Arguably the most scenic resort in the Southwest, the Boulders is built to impress -- exceptional gym and spa; renowned golf courses; organic cuisine grown on the grounds; and casitas with wood-beamed ceilings. It's one of the best resorts in Phoenix.
Boulders is a resort, in every sense. While many people find that the main pool is a tad small considering the resort's size, its spa remains one of the most impressive in the country, and its two golf courses, gym, tennis facilities, and numerous restaurants all vie for the title of best in Phoenix. But the grounds, dotted with cacti, an organic citrus orchard, and the region's famous boulders (some bigger than houses), might just be the resort's most impressive highlight. At the very least, the beauty and serenity found on this enormous property is a distinct advantage over smaller hotels like the Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain or the Four Seasons, and a considerable advantage over more central roadside hotels like FireSky. The main difference: The resort feels largely detached from Scottsdale and Phoenix's suburban sprawl. Were it not for the two golf courses -- and the staff-driven golf carts ferrying guests around the resort (cars aren't allowed past the entrance) -- you might feel entirely alone in the desert.
Just outside a quaint town, a little less than an hour from the airport
Detached from the Scottsdale suburbs, a little less than an hour from the airport, Boulders is actually in a quaint, somewhat kitschy suburban town called Carefree (established as a planned community in 1955). If you climb to the one of the highest hilltops on the property you can catch a glimpse of the Phoenix sprawl, but the property otherwise feels quiet and insulated (unlike at the FireSky hotel). A string of artsy shops and restaurants in what one might call "downtown" Carefree is located a couple miles to the north of the resort (about a five-minute drive).
About a 50-minute drive from Phoenix International Airport
Five-minute drive from El Pedregal Festival Marketplace, an upscale shopping village that hosts concerts and includes a number of outdoor cafes and restaurants, notably The Spotted Donkey Cantina (dinner)
As a more upscale off-shoot of the Hilton brand, the guest rooms (called Casitas) are clean, comfortable, and certainly maintain the high-end essentials (from good beds to bathrobes). When we visited, we encountered some scuffs, musty smells, outdated decor, a less-than-thrilling bathroom, and a bulky tube TV set, but the hotel refreshed a number of rooms since our visit with flat-screen TVs, upgraded bathrooms, and other updates.
All of the guest rooms are divided between several free-standing structures (a bit like houses).
While most rooms overlook the golf course -- it covers a huge percentage of the resort's land -- some of the standard rooms have noisier, less desirable views (the spa's parking lot, for example).
The standard rooms, called Casitas, are all on the ground floor and start at a large 550 square feet (one king or two double-size beds). Sonoran Casitas are basically the same, but they're on the second floor (or are free-standing units) and generally have better views. All Casitas have working gas fireplaces and updated features such as 42-inch flat-screen TVs. The Boulders Suite (1,100 square feet) is essentially a standard room attached to a large parlor with a table for six, a wetbar, and a second, smaller bathroom with a shower stall.
In addition to the older Luxury Pueblo Villas (one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas with full kitchens, laundry, and a garage), the resort added a number of Haciendas (privately-owned villas) that also include stone driveways, built-in rear patios with a fireplace and a separate barbeque, a large whirlpool tub in the master bathroom, granite kitchen countertops and Viking Wolf appliances, and large flat-screen TVs. The five-bedroom Villa Retreat is the best of them: It also includes an infinity pool, a gym, an elevator, and a private Japanese Jacuzzi tub.
All rooms include:
High-speed internet (included in the $30 daily resort fee)
42-inch flat-screen TV with premium cable (HBO); DVDs available by request
Comfortable beds: 250-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets; down comforter with a duvet; non-allergenic feather pillows
The main pool is a bit small and often crowded, but the tennis facilities are excellent
Four pools: main pool (a bit small, considering the size of the resort); pool (quieter pool at the spa); Club Pool (small pool at the Club House for cooling off after a day in the sun or a workout on the tennis courts); Villa Pool (more secluded, closer to the private villas)
Top-notch tennis facilities (five hard courts, three clay): Rated one of the "Top 50 Tennis Resorts in America" by Tennis magazine, the resort also provides 24-hour stringing and re-gripping services, twice monthly round-robin tournaments, racquet rental, and private lessons and clinics.
Daily fitness excursions, such as mountain biking ($110), rock climbing clinics ($130), and desert hiking ($85)
Various outdoor tours, such as photo tours of the Sonoran Desert ($85 per person), cattle drives, stargazing with a professional astronomer, and horseback riding through the Tonto National Forest
Large, bright fitness center with free weights, up-to-date cardio machines, whirlpools, and saunas; hours vary seasonally.
The Spa at the Boulders compares to only a handful of other spa brands throughout the country, such as Canyon Ranch (found more recently at the Canyon Ranch Miami Beach and the The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas). The massive, 33,000-square-foot facility at the Boulders is one of the best in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area -- no small feat in one of the most spa-heavy towns in America. Its treatments and products derive, in part, from the desert environment, though its mammoth menu spans the globe: Swedish, shiatsu, Thai, and "Golfer's Massage," among others. But as the spa begins to show its age (like most of the resort), the spa at the smaller and more serene Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain proves a worthy adversary (all it really lacks is the labyrinth).
Signature "labyrinth," a stone-lined walking path inspired by ancient Hopi medicine wheels
Designed by Jay Morrish in 1984, the 36 holes at the Boulders have received numerous accolades from Travel+Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Golf Digest, and Golf magazine, among others.
Two challenging 18-hole courses: North Course (6,811 yards, par 72, slope 137); South Course (6,726 yards, par 72, slope 140)
One-on-one or group instruction from The Boulders Golf Academy ($50 to $70 per half-hour); lessons can include video analysis, on-course play, corporate clinics, and work with Don Crawley of Golf Simplified fame (ranked one of the "Top 100 Teachers in America" by Golf magazine)
Greens fees for resort guests (18 holes) range from about $70 (weekday in the summer) to about $220 (weekend in the winter). Note that you can use your HHonors points for a round (25,000 to 35,000 points).
Tip: Book a round early (they can fill up fast); resort guests can schedule tee times up to 90 days in advance.
Dedicated to providing organic, local, and seasonal ingredients -- part of the resort's holistic health focus -- the Boulders' on-site garden supplies its restaurants with organic lettuce, carrots, celery, heirloom tomatoes, herbs, edible flowers, and a variety of citrus.
Palo Verde: Broad range of organic breakfast options, along with southwestern-inspired lunches
The Grill Kitchen & Bar, a small steak and seafood restaurant, offers casual outdoor dining for about $15 to $35.
Bakery Café offers snacks, salads, sandwiches, and fresh-baked breads and pastries for breakfast and lunch.
Discovery Lounge, an on-site cocktail bar, features an in-hour pianist on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The Pool Pavilion provides signature drinks and snacks, poolside.
In-room dining available from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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