By Annette Gallagher Weisman
TheWineBuzz — November/December 2011

If you’ve ever wanted a holiday escape from endless cooking, towers of dishes, and squabbling relatives, then Sedona, Arizona, may be your perfect getaway. And, like many places one comes to love, the less obvious reasons for going there will seductively sneak up on you.

Famous for its red sandstone monoliths, Sedona is surrounded by two national forests and the Verde Valley. At this time of year, its mild temperatures, often in the low to mid 60s, are ideal conditions for fitting in as many outdoor activities as you choose. There might be a few snowflakes, and it’s chilly at night, but a light parka or delicious hot toddy by the fire will keep you toasty.

The drive from Phoenix Airport to Sedona is just under two hours. As the sky darkens and the road draws closer to this artists’ community, enormous, black shapes loom roadside like ominous theater props. The next morning, it is startling to find these same hulking shapes are in fact mammoth displays of natural art with descriptive names like Cathedral and Bell Rock. Sedona’s red rocks have an iridescent quality that is so beautiful they seem to glow, especially at sunrise and sunset.

During my last visit, my husband and I stayed at a friend’s time share, but accommodations run the gamut from modest B & Bs and inns to luxurious resorts including the Hilton Sedona Resort & Spa, Best Westerns’ Arroyo Roble Hotel and Creek side Villas, and the Enchantment Resort with its famous Mii Amo Destination Spa.

Uptown Sedona is the main tourist area at the entrance to the spectacular Oak Creek Canyon. Short in length, it’s jammed with specialty stores, art galleries and a few restaurants. If you have children in tow, take a break between Native American crafts and jewelry shopping to have lunch at the Cowboy Club.

You’ll also find plenty of fine shopping, galleries and restaurants in nearby locales, such as Hillside Sedona, Tlacquepacque Arts and Crafts Village, and The Hyatt Pinion Pointe Shops. At Pinion Pointe, I fell in love with Marquesa’s shoe store, which sells international brands of the softest leather. The Art of Wine, which offers daily tastings, is another favorite stop.

Sedona is in the Desert Chapparal ecosystem. With an elevation of 4,500 feet, its warm days and cool nights contribute to the success of local wines. There are several vineyards and tasting rooms within driving distance, such as Oak Creek Vineyards & Winery, Page Spring Vineyard & Cellars and Arizona Stronghold Tasting Room in Cottonwood.

Aside from numerous outdoor activities, including balloon rides, tennis, golf, fishing, horseback riding, mountain-biking and canoeing, I was surprised to learn Sedona is a Mecca for birders, with over 130 species to admire.

Jeep tours are a popular way to see the flora, fauna and wildlife indigenous to the area. Pink Jeep Tours took us to visit ancient Native American cliff dwellings. As expected, the ride was exhilarating – but bumpy. Sedona is at the center of many scenic and interesting destinations. Cosmopolitan Scottsdale is just a two-hour drive from Sedona. Flagstaff and The Out of Africa Wildlife Park are under one hour. You can even take a day trip from Sedona to the Grand Canyon, and the Verde Canyon Wilderness Train is a unique experience with panoramic views accessible only by rail.

Everything about the nearby town of Jerome is historic and worth visiting. Once a mining town, Jerome is a mile above sea level, and there’s a long, winding road to get up there. After a tasty lunch at the Mile High Inn & Grill, where we enjoyed prickly pear margaritas, we listened to a terrific local band at the Connor Hotel. Then we strolled through the town, looking at antiques, and tasted gourmet olive oils and aged vinegars at the Jerome Olive Oil Traders. A stop at Jerome Winery gave us a chance to sample the local wines.

The Jerome Grand Hotel has an awardwinning restaurant, The Asylum, but we’d made dinner reservations at Rustica Cantina in Sedona, which serves Mediterranean cuisine and is a personal favorite of mine. No matter what style of cuisine you enjoy, from New Mexican to sushi, you’ll find it in Sedona.

With so many options over a long weekend, we couldn’t fit in everything we wanted to do. We would have liked to visit one of the famous vortex sites, said to improve one’s sense of well-being. It’s no wonder artists and writers flock to Sedona; there is definitely an aura about it that melts away stress and provides renewed energy for multi-tasking back home – even dish washing!

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