We began our recent Southwest road trip in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area, a destination famous for its lavish resorts and golf courses, hoping to find a hideaway there that would connect us to the area’s cultural and natural attractions. Our first stop was The Hermosa Inn, a small hotel in Scottsdale’s Paradise Valley, 15 minutes north of the city’s international airport. Renovated in 2017, the inn has since piled up many accolades from the media; we wanted to see if the hype was justified.
On arrival, we were greeted by the manager, who offered us cool pink prickly pear lemonade. After a few formalities, we were entrusted to the valet, who gathered our bags and escorted us to our accommodations. The 43 adobe casita-style rooms are connected by a labyrinthine garden path. Scottsdale was hitting the peak spring bloom season during our stay, and the beds of snapdragons were spectacularly colorful.
Our Garden Casita was decorated with Western accents and came with two large leather chairs squeezed together along a wall, a gas fireplace, a comfortable king canopy bed and a spacious bath with a walk-in shower but no tub. Our porch looked out on shared garden space with a Jacuzzi; there was also a small outdoor pool in the central courtyard nearby.
We opted for dinner at LON’s at The Hermosa Inn, a restaurant that draws diners from across the city. The menu features American steakhouse cuisine with a Southwestern twist. We selected a variety of small plates, including standards such as chicken tortilla soup and blistered shishito peppers. Everything we tried was enjoyable, without being exceptional. The wine selection is notably extensive, with nearly 700 labels from American appellations to Old World classics. However, the real standout of the evening was the restaurant’s patio, with its lively atmosphere and twinkling lights, where we relaxed beneath a starry desert night sky.
The principal frustration of our stay at The Hermosa Inn was the inconsistent valet service. Although some valets were charming, it was annoying to have to wait for our car when it was parked only a few yards away. And on one occasion, after getting a tip, a valet left us to deal with our own bags while he worked his arms using a fitness band from behind the kiosk! Overall, however, the Hermosa is a recommendable alternative to the area’s large resorts and a good base from which to explore the Phoenix-Scottsdale area.
The cozy atmosphere; the sense of place.
The lack of a tub in our room; the frustrating valet service.
LON’s at The Hermosa is a fine place for alfresco dining, but it fills up quickly, so be sure to make a reservation with the concierge.
Our second hideaway was located a 40-minute drive north of the city. Blooms of mallow, poppy and bluebonnet fluttered in the breeze of our passing car, and huge saguaro cacti dotted the red boulder-strewn mountainsides. We passed Lake Pleasant, a large reservoir that is an attraction for outdoor enthusiasts. A hot spring nearby has drawn people here for millennia — the Yavapai people and subsequently the Apache made pilgrimages to the medicinal waters — but until recently it was inaccessible because the adjacent property was in ruins.
Castle Hot Springs opened originally in 1896 as a winter retreat for prominent East Coast families. President Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the resort in 1911 during the dedication of Roosevelt Dam. And for a while the hotel could boast the only phone line in the Arizona Territory. Since then, it has suffered three major fires, and after the last one, it was left vacant. Prominent Phoenix business owners Mike and Cindy Watts purchased the property in 2014, and after an extensive renovation, it reopened to guests in February.
To reach the resort you have to drive 6 miles down an unmaintained dirt road, and we were happy that we’d rented a Jeep when crossing the occasional shallow streams. (Helicopter transfers are available.) I’d thought it odd when the manager phoned a week before our trip and said, “When you’re on the dirt road to the hotel, don’t give up. You’ll think you’re lost, but if you keep going, you’ll run right into it.” Now the conversation made sense. Castle Hot Springs certainly fits one obvious definition of a hideaway.
Passing through white entry gates, we continued down a drive lined with towering 100-year-old date palms, before arriving at the main lodge. This is one of two remaining historic buildings, built in the late 1890s. The brightly painted yellow structure was quiet when we entered, but welcoming staff quickly appeared. After a short introduction, a porter escorted us to our Spring Bungalow (one of 32 accommodations).
There, I was a little surprised to find elevator music playing — and fake plants, albeit high-quality ones. Having switched off the music, I explored the room. It was extremely spacious, with a sitting area near the fireplace and both indoor and outdoor baths. (The soaking tub outside could be filled with water directly from the hot springs.) Although there was no television, the Wi-Fi was sufficiently fast to meet the needs of guests obliged to stay connected. However, the bungalow was done in a contemporary style that struck me as somewhat insensitive to the historic nature of the property.
Having unpacked, we were eager to experience the hot springs, which are located a short hike from the bungalows. Massage tents line a path alongside a creek that meanders down from the springs. At the source, water bubbles out at almost 120 degrees, but two levels of pools enable bathers to enjoy a range of cooler temperatures. In between soaks, we took cold showers and sipped fruit-infused water at the modern bathhouse.
Castle Hot Springs has a large organic garden that supplies Harvest restaurant, overseen by chef Christopher Brugman. The food was outstanding. A dinner of carrot bisque, fried romanesco cauliflower with capers, and sous-vide lamb tenderloin left us extremely content. (The pillowy, salty naan served fresh from the wood-fired oven would be reason enough to fly back to Arizona.)
With more than 210 acres of Sonoran landscape to explore, the resort has the potential to be a great outdoor destination. However, that promise has yet to be fully realized. A short trail climbs a small hill to overlook the hotel, but we wanted a more demanding excursion. We were told we could hike to the top of a nearby mountain on a “rough trail,” but having set out, we soon discovered that the path was so rough as to be nonexistent. We managed to scramble to the top following wild burro tracks and dodging cholla cacti and other thorny plants. The view of Lake Pleasant in the distance was stunning, but overall, the hike was suitable only for people in good shape and equipped with trekking poles.
Generally, I found the hotel staff to be warm and personable. However, it was evident from a few missteps that the operation is still new. We had to make multiple calls to arrange our dinner plans, and the turndown staff arrived while we were enjoying a quiet moment by the fire. Castle Hot Springs has conspicuous merits, but when trying to decide on a rating, I kept coming back to the design. The new rooms are very comfortable, but they do not connect with the property’s history. Still, the hot springs are magical and the food delicious. It will be interesting to see how the resort develops in the coming years.
To see more of Castle Hot Springs, watch our highlights video.
The stunning remote setting; the magical hot springs; the exceptionally comfortable accommodations.
The newer buildings do not reflect the historic nature of the property; the lack of laundry service.
The winding dirt road to the property is better suited to an SUV than a car.