The ‘desert cities’ of south eastern California offer a truly rich travel experience. During my recent visit, my home-from-home was the spectacular Westin Desert Willows Villas resort. Set amongst striking desert scenery, and close to unique nature reserves; it is at the heart of the Greater Palm Springs area renowned for sun, style and serious relaxation, writes Andrew Forbes.
I love the desert landscapes of the USA and this year it was a dream come true as I managed to visit the Joshua Tree National Park, home to those iconic yucca trees with outstretched branches topped with spiky leaves.
My base for my desert adventure was Palm Desert & Rancho Mirage, two of the towns that make up the Greater Palm Springs area. I was a guest of The Westin Desert Willow Villas – and I wish I could have stayed longer!
…this is the perfect time to enjoy the desert
It’s such a comfortable place to stay. Even in the heart of early summer, the dry air is comfortable. Now, as autumn and winter comes to Europe this is the perfect time to enjoy the desert. I just love the remarkable clear morning and evening light, and the amazing starry night skies!
Amongst the arid landscape are immaculately manicured, lush resorts like the Westin Desert Willow Villas. Landscaped gardens and golf courses stretch out into the distance, with the dramatic mountains as a striking backdrop. You’ll sure to fall under the spell of this captivating part of California.
There is a regional airport at Palm Springs, but the easiest way to get here is to fly to Los Angeles, and rent a car and make the few hours’ drive east. Traffic in Los Angeles is notoriously bad, so try and avoid the morning and afternoon peak rush. Generally, the journey is enjoyable and feels like a mini road trip – there’s lots to see on the way, and there are some great outlet shopping centres just before you arrive, so allow time to stop off there.
Stylish Palm Desert
Palm Springs is the most iconic and well-known town within the area. It’s got a real retro-chic vibe, with classic mid-century modern villas, motels and hotels conveying a flavour of the area’s glamorous heyday.
Nearby Palm Desert is a stylish choice with great restaurants, and upscale designer shopping at ‘The Shops on El Paseo’. It is also well positioned to allow guests to enjoy the galleries of Palm Springs and attractions such as the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway which will take you to the peak in the San Jacinto Mountains.
Palm Desert is also perfect for making a day trip to the Joshua Tree National Park. This is an incredible experience, starting in the high Mojave Desert, and going down to the low Colorado Desert. The landscapes, scenery, trees and cactus are stunning!
…expect world-class golf, superb family facilities; spas; wellness; & fine-dining
With the entertainment hubs of Los Angeles, a couple of hundred kilometres west of Palm Desert, as well as Las Vegas some 400 kilometres to the north, the desert has always been a popular oasis retreat for Hollywood celebrities and stage performers wishing to escape to a simpler lifestyle.
That’s as true now as it was in the golden age of cinema or the glamorous days of ‘Frank, Dino and Sammy’, and the Rat Pack. Today you can expect world-class golf, superb family facilities with pools and gardens; spa and wellness; as well as relaxed and fun places to eat.
I really like the Westin brand – it’s not the most exclusive, yet it offers excellent value, superb comfort with a touch of luxury that’s perfect for a holiday with family or friends. You know that you are going to have a quality guest experience and more importantly than anything, feel welcome!
In my experience, the Westin Desert Willow Villas truly captured the values of Westin; and General Manager Jim Moran and his team really know how to make guests feel welcome and at home.
The main reception building offers a Concierge Desk to help plan days-out; and additional facilities are distributed across the resort. Expect tennis courts; a fitness studio; family room; kids club; games room; and the opportunity to enjoy the adjacent Desert Willow Golf Resort.
I knew I was going to love the Westin Desert Willow Villas as soon as I draw up outside the reception building. I was greeted by a member of the team offering a welcoming frozen margarita and once inside waiting at the front desk there was a huge cheese board with crackers, and some refreshing frozen grapes – it really set the tone for a friendly, welcoming stay.
Accommodation is in private one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartment ‘villas’ that are available as timeshare or for holiday rentals.
