Michael Hepworth finds Spiritual Healing in Sedona
L'Auberge de Sedona, 301 L'Auberge Lane, Sedona, AZ 86339

Book a Room at the L'Auberge de Sedona Hotel
A January trip to Sedona in Northern Arizona turned out to be a spiritual uplift sorely needed after spending time in the big city. Sedona, a tourist town famous for the 15,000 red rocks that encircle it, is about 100 miles from Phoenix. Art galleries, churches, tarot readers and fancy hotels and restaurants dominate Sedona, which is allegedly home to at least four vortexes. The weather in January is perfect during the day but very cold at night, so the busy time tends to be in the spring or in autumn when the temperatures are cooler than the hot summers. Sedona is famous for weddings, and USA Today Weekend recently voted Sedona the most beautiful place in America.

Celebrities are no strangers to Sedona. Sharon Stone has a pad here, as does Gillian Anderson. Lucille Ball had a large home on the hill overlooking the town. Al Pacino actually started building a big home here, but when he found out he was going to have neighbours close by, he promptly sold up. Sedona is also an acceptable base for a day trip to the Grand Canyon, which lies 100 miles to the north.

L'Auberge Sedona Logo The premier place to stay, as well as getting married is L'Auberge de Sedona, a French style country inn that is neatly tucked away in Oak Tree Canyon overlooking a creek. Spread throughout eleven acres, amid lush grass and leafy trees, the 33 secluded creek side cottages were recently renovated by Wolf Design of Chicago. They now offer all the amenities you would need, including a king or queen style bed, and furnishings in a French Country Provencal style. They all have new lighting, wood plank floors, exposed beam ceilings and fireplaces. On a bitterly cold January night, the most important person in the hotel was the fellow who brought the firewood to the door to replenish the fire. There is also the option to stay in the main lodge, but a cottage by the creek remains the preferred option. One-bedroom cottages are $350 per night, and two bedrooms are $450. Rooms in the lodge start at $230.

The hotel arguably offers the best dining in Sedona at the L'Auberge restaurant, which is guided by the European trained chef Mark May. The constantly changing five-course tasting menu best represents the chef's classic French cuisine, with the wine pairings usually suggested by sommelier Paul Fried. The wine list is extensive, and Wine Spectator with their Best of Award of Excellence has just recognized the restaurant for the twelfth consecutive year. Although some of Sedona's newer restaurants are claiming to be as good as or maybe even better than the L'Auberge, I can vouch that no one here is resting on their laurels. A recent restaurant award has boosted the morale of the staff who were thrilled that they received the Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNa). It was the only restaurant in Sedona to win (10th year in a row), and is only one of twelve in Arizona to be singled out. Other accolades include Conde Naste Traveler listing the hotel as one of the "World's Best Places to Stay" and Travel and Leisure listing the hotel as one of the top 50 Romantic Retreats in the World.

Executive chef Mark May has now been in charge at L'Auberge for five years after a typically nomadic lifestyle, climbing up the culinary ladder. His list of venues is too long to itemize, but notable include gigs under Alain Ducasse at Louis XV in Monte Carlo, and a similar apprenticeship under Francis Jacqey of La Saliere. His own restaurants have included May We in New York (American bistro style) and Amelia's Field Country Inn in Paris, Kentucky. His valuable Asian experience came at Restaurant Vingt-Cinque in Arita, Japan. The special tasting menu changes weekly and a five-course feast is priced at $65, plus $40 charge for wine pairings. Service is exemplary with knowledgeable waiters, and the sommelier will consult with you on the wines available.

We started with a ravioli mushroom dish accompanied by a 2001 Thornbury Sauvignon Blanc from the famed Marlborough region of New Zealand, and a Hudson Valley Foie Gras with green lentils and thyme accompanied by a 2001 Pinot Noir from Eola Hills in Oregon. One of the highlights of the meal was the Butternut Squash Soup with crisp proscuitto and chives, and the 1996 August Kesseler Riesling from Rheingau in Germany proved to be a perfect complement. Bread is baked on the premises, and is served hot and crusty, with repeated follow-ups from the staff. For a salad, chef prepared a Bibb salad with roasted walnut vinaigrette and Roquefort cheese, and the preferred wine with that was a 1985 Raymond La Fond sauternes from France.

