I should know by now to never say never. After all, I’m no longer a spring chicken and the amount of times I’ve had to put my foot in my mouth because I did say ‘never’ ought to have taught me something. Nonetheless, I’ve said many a time that I’d never ever make a “Top 5/10/20/100” or “top anything” list, and here I am doing it.
When I arrived in Scottsdale, they actually had the most lovely packet waiting for me in my first hotel room, with 5 colorfully numbered cards. Alongside the cards were a request to use them during my trip to rank my experiences, the top 5 in particular. It was such an adorably presented request, I immediately wanted to oblige. Yet a day into my trip I knew the greater problem was not going to be breaking my own never rule, but rather playing favorites at all. Judging from the itinerary, the look of my surroundings, the tastes I had already sampled and the way my face couldn’t stop from smiling — I just knew I didn’t have a prayer of choosing 5 things out of the many many to favor.
So why am I now? Frankly, because I am a people pleaser. And secondarily, because the more I’ve thought about it, the more I actually think it makes it easier for me to to organize ALL the thoughts I have about my experience this summer in Arizona. I could probably publish 20 posts about the trip but then I’d never ever catch up on blogging about anywhere else. And I have a lot of catching up to do.
So without further ado, here are my Top 5 Scottsdale Experiences:
I’ve been a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright‘s work for as long as I can remember. So of course visiting Taliesin West while I was in Scottsdale was my number one priority. (More on the tour itself in a future post.) However, it was the second architectural tour I embarked upon during my trip that really sealed the deal for me in terms of finding Scottsdale’s architectural climate at the top of my favorite things list. Ace Bailey, who I will talk more about in my #2, led us on a tour of Cosanti which was the studio and home of Paolo Soleri, as well as a school. Since he passed, it has also become a foundation and can still be toured, there is an incredible store on site selling his works [mostly bells] and those made by the artisans who continue his traditions using the same molds and techniques that Soleri himself did. Like Wright, I believe he was far before his time and though I am not a huge fan of modern art and architecture — there is something in the work of both men that, though modern in ways, could be said to be anything but. I’m not sure I can put into words what I was so enamored with at Cosanti but that is why I am sharing so many photographs of it. Perhaps you can see in my photographs, what I cannot spell out with words.
I mention Ace Bailey (shown below) along with the Hotel Valley Ho because she works there as a concierge and as a tour guide but to confine Ace to only either one of those things would be to seriously shortchange this wonderful woman’s abilities and worth. I don’t know whether Ace is the sister or aunt or mother or cousin or what have you that I wish I had and haven’t ever had — but whatever the title, I wish she was family. She felt like family, almost from the first moments I met her. But it was spending time with her over the course of my visit that made me really fall platonically in love with her. She led us on a tour of the spectacular Hotel Valley Ho (more about it in a future post) and she led us on the architecture tour of Cosanti and took us on an art tour of town as well. By the last afternoon of my visit, I’d invited her to our farewell dinner and she had invited me to her home. Which it turns out, is basically a version of the home I always envisioned I’d one day have. It’s a place that’s been personalized to her exact specifications, a celebration of all the places she has been before and of all the people she loves and of course, includes a nod to all the interests she has. Which include art and architecture (hence once of the reasons we got along so swimmingly). If you’re in Scottsdale, my very top tip would be to track Ace Bailey down and befriend her for yourself. If you don’t adore her as much as I did, then you’ll be able to knock me over with a feather. After that, make sure you stay at the Hotel Valley Ho. And make sure you order the Toffee Pancakes (shown here) for breakfast. They’re TO DIE FOR. Also, make sure you stay in one of the tower rooms (also shown here.) More on the HVH in a future post…
