I do not write many traditional hotel reviews but my experience at the Hacienda Del Sol Luxury Guest Ranch Resort is worthy of an exception. It is much more than a place to lay your head. You will want to spend some time here when visiting Tucson, Arizona. You may even make it the destination.
**Disclaimer: This was a hosted trip, however, all opinions are my own. I strive to provide my readers with my most authentic sentiments.
A welcoming arrival
After touching down in Tucson Arizona on my first trip to the Grand Canyon State, I Uber over to the Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort where I would spend the next 3 nights. When my driver pulled in through the main entrance of this beautifully landscaped property. He circled around to the valet area, where a friendly, probably semi-retired man with grey hair and a charming personality greeted me. He introduced himself as Kenny and told me he had been anticipating my arrival and I was the first in my group to get there.
Kenny and my driver unloaded my bag from the trunk and exchanged pleasantries. (I had a feeling they knew each other to some extent.) As we make our way to the front desk Kenny totes my luggage. We pass through the large wooden gates into a stunning courtyard area before reaching the check-in desk. This is located in the original part of the resort that was once a boarding school for the daughters of the elite business tycoons of the 1930s.
I expected that Kenny would depart from there. However, he stuck around, gave me some history about the ranch, and made recommendations for lunch. Once I had gotten through checking in, Kenny walked me with luggage in tow to my room. Now, my room was a good distance from the front desk but keep in mind I only had a carry-on and it had wheels. I am certainly more than capable of maneuvering it myself. Granted this is a luxury resort, I still felt like he exceeded my expectations.
Nevertheless, we moved on. Making our way to Room 66, we traversed another impeccable courtyard and through a passageway that opens up to a view of the vast expanse of the Santa Catalina Mountains. I commented to Kenny that it was really an impressive sight.
Continuing past the Terraza Garden Patio and Lounge we made our way to the newer part of the property which includes an infinity-edge pool with a bar and firepit. Additionally, this section features 32 fresh guest suites built in 2015.
After bringing my bag into my room and showing me where I could find everything as well as checking my keycards, Kenny and I departed ways. However, it wasn’t long before I received a knock on the door. It was “Mr. Bones” (not his given name but easy to remember as that is one of my dog’s names), the guest services manager. He was there to deliver the table for my massage, which I had pre-arranged. He too was a friendly outgoing fellow who was eager to be of service in any way possible.
Stunning Guest Suites
Knowing I had about an hour before my massage I decided to snoop around my oversized room. Because it was a beautiful day with bright sun and temperatures in the low 70s, I was able to open the sliding doors to my patio (complete with an outdoor shower) enabling me to enjoy the fresh air and view of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
I was in a new room on the ground floor. Rooms are decorated in traditional, rich Southwestern hues of deep reds, blues, and earth tones. The rooms have high ceilings adorned with heavy wood beams and hand-painted trim. They boast custom furnishings designed by Rene and Judy Tinsley. These pieces are made in Guadalajara, Mexico, under the direction of Dino Alfaro. Alfaro owns a furniture store in Tucson, named Antiqua de Mexico.
My room had a king-size bed with a hulking headboard, a desk and a chair for me to do some work, and a hutch with a punched-tin front door, which hid a small refrigerator. Additionally, I had a walk-in closet with a chest of drawers. (When I stay more than a couple of days I like to unpack.)
My bathroom was spectacular. It was humongous and had two vanity areas. Since I had the room to myself I didn’t need both but used them anyway. Why not spread out, right? The sink and shower area was covered in Mexican tile of deep blues and yellows. The shower area was oversized with a rainfall showerhead.
Bathrooms come stocked with high-end toiletries, thick oversized towels, and plush bathrobes for use while visiting. You will find a lighted magnifying mirror (40X magnification), as well in your bathroom. I could have done without seeing my lines, wrinkles, and pores that close up. Also, each room comes equipped with a hairdryer, an ironing board, and an iron for your convenience.
For that special added touch, packs of homemade cookies, made from mesquite flour await you on the bed.
