Where the pros go: Canada's top travel writers pick their favorite destinations

Desert oasis

Spa diva Anne Dimon has traveled the world to be pampered, polished, soaped, scrubbed and dipped up to her earlobes in thick moor mud ? all in the name of research. Her new Web site details her adventures, ranging from Hammam baths in North Africa to naked thermal dips in Europe. But for the ultimate spa getaway ? one that always leaves her re-energized and refreshed, she heads to Scottsdale, Ariz. “There’s something about the bright blue sky, the mountains and the desert air that exudes a sense of well-being,” she says. “Combine that with the professionalism and sense of caring you find here and you know your money is being well spent.”

Dimon’s favorite deal is the two-night package for two at Willow Stream, the spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort(1-800-257-7544; During low season (May 27 to Sept. 15) the price plunges by half to $798 U.S. per couple for two nights luxurious accommodation, four spa treatments, full breakfast and gratuities.

One morning, you can opt for the Arizona Aloe Eucalyptus Scrub to slough off dry skin, followed by a massage with botanical aloe. The next day you can enjoy the deep-heat benefits of an East Meets West LaStone Therapy with hot rocks, followed by Ayervedic oils of cinnamon, sage and rose. Your roommate can loosen up with a deep-tissue Sports massage and, after a round of golf, an Energy Avocado Wrap with scalp massage. The two of you can stretch these treatments into full spa days with sessions in the Inhalation room, tea in the Canyon Meditation Garden or a workout in the gym. These “extras” are included in your package.

Roughing it with a brush

“I can’t draw a straight line,” laments Lucy Izon, author of Izon’s Backpacker Journal and a syndicated newspaper columnist for 26 years. Perhaps that’s why she’s taking some of the art classes listed on her new learning vacations Web site ( Though Izon’s site describes such exotic pursuits as saving endangered crocodiles in Belize and touring the French château where The DaVinci Code was set, one of her personal highlights last year was attending the Tom Thomson Experience, a painting session on Lake Kawawaymog on the border of Algonquin Park. “This weekend retreat is an opportunity to follow in artist Tom Thomson’s wake ? paddling where he canoed, painting the very landscapes he made famous, even slogging through a bog to find his old portage route,” says Izon. “But what means the most to me is learning to see what he saw. That the sky really is filled with a range of colors that I’d never acknowledged.” With teacher Jill Boschulte’s encouragement, Izon learned to paint a Thomsonesque sky. “Just make strokes on your paper that are reflective of Thomson’s personality traits,” suggested Boschulte, “marks that are sensitive, lazy, proud, quarrelsome, generous.”

The price for the Tom Thomson Experience is definitely right ? it costs just $537 for three days of painting instruction, including art materials, canoeing, campfire tales, all meals and two nights in a cozy canvas cabin at The Edge, a solar-powered eco-lodge. The trip was created in association with the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada, and is organized by tour company Northern Edge Algonquin (1-800-953-3343, “This kind of holiday is like exercise for the mind,” says Izon. “It helps you see things in a different way.” Plus, you take away a unique souvenir to hang on the wall.

Part 1: Belly up and golf unlimited Part 2: Take a hike and family time Part 3: Desert oasis and roughing it

From the November 2004 issue.

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