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A Desert Journey to Wellness

The Phoenix/Scottsdale area is well known for its beautiful golf courses, breathtaking hikes and one-of-a-kind museums. An abundance of luxury resorts with grandiose spas and sparkling pools add to its appeal year round. Yet there’s a new kind of Arizona to experience with Civana, a wellness resort reopened in mid 2018 (formerly known as Carefree Resort) that’s redefining what that moniker means.

Make your pilgrimage to the little town of Carefree (population: 3,783), about 40 minutes from downtown Scottsdale, to reach this reimagined resort that’s equal parts spa and sanctuary. You can feel the transformation begin on your drive, as streetlights are replaced with ancient cacti, the radio turns to static and the road becomes (way) less traveled. Practicing mindfulness feels simpler out here; visiting a secluded spot out in the desert has a way of melting your stress away.

It’s intentional, of course. Slowing the pace of everyday life, Civana helps guests channel wellbeing through therapeutic treatments, guided meditation, intentional movement and nourishing food. Yet don’t go thinking this is just another wellness resort.

“We’re challenging the fact that wellness has to be luxury,” says Sharon Otaguro, wellness director at Civana. The underlying vision here is not on the physical accouterments you’d expect at a fancy resort. Instead, every element is designed to create connection: with others, with the landscape and with yourself. (And they know what they’re doing, having assembled a team with former executives from wellness hospitality brands like Canyon Ranch, Miraval and Montage).

There’s no pressure here to eat only salads, work out for hours or go for days on end without speaking in the name of silent meditation (though you could do any of those things, if you wanted to). Instead, Civana offers a “choose your own adventure” style of programming, where guests can participate in up to 12 complimentary classes and programs per day. For example, you could begin your morning with a hike or strength class, then sit in on a smoothie-making session that doubles as breakfast. In the afternoon, connect with your body through a yoga class that fits your skill level (vinyasa flow, floating or aerial, to name a few), or engage in friendly competition on the pickleball court (a combination of badminton, tennis and table tennis). Evenings can be filled with activities that help you practice mindfulness, balance your energy and improve your mood, such as a sound bath class with singing bowls. A class called Angel Messages, through which a reiki master teaches you to read Tarot cards for others (and have yours read as well), can be truly life changing, especially if you’re dealing with grief.

Days like these filled with a different sort of “busy” than you’re used to nearly guarantee a good night’s sleep. Each open-concept guest room at Civana has a bed located in the center of the room oriented toward the windows, designed to help you wake to the beauty and energy of the surrounding desert mountains. 

The brand new 22,000-square-foot spa, officially opened in December 2018, also promotes rest and relaxation. Pre-treatment, make time to take part in hydrotherapy rituals, which include hot/cold walking pools, luxurious showers, a sauna and a tepidarium. Afterward, relax by the adults-only pool with a fresh-pressed juice or kombucha tonic from Café Meto.

Throughout your stay at Civana, Otaguro’s hope is that guests will discover hope, joy and energy that lead to a more wellness-focused lifestyle. Learning to become more intentional about your actions, and how your body and mind play into your overall health, takes on an almost spiritual quality here that will remain with you long after you’ve returned home.