Amazing In-room Spa Services
I had enough time before my masseuse arrived to get a shower and remove the travel crud. I also had a moment to dive into the fruit and cheese tray that I found in my refrigerator. It always pays to snoop. Had I not, I may not have known it was there. That was the case with one of the other women on this trip. In addition to the cheese tray, there was a bottle of wine and fresh-cut flowers awaiting me.
After getting in a few bites, Ida, my very pregnant masseuse arrived. She confirmed that I would be having an hour-long deep tissue massage and asked if I wanted to have my massage in the room or on the patio. While it was warm in the sun, it was a little chilly on my shaded patio. I chose to stay indoors. She closed the curtains and gave me the customary instructions. Then she stepped into the bathroom to give me time to get situated. She brought soft music to play while she tended to my road-weary muscles.
I love a massage. This is something I do often when I travel and monthly when home. In my experience, the encounter is frequently not the same as when my regular therapist does it. I attribute that to the fact that there is a breaking period with every masseuse.
Ida was fantastic even with that big belly (she was so cute). She was not chatty, which I prefer, her touch and strength were appropriate. I like a good deep massage and often when I am with someone unfamiliar with my body I don’t get the depth that I like. Ida wasn’t shy. She gave me the depth I prefer. The best part of her technique was the footwork. She made me melt into the table when she worked on them.
When she finished working on me she told me to lay there as long as I wanted and to take my time getting up. She also instructed me to call to have the table removed when I was ready. I have to say, the ability to lay, relax and absorb after an in-room massage is the best. You don’t have the benefit of that at the spa or even if you have a therapist come to your home. They need either the table or the space to move to the next paying customer.
Hacienda Del Sol has a full spa on-site and not all services are available in-room. I did not get over to the spa but I would definitely recommend you indulge in a massage either in your room (or on your patio) or an in-spa treatment.
Tour this magnificent resort
After my massage, I had a bit of time to relax before heading off for a tour of the resort given by our host and co-owner, Tom Firth. We met in the lobby, which is part of the original resort. This main entrance area is not a grand lobby like you would expect to see in a larger hotel. It is more like an entrance area with a small check-in desk, a gift shop, and a large welcoming room that feels like you are visiting a friend’s home.
The room boasts hardwood floors, comfortable furnishings, a game table, a desk with a computer, a large working fireplace, and fresh flowers. It is more of a community room than a lobby. Additionally, there is complimentary coffee and spa water available here.
Off the “lobby,” you will find the library. It opens into that main room. There are a large wood table and heavy chairs, as well as, bookshelves lined with tomes. Hand-carved wood beams extend across the ceiling. The doors to the library can be closed and the room used as a conference room.
A luxury resort with a fasinating history
We set out for our tour from here. First, we headed deeper into the old part of the resort. Off this main corridor are offices. However, they were originally the dorm rooms for the students of the boarding school. Mr. Firth told us about the Spanish colonial-style building, built by Helen and John Murphey in the late 1920s as a college preparatory school for the young daughters (roughly ages 12 to 18) of wealthy families. Some of the notable families include the Vanderbilt’s, Campbell’s (think soup), Pillsbury, Westinghouse, Spalding, and Maxwell. Hacienda Del Sol operated as a boarding school for 28 girls from 1930 to 1941.
Amazings grounds with gardens (and art) galore
From here, Firth leads us to the original courtyard area with a stately center fountain surrounded by colorful pots of cheery pansies. Here, we begin our tour of the grounds. One noteworthy aspect of the Hacienda Del Sol is its picture-perfect surroundings. Nestled at the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, along with sprawling city views and meticulous but informal gardens, the resort offers plenty of visual appeal.
However, it doesn’t stop with the landscape. They take aesthetics to the next level by incorporating art into the gardenscape. The 34-acre property features more than 40 large sculptures of varying materials. The owners have created something of an Open-Air Art Gallery. All the elements play together to add visual interest to every corner and vista of this unique property.
And, it’s not just the large art installations, it’s the details. A mural by artist Joe Pagac provides depth and interest to a cactus garden. Fountains stand at attention in the courtyards. Tilework accents stairways and exterior walls. Faces peek playfully from the hardscape. And, even a cowboy lurks below the pool’s surface.
