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Treat yourself with a retreat to Tucson

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There is a rugged beauty in the hillsides around Tucson.

RON PRADINUK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

There is a rugged beauty in the hillsides around Tucson. Photo Store

Over the past several years the Phoenix area has become a major tourist destination for Manitobans and hundreds of Manitobans have purchased homes and condos in the surrounding Arizona communities of Scottsdale, Mesa and Tempe.

With regular WestJet flights starting before the winter season and continuing after the snow is gone, plus equally attractive lift from Grand Forks by Allegiant Airlines for those more budget conscious, it is no wonder Canadians in this state are so well-treated.

With the greatest concentration of visits centred around the Phoenix area, fewer choose to take the couple of extra hours' drive to Tucson, the capital city of the state. By not doing so they are missing out on a real holiday treat.

With a population of just over half a million, Tucson offers much more of a community feeling. In addition, pricing is often lower, whether people are considering buying properties or just looking for a quality place to stay.

Almost completely surrounded by mountain ranges, there is a particular beauty in the desert-like hillsides, dotted by cactus formations that seem as if they were placed there by a sculptor. At various times of the day, with the ever-changing shadows, the landscape before you evolves into an almost hourly new scenic experience.

The downtown area of Tucson has a completely different feel to it than the areas of the surrounding metropolitan Phoenix area.

That takes nothing away from what the Phoenix region has to offer, but the dynamic of Tucson is like that of a small town. With much of its expansion to outlying areas, the core has kept much of its original charm and character.

Tucson, in addition to being the legislative centre, is a college city, home to the University of Arizona.

Walking along 4th Avenue, the influence of youthful presence has lent an air of energy and creativity to this quaint restaurant, bar and shopping district in the heart of the city.

Monikers such as Bumsted's, Wrappers and the Surley Wench Pub, all housed in single or two-storey buildings, adorn the colourful exteriors of the several blocks of this downtown attraction.

There are a few mega-structures that can be found nearby and around the city, but Tucson's symbols of growth and prosperity are found less in its race for bigness and tall buildings and more in its development of surrounding communities that have formed their own economic development opportunities.

Many of the Manitobans who visit and stay in the state do so, in no small part, because of the abundance of golf courses that seem to have become an integral part of resort properties.

What one becomes impressed with very quickly when driving through the state, and around Tucson, is the quality of the highway system.

The stable weather means roads will automatically last longer, but in this state as well, this part of infrastructure investment seems paramount.

Distances seem to shrink when signage is plentiful and clear, and six- and eight-lane highways with higher speed-limit postings make travel from place to place convenient.

On my first journey to Arizona less than a month ago, I travelled with a friend for a three-day golf outing. There truly is an abundance of remarkable golf courses around Tucson.

On this occasion we stayed at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort and Spa.

Here, taking advantage of the off-peak-season prices being offered, we ran into other Manitobans enjoying the same kind of golf chase we had come to experience.

Loews is an excellent choice for families and golfers.

For the golf enthusiast, it is attached to two of the finest courses around. Both the Ventana Canyon and Ventana Mountain tracks will challenge the best of golfers from the back tees, while providing a most enjoyable and scenic round from the forward boxes.

The resort is a pet-friendly property with hiking trails laid out for both dog walking and serious hill or mountain trail excursions.

There is a Coyote Kids Club for the youngest in the family and organized options for the teens. Seeing a few Winnipeg Jets T-shirts and hats helped create a homey atmosphere for us as we walked about the resort.

On this occasion, golf was our attraction. After staying close to the resort for two days, we felt drawn to test the Dove Mountain course located just outside of Tucson. It is just a few kilometres off the I-10 highway that leads back to Phoenix.

Connected to the Ritz Carleton Hotel, it will host the Accenture PGA Tour championship in February. Most of the major players on the tour will be there, so we decided to preview what so many will be watching on television at that time.

With sand traps dotted throughout every hole and cactus-filled deserts waiting to punish any golfer who thinks he can escape the cuts and scratches of cacti needles, this event promises to be a significant challenge for the best of pros.

There is no doubt in my mind dozens of Manitobans will be lining the fairways for that event.

My very first experience in the Tucson region was a most positive one. For those thinking Arizona, a deeper look into holidaying there is well warranted.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2013 E2

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