Deborah Rath Howell
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Rancho Manana: Margaritas Calling! - Cave Creek, Arizona, United States

Cave Creek, Arizona, Property #T1228
Rancho Manana, Cave Creek, Arizona, T1228
We drove our holiday-spent selves into the entrance of Rancho Manana from the parched desert beyond it.....and instantly felt like we were in Paradise. The deep green rolling hills of the golf course were a sight for sore eyes, and the second after we parked and unfolded ourselves out of the car, we were poolside, looking out over one of the most fantastic sights a golfer could ever possibly see.....

Gorgeous fairways, backed by purple mountains with white herons soaring overhead. Simply sensational! We were salivating, but had to check in first. So pleasant, we could actually feel our blood pressure lowering by the minute.

We checked into Casita Number 1, and smiles broke out instantly. So cozy, so perfect for the desert! Thick, heavy doors with wrought iron features led into every room...where a tasteful southwestern decor made the place feel like a true home away from home...and not a non-descript cookie-cutter "unit". We especially liked the touch of the margarita pitcher and glasses out on the kitchen counter ready for instant gratification. :)

Two white robes hung tantalizingly from each of the big bathroom doors, and I knew that the indoor jacuzzi would definitely be getting a workout soon. Beautiful Mexican tile work throughout the casita ensured us that we were in a place of history, with a passion for the desert lifestyle.

After unpacking, we headed to the golf shop, bought some long tees and carted up to the driving range--which was one of the nicest I've seen. Plenty of room, and well-placed flags and targets to help you gauge how far (or how not far) you're hitting with each club. The air was crisp and clean and we could hardly wait for our round the next day. The chipping area was another real bonus!

After hitting 80 balls apiece, of course we were ravenous, so after a quick shower we took the advice of our kind host and walked to Tonto Restaurant and Grill....right on the premises of Rancho Manana. Always a good thing to know you can roll home, if necessary.

Fresh! Fresh! Fresh! That's what the food is at Tonto's! I was enormously grateful to see fresh spinach on the menu, after so many of my fave restaurants have banished it. It was a most-welcome side dish to my trout, and my husband Bill scooped up his delicious carnitas with gusto. The dessert --Rumtof--recommended by our lovely waitress, was to die for. Berries that had been soaked for months in delicious spirits (rum, of course)...over ice cream. Cannot describe how amazing this was--you'll just have to try it for yourselves. We were impressed that the waitress knew the legend of Rumtof, as well as how to spell it and describe how it's made. If we'd had seconds, we WOULD have had to roll ourselves back to the casita.

Cave Creek, Arizona, Property #T1228
Rancho Manana, Cave Creek, Arizona, T1228
After the most delicious sleep we'd had in a very long time (so quiet!) we rose to hit the links. It was a bit chilly, but then the desert sun broke through and by the time we were at the third hole, the gods of golf were smiling upon us. I can't say our game was improved any by the setting, but our moods were certainly in top form! This is a fairly challenging course, and you have to be able to play a bit of target golf in order to bring in a low score.

What we learned later in the week is that the course is friendly for any level of player. We brought our friend to play a round with us one afternoon and she'd never played golf before. There was no problem whatsoever...we didn't dilly dally, and no one was the wiser that that was Linda's first round! What a marvelous experience she had playing Rancho Manana.. it felt like a real gift when afterwards she was grinning from ear to ear, ready to purchase her first set of golf clubs and really learn the game. She couldn't think of a better place to start, and neither can we.

Throughout the course, we couldn't help but keep commenting on how gorgeous the setting was. Is. Beautiful deciduous trees were sporting fall colors, and more than one hole reminded us of east coast courses we'd played. The holes are nicely varied, and well-placed into the landscape--we'd recommend seeking it out and playing it even if you don't have occasion to stay at Rancho Manana.

For non-golfers, there's plenty to do. I started most mornings in a small, serene yoga class in a beautiful round room with low lights, a central fountain and a very experienced and gentle teacher. Extra-thick yoga mats enabled us to work out in the tiled room without hurting our feet. I wish I could start every morning of my life like that!

The gym is impressive. State of the art, and much larger than many gyms we've been to in our travels. It was also well-maintained, and no extra charge was assessed for its use--something I really appreciated since I was there every day. Though we didn't get a chance to have any treatments while we were there since we were golfing and sightseeing so much, we did catch a peek at the treatment rooms and met some of the staff. I can't imagine the treatments were anything but heavenly. Next time!

During our stay, we hit some of the local restaurants and shops and had some fun sightseeing. The day we planned to drive up to Sedona, unfortunately was the day that major storm was surging over Arizona, so we got halfway there, encountered a blizzard, and decided to turn around. It only enabled us to go back to Rancho Manana and have yet another fine meal at Tonto's, a fire in the fireplace, and a great jacuzzi bath before bed, Not a bad compromise! (We didn't know how the gas fireplace worked--we called the concierge and within 2 minutes a nice man named Sean rang our doorbell and showed us how to start it).

Cave Creek, Arizona, Property #T1228
Rancho Manana, Cave Creek, Arizona, T1228
The pool area is quite pretty, with bronze cabanas over some of the lounge chairs for those who want to be poolside but not in the sun. Ambient chillout music plays to set a serene mood, and the free-form pool is landscaped with indigenous rocks and outcroppings that also incorporate the two (three?) jacuzzis, which overlook the golf course and the mountains beyond. If you can't exhale and relax here, I'm afraid there's something wrong with you.

Outlet Stores are not far away--we scored bigtime at the Adidas store one day when it was rainy--then took in a movie at a nearby mall. No need to feel like you're "in the boonies" unless of course you WANT to.

My husband and I would return to Rancho Manana without hesitation. If you're looking to play some golf, decelerate a little bit and re-charge your batteries, this is a no-brainer! We thank the staff, our host, and Trade To Travel for this happy introduction to a phenomenal venue we hope you all get to experience.

Happy Travels!

Deborah and Bill Howell
Topanga, California