Citrus fruit trees grace the ground. When in season, visitors can pluck oranges, blood oranges, grapefruit, kumquats and variegated lemons from the branches.
In addition to the picturesque gardens and fruit trees, tucked among the casitas, you can find an 800 square foot floral, herb and vegetable garden. The edible garden was designed and planted in conjunction with Dr. Andrew Weil. A neighbor of the resort, Weil pops in to harvest fresh produce from time to time. And, of course, Chef Bruce Yim uses all the vegetables, herbs, and citrus fruit in preparing meals for The Grill. (I’ll talk more about dining options in a bit.)
Near the garden and nestled among the fruit tree, there, are a couple of older casitas, larger units with kitchenettes, and a fireplace. Firth took a moment to tell us about the years when the ranch was a retreat for Hollywood’s elite including John Wayne, Clark Gable, and Howard Hughes. One of the casitas served as a roundez-vous for Spencer Tracey and Catherine Hepburn back in the heyday of Tinseltown. That casita bears the couple’s names, Tracey-Hepburn Casita Grande. Unfortunately, the unit was occupied and we were not able to get a peek.
Enjoy one of many dining options
After dark, we headed to dinner at The Grill, which is the main restaurant at the resort. Just off the main dining room sits a terrace built into the terrain known as Sandy’s Vista. Sandy’s Vista would be a fantastic place for a small private event, perhaps a girl’s out, a small cocktail party, or perhaps a marriage proposal.
The space looks out to the mountains in the distance and a ravine below. Built by hardscape contractor, Josh Martin, it memorializes his sister who died in 2014, of cancer. Additionally, he painted a small mural on one wall as a tribute to her.
We dined under the stars on Sandy’s Vista the first evening. There were eight women in our group that evening. They had rectangle tables set in a square rather than end-to-end. The tables were draped with cloth coverings. It was chilly that evening so they had a kerosene heater strategically placed. This made for a comfortable and private experience. We could laugh and get a little loud without disturbing other patrons.
As we are all travelers, we each took a turn at sharing our first experience traveling outside the country. This was a courageous bunch of women. Some told tales of traveling to exotic lands with no set plan or traveling alone to Europe at a young age. I regaled everyone about my trip to Egypt during the country’s Arab Spring in 2011.
Each evening, Chef Lim prepared a three-course meal from menu items he personally selected for our group. The chef and his staff presented each course on oversized platters. We passed the trays around the table in a family-style fashion.
John Kulikowski, the Director of Wine and Spirits for the resort, paired each course with bottles from the restaurant’s extensive wine collection. Hacienda Del Sol has three Sommeliers on staff, as well as, offering a selection of over 700 labels and more than 6000 bottles. We had a sampling of both regional wines and lesser-known international labels. The Grill has received awards from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Gourmet magazines.
Our second evening we ate in the dining room at The Grill. We settled at a lovely table looking out over the sprawling city lights. Our meal was served in the same family-style as the previous night with a sampling from the menu. Some of the highlights from the two nights were: The Grilled and Chilled Treviso, a goat cheese Mousse, Asian pear, candied pistachio, and Saba, also the Roasted Red Beets and Garden Oranges and the Sous Vide Duck Breast with potato gnocchi.
Terrazo Patio and Lounge
On our final night, we ate at the resort’s more casual restaurant Terraza Patio and Lounge. As you can probably surmise from the name, this is open-air dining with a portion of the patio cover providing the ability to close it off from the elements. It was a good thing since it rained that evening. I’m not talking about some showers. It was the driving, blowing kind of rain. So much that toward the end of our meal we could see a small stream beginning to wind its way across the floor.
Music plays in both The Grill and the Terraza. The last night, we enjoyed a duo that played up-tempo modern classics like John Mayer and Ed Sheeran. This was probably the most all-around enjoyable evening for me. I rather enjoy formal but I also found the relaxed atmosphere, the food, music, the sound of the rain and the conversation all quite pleasing.
Rather than a set meal like at dinner, we had our choice from the Terrazo Patio menu at lunchtime. This is where I had my favorite meal of the trip. Remember Kenny? Well, he recommended I try the Waygu Burger at the Terrazo. Burgers are not something I order out all that often. I find, too often that they are frozen patties that have been overcooked.
