Castle Hot Springs Resort

In Arizona, escape to where American royalty once retreated

BY DON NICHOLS — Summer 2019

e’re seven miles into our drive down a bumpy dirt road when I suddenly spot the unexpected in Arizona’s Sonoran desert: rows of tall palm trees and a green lawn. We’ve arrived at the Castle Hot Springs resort about 60 miles northwest of the Phoenix/Scottsdale metropolitan area, deep in the Bradshaw Mountains. Distinguished American families with names such as Rockefeller and Vanderbilt often checked in here after it first opened in 1896, but the resort closed in 1976 after a fire severely damaged one of the main buildings. It subsequently went through several owners and various uses but never reopened as a luxury resort again until February of this year, having been restored by local investors who bought the property in 2014. Guests can now come to this remote hideaway again to enjoy its two natural hot springs, thought to have healing properties, and partake in other wellness activities, from spa treatments to yoga, tai chi, and other Eastern healing arts — though some just come to unplug. They settle into 29 sumptuous bungalows and cabins with amenities such as indoor/outdoor fireplaces and outdoor tubs they can fill with water piped in from the hot springs. A three-bedroom cottage and two smaller lodge rooms are also available. Here, how to spend a perfect day at this secluded gem.


7:30 a.m. Take the short 10-minute walk up to the hot springs for a tranquil dip in the warm, relaxing water that can get as high as 120 degrees. At this early hour, you may have the pools to yourself, adding to the serenity. All you’ll hear is the sound of running water, which will lull you into a peaceful trance. After your dip, lounge on the sun deck to enjoy the serene setting a bit longer. 

9 a.m. After breakfast, keep yourself in chill mode by taking a 60-minute tai chi class taught by the resort’s neighbor, Michael Leone, a master instructor with more than 30 years of experience. As Leone takes you through the various moves, you’ll zone out to all that’s around you and just focus on the here and now. Even if you’re a novice struggling with the moves, you’ll be inspired by watching him do them so effortlessly and with such calming beauty. 

10 a.m. Don’t say goodbye to Leone just yet. To further immerse yourself in the pastoral setting, take a 60-minute hike with him through neighboring Hell’s Canyon. It’s a flat trek over uneven rocky surfaces, with splendid views of peaks, cliffs, and a variety of desert cacti. He may point out a lions’ den (advising “they won’t bother us”) and take you to hidden hot springs you wouldn’t find on your own. 

11 a.m. Time to unwind in the resort’s original 125,000-gallon pool, filled with water from the hot springs. 

1:30 p.m. In the heat of the day, take a rest break and lounge on the deck of your bungalow or cabin, soaking in the splendid mountain views while enjoying the quiet and cool breezes. If you booked a bungalow, you’ll hear the soothing sound of water in a spring-fed creek slowly flowing down a gentle slope. 

3:30 p.m. Head to the small spa facility along that same creek for a massage. Your treatment will take place in a tent open on the one side facing the water. The sounds of the creek and birds chirping put you in the middle of nature, making you feel far removed from your worries.  

5:30 p.m. Just before sundown, meet up with agronomist Ian Beger for a tour of the resort’s organic farm that’s planted with more than 100 varieties of vegetables and herbs at any point, all used in the restaurant and bar. As he walks you through the beds, the personable Beger will periodically stop to give you tastes of what’s growing, perhaps French sorrel or onion flower. The tour includes a visit to a citrus grove and greenhouse, where he uses the high-wire technique to grow tomatoes.

9 p.m. End your day where you started it, soaking in the hot springs, but this time complemented with stellar stargazing in the dark sky.

Details: From $660 to $2,200 (includes meals, daily gratuities, and most activities). Closed for the summer season; reopens on Oct. 1. 877-600-1137;

Eats and Drinks

Executive chef Christopher Brugman. PHOTO BY LARRY POLLOCK

Given the resort’s small size, you’ll get to know the food and beverage team well — they’re very visible and as personable as agronomist Beger. I had a good chat with executive chef Christopher Brugman while he roasted onion products from the farm on an outdoor grill. He explained that the seven-hour process results in a native onion ash used as the base coating and seasoning rub on the prime rib-eye served in Harvest, the resort’s restaurant. When I asked him to describe the restaurant’s cuisine, he used the term “Contemporary American” and said he meets with Beger every morning to determine the daily menu, based on what’s available from the farm that day.

Farm products also play a big role in the bar. Mixologists Thomas Burris and Russell Greene regularly experiment, infusing liquors with a variety of vegetables and herbs to create unique flavors. No run-of-the-mill gin and tonics here. “We try to break people out of their shells and get them to try something different,” Greene told me.

On my visit, the mixologists were just about ready to start serving a Rémy Martin VSOP cognac infused with allspice berries, apricots, cardamom pods, orange peel, pecans, piñon nuts, and vanilla bean. — D.N.

Prefer Urban Wellness?

The 1-year-old, 176-room Civana resort, in Carefree just north of Scottsdale, unveiled its new 22,000-square-foot spa in December. Its 28 treatment areas include a Watsu therapy pool and three wet treatment rooms with Vichy showers. The Aqua Vitality Circuit features waters of varying temperatures in a Kneipp hot/cold wading pool and tepidarium therapeutic soaking pool, a five-climate Klafs Sanarium, and a cold deluge shower. The circuit helps increase blood circulation, promote relaxation, and boost immunity.

Formerly the Carefree Resort and Conference Center, Civana offers more than 50 movement and fitness classes, enrichment programs, and lectures every week. From $139. 480-653-9000; — D.N.


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