First Impressions: Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa

Sweeney in the Valley of the Sun

As new residents of the Valley of the Sun with a home in Scottsdale, Arizona we are eager to learn about the great places and activities in our new community and surrounding area. We’ve been pleasantly surprised that there is so much to see and do!

A luxury sanctuary for relaxation and recreation

Recently, we got a glimpse of the beautiful Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa in nearby Paradise Valley. Take a look.

On the terrace of elements restaurant for lunch (Camelback Mountain in the background)

On the terrace of elements restaurant for lunch (Camelback Mountain in the background)

Great views, super-friendly staff, delicious and inspired cuisine — we enjoyed it all during a brief visit and lunch at the Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa, situated against the north slope of Camelback Mountain. A tour of the property and lunch at its acclaimed restaurant provided a brief introduction to its accommodations, amenities, cuisine, and ambiance.

Property Highlights

Sanctuary evokes a warm, welcoming, and unpretentious luxury. The resort is updated and upscale but it still retains a sense of the days when the resort was the Paradise Valley Racquet Club which opened in 1957 and then in 1965 became John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch, where movie stars and other celebrities hung out and played tennis. The resort opened as the Sanctuary in March 2001.

Bell sculpture by Paolo Soleri at Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa entrance

Bell sculpture by Paolo Soleri at resort entrance

There are lovely touches of art throughout the resort that blend with the architecture and landscape, such as the large sculpture of bells by the late artist and architect Paolo Soleri (once an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright) outside of the entrance to the lobby.

Casitas and suites

Sanctuary has a total of 109 casitas and suites. The Spa Casitas and Suites were refreshed in a renovation of decor and furnishings in 2016. The Mountain Casitas and Suites, including eight Camelback Casitas and Suites (perched high on the mountainside with panoramic views) went through a full-scale renovation that was completed in 2015.

Artistic touches and interior of Onyx ("O") Spa Casita at Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa in Paradise Valley, Arizona

Artistic touches and interior of Onyx (“O”) Spa Casita

We got a look at one of the 24 Spa Casitas and Suites, aptly named for their proximity to the resort’s spa amenities and identified by gems, rather than numbers. The one we viewed is called Onyx. They are situated along walkways bordered by palms, cacti, and foliage in bloom. This time of year (mid-March), the flora was in “superbloom”, and we breathed in the fragrances as we walked about the property.

Consistent with other resort decor, art pieces are also found in the casitas. The butterfly art we saw in Onyx is a nice reflection of the resort’s status as a certified Butterfly Garden due to its landscaping which is conducive to increasing the butterfly population.

Dining with a view

elements (yes, it’s a small “e”), Sanctuary’s on-site restaurant, presents inspired dishes with a focus on freshness under the direction of Food Network star and Executive Chef Beau MacMillan. We dined al fresco on the terrace of elements enjoying close up views of Camelback Mountain and Mummy Mountain across the valley. When I heard that a pork belly sandwich was the day’s featured entree, I knew immediately that’s what I wanted. The Pork Banh Mi made with tender sliced pork belly, slivers of cucumber, and five spices was served on a Buddha Bun (one of the softest, most flavorful buns I’ve ever had).

Lunch entrees at element restaurant at Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa: Citrus shrimp salad, Pork Belly Sandwich, Pumpkin cheesecake

Lunch entrees: Citrus shrimp salad, Pork Banh Mi sandwich, Pumpkin cheesecake

Mr. TWS kept it light and fresh with the Citrus Grilled Shrimp salad with spinach, snap peas, avocado water chestnuts and cabbage and he really enjoyed it. Each entree had distinctly Asian flavors.

Our waiter Bryan was friendly and helpful and talked about how much he loves his job at elements where he started as a dishwasher three years earlier.

Exquisite jade onyx decor in jade bar

Exquisite jade onyx decor in jade bar

Wood slats in the ceiling of jade bar are original from the days of the former Paradise Valley Racquet Club. I was really taken by the bar that is made of authentic jade onyx. The vistas from both elements and the adjacent jade bar are beautiful during the day, but they must be spectacular at night with the lights of Paradise Valley’s hillside homes and resorts (shown in a photo below). A good place to catch the stunning sunsets would be at jade bar or outside on the terrace. During the cooler seasons, casual ceremonies toasting the sunsets with champagne are held on the terrace.

Spa and recreation

The resort’s spa includes indoor and outdoor treatment rooms offering Asian-inspired spa therapies, a meditation garden, vitality and tranquility pools, fitness center, and a variety of classes. We spoke for a few minutes with Spa Director LaRae Verros and enjoyed her engaging personality, a trait that seems consistent other staff we met.

Infinity-edge pool (the largest in Phoenix/Scottsdale) of Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa in Paradise Valley, Arizona

Infinity-edge pool with vistas of Mummy Mountain and mountainside homes of Paradise Valley

There are three pools on the property including a lap pool and the infinity-edge pool (the largest in Phoenix/Scottsdale) which is designated as adults-only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and is one of the cell phone-free areas of the resort. It’s a place for health, wellness, and relaxation, after all.

Photographs of celebrity guests; tennis pro Horst Falger at Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa

Photographs of celebrity guests; tennis pro Horst Falger

Five of the 21 original John Gardiner courts remain. We had a nice chat with the charming and amusing Horst Falger, the resort’s Austrian-born tennis pro. He has been a key figure at the resort for over 30 years. The pro shop walls are covered with many photos of celebrity guests who played on the courts of the John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch, including Clint Eastwood, Elton John, Eva Gabor, Merv Griffin, John Forsythe, and General Alexander Haig. There is also a display of drawings from the original 1955 membership brochure of the Paradise Valley Racquet Club (below).

Drawings from the 1955 membership brochure for the Paradise Valley Racquet Club in Paradise Valley, Arizona

Drawings from the 1955 membership brochure for the Paradise Valley Racquet Club

Mr. TWS and I appreciated the hospitality of Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa staff during our tour and delicious lunch. Sanctuary’s accommodations and facilities seem to make it a lovely destination resort for leisure, business, and special occasions. It’s also appealing for locals to enjoy the spa, restaurant, and bar. I’m sure that we’ll be making return visits.


Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!

9 thoughts on “First Impressions: Sanctuary on Camelback Resort and Spa

  1. Doreen Pendgracs

    I remember having lunch at Camelback when I attended the Travel Classics conference in AZ years ago. It is a wonderful place! Would love to return and visit the spa as I’ve become quite the lover of good spas over the past few years. Enjoy!

  2. Patti

    Scottsdale and the surrounding area is such a beautiful area. Who says the desert isn’t pretty? We especially enjoyed old town Scottsdale. I’d like to sit down and enjoy that lunch!

    Will you continue to travel abroad after the desert dust settles a bit? 🙂

  3. Janice Chung

    I know exactly where you were! I was there (in the area) in 2004 and ran a race (I’ll send you the picture of my trophy). It’s such a lovely area and resort and while I didn’t stay there…I wish I had. Looks like you had an amazing time! No wonder they call it a Sanctuary. Definitely.

  4. Pingback: Sweeney Asks the Locals: Jane Blacker - Traveling with Sweeney

  5. Pingback: Cosanti: The "Against Things" Spirit of Soleri | Traveling with Sweeney

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.