A lemon sorbet with a dash of port separated the starters from the main course, which consisted of a Sautéed breast of Long Island Duck with sweet spices, and Sautéed Sea Scallops with braised kale, endive and a citrus "Beurre Blanc." Generous portions of sliced duck blended perfectly with the 2000 Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay from Margaret River in Australia, yet another example of the sheer variety in the wine cellar, and the opportunity to try new pairings. The scallops were particularly well matched with the kale, an unsung hero as far as so many chefs are concerned, and the 2001 Bookwalter Chenin Blanc from Columbia Valley in Washington State again proved an adventurous match.

Luckily, we had a bit of space left for the chocolate soufflé with a rarely tasted Maduro Tawny Port, again from the Barossa Valley in Australia. Thus ended an excellent gastronomic adventure, made all the better by the sheer range of new world wines, and finally a top class meal without even a trace of anything from California.

Pink Jeep Tours were the original jeep company in Sedona, but now they have at least six competitors who all seem to be doing good business. Each jeep holds up to six passengers, and you will be taken into the canyons up rugged trails that you can choose to hike on if you wish. There are so many options to choose from, but the most popular is the Broken Arrow tour, offering a two-hour adventure over the red rocks that also include a hike. This area is named after the film "Broken Arrow", a thought provoking western starring Jimmy Stewart, Jeff Chandler and Debra Paget, filmed here in the fifties. Plenty of B movie westerns were also filmed in Sedona during the fifties, most of them starring George Montgomery. Some of those include Indian Uprising and the spin-off, Seminole Uprising. You could try taking your own four-wheel vehicle over some of this terrain, but better to utilize the services of the well-trained local drivers who know the territory so well. Those interested in more historic scenes might want to go for the Ancient Ruin tour, where you see the ruins of a 700-year old Sinaguan cliff dwelling.

The Verde Canyon Railway is a leisurely 4-hour trip that rambles through unique canyon country to a one-horse town called Perkinsville and returns back to base at Clarkdale, 22 miles from Sedona. More movie references here, with Perkinsville being used to film the classic scene in "How the West Was Won" when George Peppard met his auntie (Debbie Reynolds) at the train station and clashed with the outlaw Gant, played by Eli Wallach. A buffet lunch and champagne is served on the outward journey with cowboy music played by a strolling host on the return.

Enchantment Resort is a real neat place about seven miles from downtown Sedona, but a true ethereal retreat, with 220 rooms and a state of the art new age spa called Mii Amo, with its own mini-hotel of 16 rooms. Stars and celebrities such as Mariah Carey are regulars, and it features a myriad of treatments in the 24 treatment areas such as the Native American Blue Corn Body Polish, as well as serving gourmet southwestern food such as lobster tamales with sweet corn flan and seared foie gras with caramelized mango. Situated at 4,600 feet above sea level in desert luxury is a good way to chill out, and although we were only able to make a brief visit, I could see that this would be a great place to relax and spend a few days. The place is not for every budget however with guest rooms ranging between $375-$1,175 a night in high season, which is Aug 30 - Dec 31 and, Feb 15 - June 22. The prices for the spa section run from $1600 to $5,750 depending on the number of days and the number of treatments.

Plenty of outside pools and tennis courts make the resort a place to go for the tennis enthusiast. They offer programs that range from private lessons to morning workshops, under the supervision of Tom Mcbeth and his staff, at very reasonable rates for such a great location. All that blend well with the 220 casitas and numerous haciendas and suites, in what is essentially Yavapai-Apache territory, with hiking trails leading up to ancient Indian ruins, and all this is bordered by the Coconino National Forest. It is also sacred ground to the Navajo, the Hopi as well as the Apache's. Enchantment Resort opened in February 1987, and no trip to Sedona would be complete without a visit to this spiritual vortex in the high desert of Arizona.

L'Auberge Map Tel: 928 282 1661
Fax: 982 282 1064
Book a Room at the L'Auberge de Sedona Hotel
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Other Sedona points of interest
Pink Jeep Tours 982 282 5000
Verde Canyon Railway
Enchantment Resort 525 Boynton Canyon Road,
Sedona, AZ 86336
Tel: 800 826 4180
or 520 282 2900
Fax: 520 282 9249
Enchantment Online
Mike HepworthJanuary 2004

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