Sedona, ranked one of the most beautiful places on Earth by Good Morning America, is a town of 11,000 with annual visitors topping 3 million. Set at 4,300-foot elevation, Sedona is less than two hours from Phoenix, two hours from the Grand Canyon, and 30 minutes from Flagstaff. Surrounded by multi-hued stone formations, Sedona offers an abundance of activities for people of all ages and interests, including hiking, golf, biking, helicopter tours, hot air balloon rides, off-road adventures, horseback-riding meditations, and general rejuvenation. Or, you can do nothing at all and just breathe in the energy of this geological wonderland.
I was intrigued to discover Sedona’s history and deep connection to the land. The area is reputed to be one of the world’s sacred healing spots. Several Native American tribes—the Hopi, Navajo, Yavapai, and Apache—first recognized the spirituality of this area, performing ceremonies in Sedona. Today the town is rich in spiritual centers, churches, and other sacred structures. Native American traditions have also influenced the vibrant arts community. Sedona boasts more than 80 galleries with 200 local artists who work in diverse disciplines, from traditional Native American-inspired works to cutting-edge contemporary art. The Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village and Creekside Plaza are ideal spots to visit some of these galleries, boutiques, and restaurants—both just a short golf cart ride from L’Auberge de Sedona.
Ah, L’Auberge de Sedona is something truly special—it’s been lauded as one of the World’s Most Luxurious Resorts (Vogue) and U.S. Destination with the Best Views (Expedia), among other superlatives. The accolades make perfect sense upon reaching this incredible retreat, which boasts 62 cottages and 21 lodge-style guest rooms across 11 acres on the banks of Oak Creek. The luxuriously appointed cottages and guest rooms have a natural and relaxing color palette with rustic hardwood floors and four-poster beds with crisp white linens. All accents are a nod to the natural wonders of a flowing creek surrounded by Sycamore trees. Cottage patio doors open to a spacious deck where guests can enjoy an afternoon glass of wine. And for a starry night, there’s the outside open-roof cedar shower.
Food, Glorious Food
Two restaurants, Cress on Oak Creek and Etch Kitchen, offer distinctive dining experiences overseen by Executive Chef Franck Desplechin. In addition to a sumptuous breakfast, Cress on Oak Creek offers an elegant prix-fixe dinner menu inspired by French cuisine but showcasing the local ingredients of Northern Arizona. My evening’s three-course dining menu included choices of (to mention only a few): Duck Confit Rolls, Sedona Rainbow Trout Farm Tartare, Crispy Skin Arctic Char, Canyon City Farm Beef Top Sirloin, seasonal Gelato and Berries, and Strawberry Cheesecake. A truly inventive, creative, and delicious dinner experience.
Etch Kitchen offers all-day dining with bar bites, soups and salads, and entrees including fantastic trout, burgers, fries and onion rings (guess who had the onion rings – twice!).
For a unique experience, Cloth and Flame, a pop-up culinary company, hosts temporary venues for memorable culinary experiences around the U.S. I attended the dining celebration for the L’Auberge de Sedona’s 35th anniversary. Under a canopy of Sycamore trees, Desplechin led guests through five unique courses starting with apple-marinated kale salad followed by buttermilk-fried Sedona rainbow trout. The main course was perfectly grilled Cornish game hen with bacon and leek hash, then a Kombucha palette cleanser. And for dessert, Ramona Farms chicos panna cotta and blackberry Meyer lemon tarts. Each course had a wine pairing of fantastic Arizona wines.
For Mind, Body, and Soul
After all that fabulous dining, a hike around the resort is a must. Surrounded by spectacular Sedona scenery, I participated in a blissful, relaxing, and rejuvenating guided meditation accompanied by the sounds of flute and occasional drum music. I highly recommend this experience. Forest bathing, full-moon meditation, and daily yoga are other wellness-oriented offerings.
Well-being and healing are the foundation of the L’Apothecary Spa. The Spa blends custom bodycare products from the area’s rich bounty of healing botanicals, herbs, and flowers, and its signature treatments focus on healing and rejuvenating therapy performed with an expert touch.
The Art of Sedona
The famous Dada and Surrelist artist Max Ernst drove through Sedona on his way to New York and instantly fell in love with it since the landscape was so reminiscent of his paintings. From 1946-1953, he lived in Sedona, which then had a population of 400 ranchers and where the high desert landscape inspired him. He created several of his famous sculptures and paintings in Sedona and helped start the artist colony, still thriving today, hosting many well-known European artists in his hand-built retreat.
Sedona By the Numbers
1902 | Sedona founded
11,000 | Population
3 million | Visitors annually
100 | Spiritual shops
100 | Hotels, resorts, inns
100 | Hiking and biking trails
7 | Golf courses
4 | Primary vortex areas
1 | Turquoise arch at McDonald’s (the only one in the world)
On top of the hill—a bit of a climb, but well worth it—sits the Vortex Treehouse, where Sedona’s vortex energies are said to converge. Many of those three million people a year traveling to Sedona from across the world do so to experience these phenomena, which are reputed to be swirling centers of energy that are uplifting, inspirational, and conducive to healing.
The scientific definition of a vortex is “an area of enhanced energy flow—either flowing upward out of the earth or inward toward the earth.” From a more mystical standpoint, upward energy is thought to enhance spiritual energy, while inward-flowing vortices enhance introspection.
Although the local Native American Tribes believed all of Sedona to be sacred ground, there are a number of areas where the energy is most intense. The four best known are Airport Mesa Vortex, Cathedral Rock Vortex, Bell Rock Vortex, and Boynton Canyon Vortex, and visitors can access them on self-guided trail hikes or led by private guides (I recommend Zeus M Tours). Many people do report a heightened sense of energy, clarity, and awareness. I’ll never be sure if it was the adventure-packed days or deeply luxurious surroundings of L’Auberge de Sedona, but I did indeed experience several nights of vivid dreams and a sense of renewed energy. Perhaps the vortex was there for me too.
Sedona on the Big Screen
Hollywood legends such John Wayne, Elvis Presley, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Shirley Temple, and Johnny Depp have all filmed movies in Sedona, the hub for Westerns. From 1945 to 1950 alone, 19 movies were made in Sedona. As the population increased, some unobstructed views decreased and fewer filmmakers took advantage of Red Rock Country. But not to worry, there still are plenty of extraordinary, out-of-this world views (billboards, street signs, and lights all have a strict height limit). In 1995, the Sedona International Film Festival and Workshop was founded, and Sedona now hosts the Sedona Film School.
Above: Cress on Oak Creek
The Pink Jeep Broken Arrow Tour
Wear comfortable shoes and be ready to hike a few hills to reach high desert terrain. In this off-road, four-wheel excursion over gullies, crevices, and rocks—sometimes with heart-pounding excitement—you’ll see many of the majestic rock formations for glorious photo-ops. The grand finale goes straight down “The Road of No Return.” Lots of Westerns were filmed here, including Broken Arrow with Jimmy Stewart. I cannot imagine how they all managed to get up there.
1,000-Year-Old Rock Art in Verde Valley
There are hundreds of rock art sites in this area. I visited V Bar V Ranch, one of the largest and most well-preserved petroglyph sites of the Native Americans (the Sinagua), from about 1,000 years ago. The glyphs, on sandstone, are recognizable as human figures, animals, lizards, baskets, and spirals.