Hacienda del Sol - where historic elegance meets modern luxury - offers enriching experiences with a Southwestern edge
By Edie Jarolim
Tucked into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains lies a special place, one where you can soak in the city’s rich history, ogle stunning desert scenery, and savor some of the best food and drink in town. As a reward for finishing a large project, I decided to book a staycation at the Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort with my best friend, Madeleine. Although the resort is just a 10-minute drive, it feels a universe away from my bustling midtown Tucson neighborhood.
Dinner and a sunset
In the late afternoon, Madeleine and I arrive at our spacious casita. A mélange of textures and tones—including a Talavera tile sink, tapestry armchair, and headboard with wrought-iron scrolls—makes the room a feast for the eyes that’s only outdone by the view from the patio. I’d like to sit outside and watch the shadows deepen on the mountains, but Madeleine wants to check out the grounds. Perhaps I should have mentioned: She is a 14-pound terrier mix. When it comes to walks—and many other things—her wishes are my command.
Our short stroll whets my appetite for dinner at The Grill, the resort’s upscale room. Hacienda Del Sol was founded in 1929 as a prep school for the daughters of the country’s movers and shakers (think Vanderbilt, Campbell, Westinghouse); in the late 1940s, it became an exclusive guest ranch. With its Spanish Colonial/Moorish design of wood beam ceilings, graceful archways, polished tile floors, and handcrafted fixtures, the restaurant embodies the Southwest elegance that greeted the elite girls and, later, retreat-seeking Hollywood stars.
I’d wager the food is better now than it was in the past—or at least less rustic. The New American fare is as beautifully presented as it is delicious. The touch of rosemary foam accompanying my red fish with lemon leeks makes my entrée look as though it was just plucked from the sea; it tastes that fresh, too. The sommelier suggests a complementary Pinot Gris. The Grill is the only restaurant in Arizona to get Wine Enthusiast’s “Award of Ultimate Distinction”—not once but twice—so I’m in good hands. My dinner is also accompanied by a spectacular light show—the sun sinking below the horizon, painting the sky vibrant shades of pink and purple.
Nature and nurture: an artful stroll
Sharing life with a dog means heading outside early—ideal for experiencing the desert. Madeleine and I have the grounds to ourselves in a silence so deep it practically hums. As we wander through dun-colored clusters of casitas surrounded by thickets of prickly pear, saguaro, and ocotillo, Madeleine is on high alert for small darting critters, including the occasional bunny. While she stops and sniffs, I marvel at how the guest quarters blend seamlessly into the landscape, and examine the artwork, which is everywhere. Along with inlaid tile murals in unexpected places (in one casita wall, a colorful scene of two women carrying water) there are metal sculptures, including the totem-like Bull by Carlos Carulo. I later learn that when there is a full moon, it rises between the bull’s horns. I can see why this is such a popular wedding destination.
Ingredients from my previous night’s dinner were culled the many edible plants found throughout the property as well as the on-site organic garden planted by Dr. Andrew Weil, and Jeff Timan, one of the resort’s owners. We pass the vegetable and herb garden, protected by a mesh fence, en route to the lush lawn that fronts The Grill, originally the school cafeteria. East Coasters—myself included, before moving to Tucson—tend to associate civilization with grass, so it’s no surprise that traditional greenery greeted schoolgirls from the Northeast. I now appreciate the subtlety of the desert seasons, but have to admit the plashing fountains and profusion of blossoms like petunias, violas, and gaillardias are gorgeous.
A soothing afternoon
On the final afternoon, I await another treat: an in-room massage. I love the soothing, muscle-kneading part of spa treatments—but having to get up off the table and get dressed when your 50 or 90 minutes are up, not so much. At the Hacienda, you have the option of having a masseuse minister to you in situ. You emerge from your bliss coma whenever you’re ready, calling the front desk to retrieve the massage table at your convenience.
My masseuse, Maria, arrives a few minutes early to set up, giving me time to put on the plush robe in my closet and then slip under the cool white sheets. As Maria opens a bottle of lavender oil and starts kneading my back, I can feel the last bit of work stress slip away. I sense myself begin to drift off.
Then I hear a low whining sound that begins to ramp up: Madeleine. It’s hard to say what she wants; there is no food on the massage table to beg for. Maria says animals are attracted to the spiritual aura of these treatments. My theory? Madeleine is annoyed that I’m being petted and she isn’t.
Happily, Maria is a dog lover and sympathetic to my plight. Laughing, we agree that the best way to achieve serenity is to put Madeleine on the table beside me, where she immediately falls asleep next to my legs. We also concur that this is a novel spin on the couples massage concept.
I relax again. Being pampered in one of the most beautiful settings in town, a warm little pal curled up against my feet...it doesn’t get much better than this.