They are in a series of apartment villa blocks located around the estate resort. So, once you check in you can get back in your car and drive right up to your building. There is plenty of shaded parking and access is easy to the building, and there are lifts too. The setting is beautiful, with spectacular views over the golf course and gardens on to the Santa Rosa Mountains.
Elegant & well-appointed
My villa was exceptionally well-appointed, and presented as a genuine home-from-home. The elegant open plan living, and dining area was furnished in tones and textures that echoed the surrounding Sonoran Desert. The large sofa is also a sofa bed, providing additional space for guests. The room opened onto a with private terrace balcony overlooking the manicured grounds.
The entertainment included flat screen HDTV, Blu-ray player, and Bose® sound system; as well as free high-speed internet.
The fully-equipped American kitchen had everything a family would want for a self-catering holiday. There was a coffee machine, microwave, large US fridge, dishwasher, oven etc. as well as all the small details like tea towels, dishwasher solution, coffee filter papers etc. that allow you to enjoy the property straight away. There was also a washer and dryer that’s so handy when you’re on a vacation.
Within easy walking distance there were also numerous smart and well-appointed BBQ grilling areas throughout the resort where one could enjoy an all-American cook-out.
The bedroom had a king size with Westin Heavenly signature bedding; large closet, and floor to ceiling terrace window doors. Expect another flat screen TV too. By the bed was a relaxing Heavenly lavender oil to help one relax.
The bathroom came with Heavenly bath robes & amenities – and included a tub as well as a huge walk-in shower.
Everything was prepared to high standards and was immaculate Yet more than that were wee welcoming, personalised touches that I really liked.
There was a gift basket and wine, as well as a framed photo of the resort that members of the team had signed as a truly personalised welcome.
The resort is well designed, creating spaces for several types of activities and moods.
From the quiet gardens, to the livelier 24-hour family area with large cinema screen so the young ones can enjoy a movie whilst the parents sit on the adjacent terrace enjoying a cocktail and snacks.
Agave Grill & Bar
The main hub for dining is the Agave Grill & Bar. Here Executive Chef Carlos Mares heads a kitchen that is adept at creating family-friendly All-American favourites like gourmet burgers or tasty nachos as well as more sophisticated dishes such as sea bass with herb crust or fresh kale from his kitchen garden lightly fried in olive oil with salt, pepper and parmesan.
The meal we enjoyed out on the terrace was excellent; it showcased the diversity of what’s on offer. We started with a Mediterranean style board of cold cuts, including locally sourced salami and a locally made burrata.
Then we enjoyed really tasty local dates wrapped in bacon with cheese; and then the lightly fried kale. Main dishes of yellowfin tuna as well as seabass with herb crust were fine examples of how in addition to tasty snacks and sharing plates you can also order sophisticated restaurant dishes too.
The peaches with caramel ice-cream were a splendid way to end an excellent meal.
There’s such a great atmosphere on the resort. You can be chilling on the terrace having a meal, whilst families play in the pool, friends enjoy drinks on the deck – music is playing, the breeze is warm – its just feels great.
The focus at the Agave Grill & Bar is on creating a relaxed and fun environment that allows guests to order what they want from a hearty burger to a fine-dining dish. The bar offers local and international beers as well as a broad selection of wines and great cocktails.
Sanctuary Pool Bar
In addition to the main restaurant there is a pool bar offering al fresco dining with splendid views.
Mountain View Marketplace
For light snacks and take-away treats, visit the on-site Mountain View Marketplace that offer Starbucks coffee.
Of course, this is a self-catering residential resort, so there are lots of options to enjoy dining without going to the restaurant. You can use the grill areas; have a picnic, or dine on the terrace of your villa.
The Last Word
My stay was too short – I could have stayed a week at least! This was one of the most enjoyable destinations on my recent North American trip and that was down to a large part to the hospitality and welcome of General Manager Jim Moran and his team.
Westin Desert Willow Villas really understands hospitality – great facilities, elegant and comfortable villas and varied dining options from Chef Carlos Mares and his team. I really recommend a stay here.
(During my visit to the Sonoran Desert I also stayed at Mission Hills – you can read my spotlight of the Westin Mission Hills Villas here).