Tell somebody you’re a travel writer, and nine times out of 10 they ask, “What’s the most interesting place you’ve been?” I don’t like the question. I’ve been to a lot of interesting places that I’m not exactly racing back to. From my perspective, a more germane question is, “Where does a travel writer vacation?” The answer is Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain.
My family and I discovered the Forbes Five Star/AAA Five Diamond resort by accident. Several years ago, super-late on planning spring break, my husband and I scoured the Internet for a short flight to somewhere warm, outdoorsy and delicious. Twenty miles north of Tucson, tucked in the Sonoran Desert, the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain was a perfect fit with 50 miles of hiking and biking out the back door, 27 holes of Jack Nicklaus signature golf, a luxury spa with gemstone-inspired treatments and an impressive food and beverage program.
Driving to the resort through the town of Marana, even my wild children were quieted by the sight of the sun setting over strands of saguaro cactus, one of the region’s defining plants. When we pulled up to the hotel, the nightly Spirit of Adventure gathering was underway, so our introduction to what has become our go-to vacation destination was the distant sound of a Native American flutist honoring the day’s end.
The resort’s architecture matches its captivating melody with a variety of natural materials accentuating the geologic make-up of the high-desert landscape. That theme carries into an interior design concept flaunting natural quartzite floors, raw steel fixtures, copper accents and artifacts such as geodes. The vibe is best described as “tranquil desert oasis,” and it’s immediately enhanced with a drink at Ignite, a fire-themed, indoor-outdoor lobby lounge with stunning views, live music, daily mixology classes and cocktails made with citrus from the hotel’s 42-tree orchard.
When I’m traveling for an assignment, it’s long days of being on somebody else’s hectic schedule. On vacation, I want convenient access to a wide variety of activities and amenities that I can enjoy at my own pace. Most mornings at the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, I’ll wake up with a stroll through the craggy Tortolita Mountains. An impressive trail network with 12 interconnected paths departs from the hotel’s back door via Wild Burro Trail where rugged peaks, gullies and canyons are dotted with cacti galore. Guided hikes with stops at historic petroglyphs are offered daily, and hotel guests can also try geocaching, mountain biking and/or horseback riding.
Golfers will prefer to enjoy the Tortolita Mountains at the neighboring Golf Club at Dove Mountain, the former home of the annual World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. The course’s 27 holes are challenging, engaging and just plain scenic (course elevation between 2,300 and 3,000 feet).
No matter what we end up doing to get our blood flowing in the morning, my husband and I always end up poolside around noon, eating fish tacos and dipping our toes in the hot tub while our children race down a 235-foot water slide. At some point, I’ll sneak away to the hotel’s 17,000-square-foot spa, featuring 14 treatment rooms, a private serenity pool and this amazing snack mix that often makes its way into my foodie daydreams.
On our first two Dove Mountain vacations, we didn’t leave the hotel. That was a mistake because there’s a lot to explore off-site, too, from national parks and botanical gardens to art galleries, museums and spring training baseball.
Catalina State Park and Saguaro National Park are good options if you’re looking for additional hiking. But if you’re more into learning about the native plants and wildlife, wander around Tohono Chul, an award-winning botanical garden with themed gardens, nature trails, art galleries and a charming bistro.
Part zoo, part botanical garden, the 98-acre Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is an outdoor attraction that celebrates all things Sonoran Desert. Further south, ogle the 18th century Spanish Colonial architecture at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, located on the Tohono O’odham Reservation.
The city of Tucson is experiencing a renaissance, but it’s still a little rough around the edges. A guided tour with Tucson Bike Tours is one way to discover hidden downtown neighborhoods during a flat, 10-mile excursion. Two local companies—Taste of Tucson Downtown and Tucson Food Tours—offer food tours, and that’s something worth considering seeing as the town was recently named a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy.
Have dinner at James Beard award-winner Janos Wilder’s restaurant, Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, where traditional Southwestern ingredients have been totally reimagined. Meanwhile, at Penca, Chef David Soloranzo is doing amazing things to celebrate the cuisine of central Mexico (don’t miss the mole sampler). Known for its small plates and vegetable-forward appetizers, Tito & Pep sets itself apart with fare cooked the old-fashioned way over a mesquite fire.
There are two more things to do before heading home: try a bacon-wrapped, jalapeño sauce-smothered James Beard America’s Classic award-winning “Sonoran Dog” at El Guero Canelo…and stargaze. Tucson is known for its stunning views of the night sky.