Paradise found at Canyon Ranch

Newsreader Emma Crosby finds Canyon Ranch is the perfect antidote to the punishing daily newsbeat

IT’S 7AM and the thermometer is already pushing 80 degrees centigrade. I’m cycling in what must be one of the most stark but beautiful places on Earth, the Sonora desert in the foothills of the Rincon Mountains in Arizona. My only company is the 70-year-old Saguaro cacti that populate the landscape, standing like eight foot soldiers in bright green uniforms. Thankfully they don’t disapprove as I dismount from my bike and push it up a steep incline.

I’ve come to spend a week at Canyon Ranch health resorts in Tucson, one of the first of its kind and is one of the biggest and best in the world.

Mel and Enid Zuckerman opened Canyon Ranch in 1979 with their last dime, despite being warned that a no smoking, no drinking fitness resort would never work. Over thirty years on, their early vision of a holiday destination where guests can recharge, relax and re-educate themselves about the merits of healthy living has been copied many times over.

The ranch sits on a 70-acre campus style site, with accommodation clustered around the central reception and dining room hub. Described as luxury but with a club-like feel, the décor is inspired by the reds and browns of the surrounding desert. The rooms could do with freshening up but, in the words of its founders, Canyon Ranch has never tried to be trendy. After a day here, I realise that time spent in the rooms is only time asleep, so it’s not a huge priority.

The team got in touch before I arrived with a checklist of goals for my stay – and thank goodness they did: there are a mind-boggling number of activities and programmes on offer. A good tip is to have a real think about what you want to achieve before arriving, otherwise, like me, you may get a little overwhelmed.

With 50 activities daily, including early morning hikes and bike rides, golf and tennis coaching, thigh burning, stomach crunching gym sessions and swimming, this place can truly say it caters for everyone’s needs, be it a professional athlete or a 50 year old Mid-Westerner who hasn’t exercised in years. And when the cardio fat burning is done for the day, there are plenty of holistic and pampering treatments on offer in the spa and health and healing centre.

The beauty of America’s desert state had me setting my alarm at 5am to make the most of the nature in the cooler mornings. Highlights included walking eight miles through the bottom of the beautiful Sabina Canyon, hoping to catch a sight of the revered mountain lion. Thankfully I wasn’t breakfast this time.

If you want to escape from the beating sun, try the more challenging hike along the summit of Mount Lemmon. A Canyon Ranch mini bus takes us, and our trusty guide Gerry, on the hour-long drive up the mountain, dropping us off at 7000ft. It’s like we have gone from Mexico to Canada. The temperature has dropped 20 degrees and dusty scorched desert earth has been replaced with pine and aspen and birds and butterflies – the perfect antidote to city life. The resort provides all the necessary hiking equipment including boots and rucksacks.

After a six-hour hike, I treated myself to what has to be one of the best (and most expensive) massages I’ve ever had. It’s a Canyon Ranch special, themed along the lines of Ayurvedic massages, with two masseurs who in tandem kneed all the tiredness out of my legs. The treatment lasts well over an hour and ends with a head massage, with warm oil gently poured onto my forehead (it may sound a little strange but once I got over my British reserve I loved it).

Another relaxing way to take the tiredness out of over-exercised limbs is an evening Watsu treatment. With the lights dimmed, an instructor stretches and manoeuvres your body as you float in a warm indoor pool, listening to music.

I also tried Canyon Ranch’s yoga and muscle max classes. The instructors kept me motivated when my muscles started to fade. The classes are small, so an instructor is always on hand, especially as the ratio of guests to staff is three to one.

There are plenty of experiences on offer that I wouldn’t get the opportunity to try at home. Healing Touch is one – a collection of ancient energetic healing techniques brought under one umbrella by nurses in the health and healing centre. In my one hour session, Claudia works to open up my blocked “chakras”, to help get energy flowing again.

I travelled alone and this wasn’t a problem: many guests fly solo and it’s a great way to meet people. In the evenings I dined at the Captain’s Table and met people from all over the US as well as the UK. As you would expect the food is healthy spa cuisine, with themed nights to keep things interesting.

There’s plenty to do after the evening meal, including interesting lectures on the merits of exercise, the history of acupuncture and even metaphysics by a lady called Lesley Lupo. But my favourite was the water colouring session. Like my classmates, I hadn’t painted since school and it was nice to pick up a brush and try to put the stunning desert scenery down on paper.

“The power of possibility” is Canyon Ranch’s slogan and a very fitting one, too. I flew home with stiff legs but a much better understanding of my body. The feeling of space and getting away from it all in the Rincon Mountain range stayed with me for many months after. Not bad for one week’s vacation.

Canyon Ranch is offering City AM readers their New You package - 20% off the all inclusive rate for a stay of four nights or longer. Transfers included when guests arrive into Phoenix on the direct British Airways flight. For more information please visit or to book call Wellbeing Escapes on 0845 602 6202.