by Judith Fein
photos by Paul Ross

Some people like their vacations exciting and stimulating, but, increasingly, many are opting for holidays that are soothing, regenerative, and restful. There has been a boom in spa construction and men who once scorned terry cloth robes, flip-flops and massages are finding out what women knew all along: nurturing, pampering and exercise are good for the body and soul. Spa cognoscenti who have jet-setted around the globe have discovered a world-class destination right here in the USA–in Tucson, Arizona. The resorts are luxurious, and the spa food and drink are not the sprouts-and-wheat-grass-juice horrors you imagine; the fare is varied and sophisticated, and the drink du jour, Prickly Pear Cactus Margaritas, deserves the raves it is garnering.The prickly pear cactus is found in all of the deserts of the American southwest, with different species appearing at different locales and elevations. The flowers may be yellow, red or purple, and the fruits are often large, juicy and reddish purple. They dot the end of flat, fleshy, spiny pads that look like huge leaves. These pads (which are, in reality, modified stems and branches) serve several purposes–water storage, photosynthesis and flower production.

When the fruits aren’t in season, aficionados use prickly pear syrup, and the margaritas have a fruity, icy taste.where the tequila sneaks up on you. You lift your glass to your lips.there is a hint of tequila.then a fresh, satisfying sweetness that blends with the alcohol. At spas that have a “no alcohol” policy, prickly pear addicts can get a booze-free virgin margarita.

Prickly Pear Margarita

Prickly Pear Margarita

So what do you do at the spas when you’re not imbibing cactus juice?

At Canyon Ranch, there is every kind of workout imaginable for the outer and inner self, with up to ten activities going on simultaneously. At Miraval, there is a deep spiritual component (with everything from a labyrinth to psychics) and a unique equestrian program that is one step shy of horse whispering. The Westin La Paloma boasts pools, tennis, a full gym, the award-winning Janos restaurant and the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa. The Westward Look Resort is an 80-acre desert oasis with major tennis facilities, nature trails and a “three mud wrap” in their spa that is guaranteed to melt away your worries. And Lowe’s Ventana Canyon Resort, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains, is identified by its six-word mission statement: escape, unwind, inspire, rejuvenate, balance, indulge. Their hot stone massage–where heated river rocks are applied to aching and tired muscles– is magical.

When your spa visit is over, you can take your new health regime home with you, and you can transport yourself back to the Sonoran desert of Arizona by mixing and pouring a refreshing Prickly Pear Margarita. Choose from the following lip-licking recipes:

The Westward Look signature drink: 2 oz Herradura tequila, 1 oz Triple Sec, 1 oz lime juice, 1 oz prickly pear syrup, 2 oz Sweet and Sour Mix. Mix and serve on the rocks or frozen. Dampen rim of glass with lime juice before dipping into rock salt. Enjoy!

The Loew’s version: 1 oz Cuervo Gold Tequila, 1/2 oz Grand Marnier, 1/2 oz. Triple Sec, 1/2 oz. Fresh lime juice, 2 oz. Sweet n’ Sour Mix, 2 oz. Prickly Pear Syrup.

The Canyon Ranch alcohol-free 4-serving recipe: l/3 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 2/3 cup fresh lime juice, 2/3 cup orange juice, 1 tbspn fresh lemon juice, 1/4 cup prickly pear syrup. Combine sugar and water in a medium pitcher and allow to dissolve. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve cold or over ice.

To order Prickly Pear Products: 1-800-205-9499 or

For Tucson spa information:

PLEASE NOTE: Photos are available for all locations and articles listed in the “articles” section. Please contact us for samples and pricing