Whether you're in to outdoor pursuits or spiritual healing, arts and crafts or spa treatments, Sedona can deliver the goods, along with a magical setting in the heart of Arizona's red rock country
Fly into Phoenix, Arizona, in the heat of high summer, and the first thought on your mind is ‘how do I get out of this furnace?’ Well, head north on interstate 17 for a couple of hours, as the locals do, and you will hit the red rock town of Sedona. Long before you come to the city limits, you will glimpse the giant rocks that tower above the town, their rich colours changing hour by hour as the light comes and goes. A favourite pastime for visitors and locals is to drive to the airport overlook and watch what could be the sunset of a lifetime. This must be the airport with the best view in the world.
The weather here is more temperate, due to an altitude of over 4,000 feet, and hiking into the mountains is a popular pastime. One of the most popular trails is the Cathedral Rock Trail, just one and a half miles, with a guaranteed 360º view. More serious hikers will find enough trails to keep them busy for quite a while, as every ability is provided for. But the most comfortable way to learn about the geology and history is on a Pink Jeep Tour (www.pinkjeeptours.com). These feisty little Jeeps will take you on a trip back in time to see Native American wall art and cave dwellings, and help you understand how the region was formed, many millions of years ago.
As well as mountains, the area has some great rivers running through it, many of them connected to the mighty Colorado. The Verde River is just one of them, and a perfect spot for ‘funyaking’. A funyak is an inflatable kayak that is easy to navigate and very stable. Sedona Adventures (www.sedonaadventuretours.com) operate a fun day out on the water that even complete novices will enjoy. This was a first for me but my nerves settled down when our guides, Chip and Christopher, took me under their wing. I learnt to navigate gentle mini white waters without too much trouble and, after spinning around and bumping the bank a few times, relaxed into the trip.
I was part of a small group and when the heat built up, we all made good use of our water guns, thoughtfully provided in each funyak. No one came home dry that day! In between water fights, we took in the incredible changing scenery along the riverbank. Cottonwoods, sycamores and cattails, with bright yellow flowers, hug the riverbank and if you are lucky, you may spot blue heron, eagles, otters and deer. The well-channelled Verde River allows inflatable kayak trips to operate all year round and offers lots of fun, with its twisting waterways full of chutes and drops interspersed with calm floating pools.
Spas, shops and spirituality
Sedona is also a famous spiritual centre and a magnet for healers, religious guides and artists. The area is famed for a number of vortex sites - enhanced energy areas that are thought to facilitate a feeling of tranquillity and wellbeing. As you walk along a creek or a trail, it is not unusual to come across a group of people practising yoga or just meditating in the peace and quiet of their surroundings.
A spin off from this is a great choice of top-class spas. The larger hotels all have their own spa facilities but if you are staying in simpler accommodation, then the Sedona’s New Day Spa (www.sedonanewdayspa.com) will soon have you relaxed and rejuvenated.
The heart of the town really buzzes with life, and has recently been renovated to provide wide walkways and seating areas. Art galleries, gift shops, restaurants and bars all line the main street and make a change from the ubiquitous shopping mall experience that is so American.
On the edge of town is the very pretty Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, a replica of Guadalajara in Mexico. Here, you will find exquisite galleries, specialist shops and fine dining restaurants, surrounded by fountains, sculptures and gardens. It is a peaceful and shady spot for a stroll during a hot afternoon, but you might spend more than you bargained for...
Where to stay and eat
I stayed at the Sedona Real Inn & Suites, a fairly ordinary motel set alongside the main road into Sedona. It was comfortable enough and had the added bonus of a pool, free breakfast and laundry facilities - that red rock dust gets everywhere! But the hotel's great advantage was a very knowledgeable and helpful concierge by the name of Martha. Martha knows everything there is to know about the area, and arranged some great trips and came up with good suggestions of what to see. Sometimes it is the people in hotels who make all the difference.
Despite our free breakfast, we just had to try the acclaimed Coffeepot café (www.coffeepotsedona.com), just down from the Sedona Real Inn on highway 89A. Mentioned in most guidebooks, this quirky eatery really does serve an amazing breakfast, all American or with a Mexican twist.
A memorable evening meal was enjoyed at T Carl’s Restaurant at the Radisson Poco Diablo Resort on the other side of town. This was fine dining Sedona-style, with a beautiful sunset thrown in.
Getting there and around
You can fly to Phoenix with British Airways (www.ba.com) from London Heathrow. Car hire is widely available; we chose Alamo (www.alamo.com), as their rates are very competitive.
Sedona is well placed for excursions to Phoenix, Flagstaff, the famous Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. Pink Jeep Tours offer full-day trips into the red rock countryside and further afield.