Westin La Paloma – Tucson’s renovated gem in the desert
It has almost been a year since my last visit to the amazing Westin La Paloma and oh what a difference a year can make.
This north Tucson landmark resort has always been known for its amazing service, incredible grounds, diverse activities and an unequaled foothills location. Now, it is in the final stages of a complete and transformative makeover. As of January 2013, the entire 27 hole Nicklaus golf complex and all the resort’s guest rooms have been renovated. By Fall 2013 renewal of the pool areas, meeting spaces, lobby, tennis and health center as well as the dining venues will also be complete. Yet there is no need to wait. This is a fantastic place right now and it is only going to get better.
This is old school Nicklaus desert golf and it is visually stunning, challenging in every way and a good test for players of every ability. Forced carries, desert washes, elevated tees and good decision making are all aspects of this layout. As my host Kent Instefjord (GM of the La Paloma Country Club) pointed out, what you typically will find here are generous landing areas off most tees paired with challenging green complexes. In other words, the holes tend to get tougher the closer you get to the pin; placing a premium on your short game, sand game and putting.
A big help in that regard is that over the past year and a half the entire 27 hole layout has received new putting surfaces and renovated bunkers. The mini verde Bermuda grass greens now offer the consistent year round playability we all look for. In addition, the top notch white sand bunkers offer a perfect compliment with their look and feel. I highly recommend you play all 27 holes to get the full flavor of the Westin La Paloma golf experience.
Without question the biggest and most important change to date has been the complete makeover of the resorts 487 rooms and suites. With even the standard rooms starting at 475 square feet (Tucson’s largest) and suites measuring in up to 1900 square feet, this has been a monumental upgrade and the results are impressive. The rooms are bright yet warm and homey. At the same time they are also modern but not cold or sterile as so many contemporary rooms seem to be. In short they are a true oasis in the desert.
All units now feature: Radio Frequency locks (just wave your room card in front of the lock), Westin’s own Heavenly Bed® and outstanding linens, dual-sink granite vanities with full width backlit mirrors, expanded walk-in showers with Heavenly® Rain Forest Showerhead and hand held wands, deep soaking tubs, robes, Starbucks coffee, three phones, wireless internet, in-room safe, mini-fridge and so much more.
Perhaps the most appreciated items were the extra large 42” HD television, iHome Bluetooth digital clock radio and the LED reading lights perfectly built into the beds headboard. For TV viewing, there were ample stations as well as a variety of on demand features. The iHome clock radio is a very nice touch and allows guests to play their own music collection from an iPad, iPod or iPhone through the clock’s speakers. And the LED reading lights had separate switches allowing two to be on and two off so one guest can read while the other may sleep. A very nice touch.
The rooms, each with a patio or deck, are set in small buildings (20 rooms or so per complex) which ring the property. No room is more than a short walk to the pools, lobby, sports complex, golf course or restaurants. I found that this layout gave the resort a very warm and intimate feel and not the dominating huge main building housing all the rooms, restaurants and common areas as found in most large resorts nowadays.
There is no shortage of choices when it comes to eating at the Westin La Paloma. Options here range from the casual poolside Sabino’s to the elegant Mediterranean inspired fare at Azul. In addition, guests here will find the Espresso coffee shop in the main lobby as well as the Courtside Deli at the health center.
Sabino’s is a swim up bar and grill offering casual fare such as appetizers, grilled sandwiches, snacks and beverages for all ages. Azul is the resorts main restaurant and serves everything from daily breakfast to Sunday brunch as well as lunch and an exceptional dinner menu.
This trip I had the luxury of being the dinner guest of Executive Chef Serge Delage at Azul. Chef Delage is from France and has been with Westin for over 35 years and at the Tucson resort for more than 15 years. It was a special treat to be able to savor an inspired six course Chef’s Table dining experience. More on that in a minute but first a few short words about Azul.
Azul is located on the lower level of the main lobby and is dominated by two story floor to ceiling windows that frame the absolutely amazing views of the Santa Catalina foothills rising dramatically just to the north. I had both breakfast and dinner here but if you are lucky enough to come during sunset you will be treated to an amazing light and color show as the mountains turn from brown to orange to red as the sun goes down.
Not surprisingly, Chef Delage’s hand prepared and delivered sampler menu was equally inspiring. Each course was a smaller tasting size portion of a menu item and Chef Delage brought them tableside and explained each one. My first course was an appetizer of pan seared scallops over risotto accompanied by bacon and peas and paired with a very nice California Chardonnay. Delicious!
The second course featured the Hot House tomato salad which combined delectable house made mozzarella, arugula, marinated olives and a balsamic reduction. This fantastic collection of flavors set the tone for what came next. For the third course the chef prepared a juicy herb seared piece of Atlantic salmon. It was accompanied by fresh asparagus and a mix of mushrooms lightly bathed in olive oil and chili sauce. It couldn’t have been better and was a delightful mix of tastes and sensations.
Course number four was a little breather and a very clever take on mac and cheese; it was chipotle flavored. This little morsel came paired with a very good Mark West Pinot Noir. The fifth course was a Dijon crusted rack of lamb served with a side of Yukon gold potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Again, no complaints what so ever as everything was cooked to perfection with tastes to match. The Chef’s final surprise was an outstanding dessert sampler. It was a beautiful trio of sweets: tiramisu, fresh wild berry cobbler and lime sponge cake. With a cup of hot coffee it was the perfect end to a fabulous dining experience.
All in all the Westin La Paloma in Tucson has everything you could ever hope for. An amazing location, 27 holes of championship Nicklaus golf, fantastic new rooms, sports activities of all kinds, pools for the young and old alike and excellent dining from sunrise to sunset. With the finish of the property’s revitalization in Fall of 2013 this stellar resort will continue to be a go to destination for discriminating travelers for years to come.