suite bedroom.

Later that evening, tucked away down a dimly lit side street in Scottsdale, lied FnB – a small restaurant with a huge reputation. The innovative menu is the work of Charleen Badman, a six-time James Beard award nominee, who serves up locally sourced vegetable creations and pairs them with Arizonian wine.

Charleen grows most of the vegetables in her own garden, and prides herself on using only the freshest and local ingredients. A dish most definitely worthy of mentioning would be one complete with beets, strawberries, vadouvan, goat cheese, pumpernickel croutons and glacier lettuce. While the roasted broccoli, grapefruit, yoghurt and dukka doesn’t fall too far behind.

There is no doubt in my mind that I’d return to Scottsdale in a heartbeat.

From sweeping through the sky at sunrise in a hot air balloon and roaring through the desert on an ATV adventure, to kayaking down the Salt River and hiking through the McDowell Sonoran Preserve; Scottsdale promises unforgettable experiences.

A city where no city should be; Scottsdale has to be experienced to be believed.

Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa


Mountain Shadows


Hotel Valley Ho


Arizona Outback Adventures


Hot Air Expeditions


Stellar Adventures


#Experience Scottsdale


Additional things to do in Scottsdale:

Taliesin West


Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West