Luxury at The Boulders is offered in a calming, relaxing atmosphere that is very different from the formality often found at multi-starred urban properties – and that is why it is one of my favorite places.

A writers conference provided the perfect reason  to travel to Carefree (how appropriate this name is for a place that entices you to leave cares behind!), about 25 miles north of Scottsdale.

Named for the 12-million-year-old granite boulders that dominate the landscape, the Boulders sprawls along 1,300 acres of Sonoran desert, its 160 casitas, 55 villas and six haciendas, all at one with the landscape. (For affluent families or corporate groups, there also two estate homes set on private property within the resort.)

The Bolders - Lillian African

I arrived at the Boulders after a long flight from the East, and when I was checked into my very spacious casita, I breathed a relieved “Aah” and explored my surroundings. A sumptuous-looking bed. A spacious seating area facing a fireplace that was all prepared and ready to go, should I feel a chill at night. A big bathroom with natural stone finishes, Ferragamo toiletries, a separate soaking tub and shower and a fluffy white robe.

The Bolders - Lillian African

In search of a light lunch, I decided to try the Spa Café. The size of the Boulders’ property makes it perfect for hikers; for non-hikers, there are golf carts at the ready. I called for a golf cart, which passed a number of hikers as it whisked me to the 33,000-square-foot spa complex.

The café’s tranquil setting helped relax my travel-weary muscles and the Chicken Tostada I ordered was as delicious as it sounded in the menu description:  honey chipotle chicken breast, bell pepper, pepperjack cheese, roasted corn, anaheim vinaigrette tossed greens. All this, the menu informed me, came in at only 332 calories! At such a mellow restaurant, there were, of course, vegan and gluten-free choices.

The Bolders - Lillian African

After such an auspicious first taste, there were others, notably at the Palo Verde restaurant, which overlooks the photogenic Duck Pond and the 6th fairway of the award-winning South Course and serves contemporary southwestern-inspired cuisine.  The Grill Kitchen & Bar is slightly more formal (nothing here is actually formal), with dark wood furnishings, an exhibition kitchen, a fireplace and views of the 18th hole fairways.

At el Pedregal, a shopping/dining/entertainment complex on the property, the Spotted Donkey Cantina serves Mexican cuisine and has an impressive list of tequilas.

The Bolders - Lillian African

A highlight of my trip was my time at the spa, which, like the rest of the property has a warm Southwestern feel and has two wings that encompass 24 treatment rooms, steam and sauna facilities, Japanese-inspired O’furo baths, the co-ed Tea Room for relaxation; a 2,000-square-foot fitness center that includes a yoga studio, cardio- and weight training-equipment. Also in this complex: a full-service salon and the Spa /Boutique.

Outside are a meditation labyrinth, an adult-only pool (there are three other pools on the property) and whirlpool and a Native American Tipi.

The Bolders - Lillian African

My treatment was the signature 50-minute Desert Zen Service, a perfect choice, as the Desert Zen experiences are designed to help make the shift from hectic daily life to a slower, more relaxed and meditative state. The treatment began with the spa’s signature Swedish massage. Next, soothing hot towel compresses combined with slow, calming strokes and the delicious fragrance of citrus and jasmine brought me to a lovely state of peace.

The Bolders - Lillian African

As I wanted very much to experience the TiPi Mediation that was part of the Global Shaman experience, I met with my therapist at the Native American TiPi. I removed my shoes and entered the TiPi, finding their prayer and intention cards. Our conversation, prayers and intentions were personal, so I won’t share them here, but I can say that this was a unique and memorable experience.

To sustain my tranquil mood, I walked the Hopi-inspired Labyrinth, where I found only one other person, lost in her own personal meditation.

The Bolders - Lillian African hot air balloonI took advantage of down time between meetings and other conference events to walk (not hike) the grounds and to explore some of the unique formations. The Promise Rock, a favorite wedding venue, is a magnificent and dramatic formation surrounded by saguaro cacti and distinguished by the petroglyphs and a small cascading waterfall. All around are other fascinating formations, some reflecting the history of the ancient people who lived here.

Guests who visit The Boulders on holiday and have time to indulge in the resort’s many tours and planned activities can take an interpretive walk with a geologist to learn more about the granite formations.

The Bolders - Lillian African Boulders Resort and Spa

This list of possible activities includes rock climbing, bicycle tours, horseback riding, tennis (eight courts and a beautiful terraced Tennis Garden) and golf (two Jay Morrish-designed championship courses and the Boulders Golf Academy).

My favorite conference activity was a sunset hot air balloon ride that had a group of attendees soaring above the resort, which, lit for the evening, took on a magical quality. (Sunset rides are available only November through March)

A final reason for me to love The Boulders: It’s pet-friendly and allows furry friends up to 75 pounds to enjoy resort. There’s even a special room service menu for four-legged guests.