However, I took his advice, and let me say I was not one bit sorry. This burger was enormous. It’s seasoning and doneness perfect. Served with lettuce, tomato, red onion, jalapeno pepper, and a choice of cheeses, on a brioche bun, it is an explosion of flavor. This burger looked amazing and tasted better. It has been three months and I am still raving about its deliciousness.
If you are visiting over a weekend be sure to depart late on Sunday so you can enjoy their award-winning Brunch. Its recognition as Best Sunday Brunch by Tucson Lifestyle Magazine is well deserved. Brunch is served in The Grill and serves up a vast spread of meats and cheese, a selection of fresh pastries, plump succulent shrimp (not soggy little ones), sushi, made-to-order omelets, hot entrees, Prime Rib and their Grill Benedict. Order one of their special mimosas made from fresh fruit from the citrus trees on the property. And, of course, indulge in the great selection of desserts.
Arrange to take a hike
Friday morning we gathered at the lobby to meet up with Geoffrey Campbell, Assistant General Manager for a guided hike. Don’t be deceived into thinking he is a “Suit” that goes for a hike now and then. Campbell is incredibly knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the area.
We hiked down a ravine into the “Arroyo” or “wash.” He explained to us that they are dry most of the time but during extreme rain events, they fill up and becomes flashflood danger.
Along the way, he pointed out the different kinds of cacti. Unique to the area is the Saguaro cactus. The giant cacti that most of us are familiar with, at least in pictures associated with the Southwest, grow incredibly slow. They take 80 years before they develop their first “arm” and can live to be hundreds of years old. He pointed out the “skeleton” of one of these giants. I found it most fascinating. They are aptly named as the dried interior of the cactus looks and acts much like our bones. They provide support for these 16,000-pound colossuses. The Saguaro is a protected species so no part of them, living or dead may be removed.
As we made our way through the “wash,” we came across a coyote carcass. Campbell told us about a bobcat that he had seen up along the ridge when he was out for a hike with other guests. He surmised the bobcat killed the coyote. We were interested in hearing about the coyotes and other wildlife, as we had heard packs of coyotes howling the previous night while dining on Sandy’s Vista.
In addition to Campbell’s vast knowledge of the wildlife, he is equipped for every situation. Despite the fact that we were not going far from the resort, he had everything you could possibly need up to and including a gadget to siphon off freshwater from the water table if necessary. Not that we were in danger of needing it. More useful on this expedition were the maps he used to orient us.
Saturday morning I was scheduled for a horseback ride at the resort’s stables. I had some concerns about my ability to ride because of years of hip issues. It pleases me to say it went well. I expressed my concerns to our guide in advance. She explained I would be able to climb on the horse from a platform and she would let me just sit on the horse for a bit before heading out to see if I was comfortable going out on the trail. I was just fine.
The ride was about an hour. We took roughly the same route as we had the previous day on our hike. We were a group of seven riders and the ages ranged from around seven years old to 50ish. The experience level of the group ranged from first-time riders to seasoned. I am somewhere in between. These horses really just let you sit on them while they follow the lead horse. Nothing to it.
I did not get to use the pools while visiting, as the weather was not particularly conducive to it. Tucson has more than 300 days of sun per year; however, the three days I was there, rain threatened and cloud cover kept temperatures down. As I mentioned previously there are two pools on the property: The older pool with the cowboy in the bottom and the new infinity-edge pool that looks out onto the mountains. There is a hot tub at each. At the newer pool, there is also a gas fire pit for you to enjoy.
There are a few pluses to a visit during inclement weather. First, after a thunderstorm, we were treated to a double rainbow hanging in front of the mountains. Another is it can get brutally hot in Tucson during the summer months. Also, rain gives you a reason to go hang out in the “community” room in front of the fire and embrace the ambiance of this old ranch.
With all, there is to do (or not do) at Hacienda Del Sol you never have to leave the property. This luxury resort truly is a destination all by itself. However, if you do decide you want to go exploring, here are “The 8 Best Things to Do In Tucson.”
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