Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 17, 2017
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Scottsdale for locals

Skip the tourist itinerary and take in the quirkier offerings in this golfer's paradise

Adele Lester is doing some late-afternoon laps in the pool. Her husband, Ron, sits under an umbrella, poolside, with a Budweiser, as he clicks though the Yelp.com restaurant reviews looking for a place for dinner. “We had pizza last night at Humble Pie. My wife had the organic vegetables, I had potatoes and roast garlic. Unbelievable. We’re leaving tomorrow so I want to find something special.”

And what has the Ottawa couple in their mid 50s been doing in Scottsdale all this time? Lounging in the sun? Playing golf or tennis? Taking side trips to Sedona or the Grand Canyon? None of the above. The reason the Lesters — and scores of other Canadians — are visiting Arizona these days can be summed up in two words: real estate.

The crash in the US housing market has been particularly severe in Arizona. More than 70,000 houses in the state went into foreclosure last year and, until very recently, the Canadian dollar had been flying high against the US currency.

“There are bargains to be had,” says Ron pausing in his hunt for just the right restaurant to cap off their working holiday. “Fact is, we made an offer on a condo right in this building three days ago and it was accepted this afternoon. We’re out to celebrate tonight.”

A condo of your own

Located in the El Chaparral Condominiums in Old Town Scottsdale, their new unit is remarkably similar to the one they’re occupying during this stay — except with an extra bedroom. Ron found the rental through AirBnB.com, a website on which private individuals offer accommodation to visitors. For over a year, the Lesters have been using the online site to rent out the top floor of their own home in Ottawa. “The last kid is out of the nest, so why not? It’s an easy walk from the Parliament buildings. Booked almost every night all summer.”

As Adele towels off she shares how pleased she is with the accommodation here. “Just renovated. Great bathroom. Perfect for us.”

Ron chimes in, “They have Wi-Fi and a 36-inch flat screen. Fully furnished. We liked it so much we bought one just like it!”

“We looked at properties in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and Cave Creek, ” he says, “ and every night we’d get back here and wonder why we couldn’t find anything just like this. End of last week I called the owner. He said his apartment wasn’t for sale but he knew of other units in the building that were. And that was it.” Fully 4.3 percent of all home sales in the Phoenix area last year were by Canadians, edging out Californians (at 4.1 percent) for first place.

One of the benefits of renting a condo, as the Lesters did, is that it gives would-be buyers a chance to see what it would be like to live here.

In Scottsdale (which is in fact part of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area), it’s hot even after Labour Day. The daily highs still soar above 38°C. This summer saw temperatures ratchet above 45°C.

More important, perhaps, is this the kind of place where someone from Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver or Montreal would feel comfortable long term? The Valley of the Sun (as Metro Phoenix is also known) is a vast flat desert ribboned with freeways. Even in upscale Scottsdale sidewalks are a rarity.

There are, though, other attractions which visitors who ride air-conditioned shuttle buses from airport to resort and back again, rarely see. Here’s a quick tour of some of the amenities that please the locals.

Quirky shopping

Most tourists head straight for Fashion Mall, home to every luxury chain in North America. Locals shop down the street at the Lincoln Village Shopping Centre (6202 North Scottsdale Road). It’s small, watch for it or you’ll drive right by, but has a couple of spots you won’t want to miss. The mall is tucked just north of the Borgata (6166 North Scottsdale Road; tel: 602-953-6538; borgata.com), an elegant warren of upscale shops and restaurants also worth a visit.

If you’ve never experienced Trader Joe’s (traderjoes.com), you’re in for a treat. The Pasadena-based specialty grocery shops now has more than 200 stores in 34 states. TJs (as most patrons call it) is perhaps best known for it’s Charles Shaw wine that sells for $2 a bottle ($3 outside California) and is surprisingly drinkable. In California, it’s affectionately known as “Two-buck Chuck” and comes in several varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot and Chardonnay.

The cheese selection offers dozen of cheeses from about the states and around the world and, again, and the prices are wow. Produce is neatly packages, clearly marked if it’s organic, and also priced to please. You get the point — the quality is high and pretty much everything in the store offers excellent value. You may well want to ship home a case of olive oil, for example. Most casual shoppers quickly become TJ addicts.

My Sister’s Closet (mysisterscloset.com/shop) is a high-end vintage and consignment clothing store in a town where many people own lots and lots of expensive wearables and regularly clean out their closets to make room for more. Outfit yourself in leather and furs, designer purses and sunglasses and top-brand jeans and cowboy boots for hundreds of dollars less.

