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Six things you must do in Phoenix

Costa Rica

The old cowboy town among the cacti rose from the heat-haze in the Valley of the Sun to become one of the top lazy-days resorts in the USA. And if you tire of high-end dining and being pampered at smart resort hotels, the fizzing nightlife and sophisticated shops, then untamed Arizona beckons with a long list of day trip options, culminating in the utterly awesome Grand Canyon. Picture - Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Luxury resorts

The waters from distant reservoirs keep this desert city fresh and green. It’s a fine place to be idle. The abundant resort hotels in Scottsdale (on Phoenix’s east side, with the best views of the mountains rising over the valley) are artfully designed to keep you sipping drinks all week beside the infinity pool. Many offer golf and tennis. Some even provide a personal concierge to drive you to the classy shopping. Choose between the halcyon days of the Arizona winter, when the weather can be near perfect. Or the torrid, 40 degree plus, summer days, when many resorts offer serious off-season (May to September) discounts. One recent attraction is the Mondrian Scottsdale. The designer of this ''sybaritic retreat'' was inspired by the Garden of Eden. Equally elegant is the Sanctuary Resort and Spa. There an indoor-outdoor ''Asian-inspired'' spa and a meditation garden.
British Airways fly daily to Phoenix from Heathrow.

Sunny soaring

With 325 sunny days a year, you are almost certain of quality soaring and drifting time in balmy zephyrs on any Phoenix holiday. The Sonoran Desert around the city is one of the world best hot air ballooning locations.

The other aerial option is gliding (they call them sailplanes). A basic 20-minute flight gives you an aerobatic flight with loops, rolls, and inverted (upside down) flying -- skip breakfast. If you prefer your desert at ground level, most of the hotels will book you a jeep tour. If you can live with the eco-guilt (11-13 mpg ) take a Hummer night wildlife watching trip, without headlights (www.stellaradventures.com, www.dshummer.com). The Thermal Image Scope gives you night vision of coyote, bobcats and rattlesnakes.

Architect extraordinary

Someone thoughtfully posted Simon and Garfunkel’s So Long Frank Lloyd Wright on You Tube, with shots of his architectural creations. It is the perfect hors d’ouevre to a visit to Taliesin West, the desert home and teaching centre of the illustrious architect (built in 1939). One of the most distinguished attractions now inside this fast expanding city, it showcases his philosophy of building in harmony with the natural environment. The other city highlights include the Indian craft collection at the Heard Museum, and an original stagecoach and other relics of wagon wheel society at the Wells Fargo Museum.

Papago Park, just east of the airport, includes the Desert Botanical Garden (half of the world’s 1,800 cactus species) and Phoenix Zoo. En route to the Grand Canyon is the Lowell Observatory at Flagstaff, where they discovered the solar system's most famous ball of ice, Pluto.

On the Apache trail

Head due east out of this burgeoning city in a hire car towards Superstition Mountains, and within an hour the essence of the Old West is all around. This is the authentic (familiar to seasoned Western watchers) landscape of desert and rugged canyons, stippled with saguaros and century plants – hot but safe, as long as you stay near the car. There’s a bundle of attractions on the Apache Trail for a one or two day trip within an easily-driven 100 miles. There’s a reconstructed gold-mining town, a paddle boat trip on Canyon Lake, the Theodore Roosevelt Dam, and the Besh-Ba-Gowah Archaeological Park, a 700 year old Salado pueblo. Boyce Thompson Arboretum is the nation’s original homage to the cactus, dedicated to researching and propagating desert plants. If you don’t want to drive, bus tours cover the highlights.

Grand Canyon

The world’s most stupendous hole in the ground is a 225 miles, 3 ½ hours drive from Phoenix. Make it a two day outing, for plenty of contemplation at the canyon, and time for side trips on the way back. Easier still, drive to Williams (2 hrs 40) and take the original Grand Canyon Train (restated in 1989) on the final 65 miles to the south rim. The canyon is dauntingly huge (1 mile deep, up to 18 wide and 280 miles long.) I walked down for an hour or so, and felt I had scarcely penetrated the immense depths. It's a separate trip (5 hours from Phoenix) to Skywalk. The remarkable glass floored walkway (opened in 2007) juts terrifyingly 70-feet out over a 4,000 feet drop (tickets -- expensive.)

If you have time on the return, call in at Montezuma Castle, one of the best-preserved Indian cliff dwellings; and Sedona, for its exquisite little church on a pinnacle among the rocks.

Home on the Restaurant Range

Even if you don''t stay at one of the top Scottsdale resorts, you may still dine in their restaurants. Demand a table with a view of the mountains, or the city by night at Elements Restaurant at the Sanctuary (try the Asian pear cucumber and ginger Martini) or Mondrian’s excellent Fiamma Trattoria. T. Cook''s, at the Royal Palms, wins national accolades A five course taster menu includes truffle and Madeira glazed-quail with foie gras stuffing and baby vegetables is a signature dish, with wines matched to the course. In Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix, Pizzeria Bianco fills up quickly. Chris Bianco gives fresh variations to a so well-tried theme. His Wiseguy pizza features wood roasted onion, his own smoked Mozzarella, and fennel sausage. Pick of the good old cowboy steakhouses is Rustler''s Rooste, with live country western music seven nights a week.

British Airways fly daily to Phoenix from Heathrow

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