If there’s an equivalent to Moses, for gardening and farming, Ken Singh is it. He can lead vegetables upward out of a desert, toward the light like the biblical character led his people out of enslavement to freedom. Ken took a triangle patch of land that lies next to the interstate in rural Scottsdale, a patch of land that was once barren and had been declared “unfarmable,” and made it into an oasis in the truest sense of the word. If it were in the middle of the Sahara, I would be no less surprised than I was seeing it in Arizona. Such is the difference between Singh Farms, named in kind for its proprietor, and the surrounding land. Arizona is a bit of a wonder in irrigation to begin with. Many patches of land that seem as if they should be nothing but sand, are, thanks to irrigation — abounding in flowering plants and trees. However, in most parts of Scottsdale, you can tell that the land has been coaxed into a state of green by the wonders of fertilization and irrigation. When you drive through the gates of Singh Farms and then walk through the adorned entrance to the actual market and gardens themselves, it immediately feels as if you’ve crossed into another state and another plane of existence all together. Nothing about Singh Farms seems man made, though it is. The true genius behind it is that Ken did nothing more than revert back to safe farming practices that mostly include simply putting back into the soil what we long ago stripped out of it in the first place. Essentially, Ken took the land back to what it was before we got our grubby little paws on it. Without pesticides, without man made fertilizers……without anything that wasn’t natural, Ken made his oasis. During the week, it is now a massive MASSIVE garden. On the weekends, it opens to become a farmers market and series of cafes and fresh-pressed juice stands. There is a pizza oven on site, a booth spilling over with fresh flowers of every type and kind you can imagine and children running through mists of water as if it were the best day of their life, with smiles you couldn’t wipe off if you tried. At one point, the thought, “This must be what heaven is like!” crossed through my mind and then I chastised myself for being so sappy. But I challenge you to visit Singh Farms for yourself and not have a similar thought run through your head. That’s the man himself, just below, between myself and Julie from Table for Two blog. He’s as fascinating as his farm is but he isn’t the only reason to visit. There are more than I could ever fit into just one blog post. It’s NOT to be missed when you visit Scottsdale.
When I visited, Barrio Queen was helmed by James Beard Award Nominee Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza. Just a few days before this published, she announced her plans to split with the partners of Barrio Queen and pursue other things. This saddens me greatly because I can’t imagine Barrio Queen without her. When I had the honor of visiting Scottsdale, it was meeting Chef Silvana (shown below) that was really the highlight of my two visits to Barrio Queen (that’s right, the tacos were so good, I had them twice). Don’t get me wrong, the tacos were AMAZING, as was the Horchata and the black bean dip, the guacamole that was freshly made table side (!!!!!!!) and the churros and every other morsel of food and drink we had. Still, it was when Silvana sat down with us, told us her life story and shared her life’s guiding philosophy with us that I really, literally, wept. She is an inspiring woman and I will be following her career as it leads first back to Mexico and then who knows where. Anyone that espouses this as their life’s guiding principle, is a person worthy of a following:
“With love, you can change anything.”
Much to my bewildered excitement, I was blessed with spa treatments both at Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain and the Hotel Valley Ho. I left Scottsdale a changed woman. I now understand why so many people spend money on visits to the spa. BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME. I hate photos of me with my mouth open, smiling, but LOOK AT ME (in the middle of that group of 3 women) — I couldn’t contain my joy. And…..my feeling of being utterly and completely relaxed to the point of not even caring what I looked like in a photograph. IT WAS AMAZING. Get it? You need to book treatments at these spas the next time you are in Scottsdale!!! Obviously.
Can you see why I might have had trouble?
There’s a whole lot more to tell still. So stay tuned….
One of the things that I worried about was that it would be too hot, but it turns out that “it’s a dry heat” couldn’t be more true. I actually thought that the summer heat of Scottsdale (even on 112 degree day) was more bearable than the humid heat of NYC (even on a day that it’s only 80 but 50% humidity). Still, it’s hard to convince people of this apparently. Until you’ve been. And this is why Scottsdale’s low season is actually occurring right now…which makes it the best time to visit if you want to score a deal. There are many to be had. The Summer in Scottsdale site is a great place to start with your planning. Rooms start at just $89/night.
My trip to Scottsdale was sponsored but as is true with every trip I take, I maintain full editorial control over what I publish about my experience and all opinions are my own.