My Sister’s Attic (mysistersattic.com/shop) is adjacent to the Closet shop. To browse here is akin to visiting a hundred Scottsdale residences — with price tags on the furniture. Fun even if you decide not to by that updated '80s bungalow in Paradise Valley.

Scene and Heard

Most visitors stick close to the resort pool and the golf course. Those who are more ambitious may venture into downtown Phoenix to take in the Heard Museum (2301 North Central Avenue; tel: 602-252-8344; heard.org), justifiably famous for it’s spectacular Native American collection. The new library is worth a look and there’s always Casino Arizona (524 North 92nd Street; tel: 480-850-7777; casinoarizona.com on the Pima reservation adjacent to Scottsdale just off the 101 Loop.

The Scottsdale Civic Centre Mall (3939 North Drinkwater Boulevard; scottsdaleaz.gov/parks/ScottsdaleMall) has eight surprising hectares of beautifully groomed gardens, fountains, ponds and shops, restaurants and a museum in the heart of Old Town — just east of North Scottsdale Road along East 1st Street. It seldom appears on visitors’ itineraries. Amble through the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (7374 East 2nd Street; tel: 480-874-4666; smoca.org). Take in a play, an opera or a dance performance at the Center for the Performing Arts (7380 East 2nd Street; tel: 480-499-8587; scottsdaleperformingarts.org). Sip a latte or dine before or after the show overlooking the gardens.

Get thee to a spa

Run/walk up Camelback Mountain (climbcamelback.com. The trail is two kilometres long with a 385-metre elevation gain to reach the 824-metre summit. The camel’s hump is granite, but it’s crumbly sandstone all the way up. Not the easiest run in the world but most who take it agree that the striking view is worth the effort.

Just ask “Camelback Jack” Dunn who’s run the trail — often more than once a day — for more than 20 years. His advice: take lots of water at any time of year and mind the rattlesnakes between May and October. Consider a night run when the moon is full. The trail head is accessible if you take Tatum Boulevard off McDonald Drive and enter at Echo Canyon Parkway (parking is limited).

You might want to combine the run with a visit to a spa. Not just any spa but the one at the Sanctuary on Camelback which features the largest infinity pool in the state.

The Asian-inspired spa has indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, a Sanctum suite, meditation garden and Watsu pool. A day membership gives you full privileges including use of the pool, an hour’s treatment of your choice and a bento box lunch. Given the luxurious surrounds, the cost is a nominal $145. It’s an indulgence locals save up for.

To dine for

Humble Pie (several locations; humblepieusa.com) is the go-to pizza joint in Scottsdale. The tasty crust is a big draw as are some of the unique combinations, like the potato and garlic combo. Others go for the Buffalo wings, the grilled chicken and pesto and the classic Margherita pizza — tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil — as you might expect, the eatery makes it’s own mozzarella.

Over in Phoenix, Pizzeria Bianco (623 E Adams Street; tel: 602-258-8300; pizzeriabianco.com is considered one of the best pie-makers — if not the best — in the entire US. Locals were lined up for hours long before owner Chris Bianco was interviewed on Good Morning America and his pizzas were praised in Gourmet magazine. A year ago, Mr. Bianco, an asthma-sufferer, was warned by his doctor that if he continued to work in kitchen with its big, smokey, wood-fired oven it would kill him. He took the advice but couldn’t tear himself away from the restaurant entirely. He’s still there everyday, now outside, greeting customers. The product is as good as it ever was.

You cannot visit the Southwest without at least one Mexican meal and Los Sombreros (2534 North Scottsdale Road; tel: 480-994-1799; lossombreros.com) serves some of the best. The less adventurous will settle for the heaping stuffed enchiladas, burritos or their delicious chile rellenos. The braver will sample the chicken or beef with mole, an unsweetened chocolate and chili sauce.

The bravest will select the huitlacoche. The main ingredient in the dish is the result of a metabolic change in corn kernels caused by a fungus that was first cultivated by the Maya. High in lysine, an essential amino acid which builds muscle and benefit the skin, and long a popular dish in Mexico, it’s recently gained stature as a super food. Raw, it’s greyish-white and has the texture of a mushroom which changes as it ages. Cooked, it turns a rich, dark brown. It's also known as Mexican truffle or caviar.

This is just a small sampling of the many, many things going on in the Phoenix area that most visitors miss. The next time you head south whether on a real estate buying trip or simply to relax and let the cold north drift away consider expanding your horizons. Look around, do some exploring on your own, it won't be hard for you to uncover more of the area's hidden charms.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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