Earlier this year, TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel community (more than 10 million registered members at www.tripadvisor.com) featuring online reviews of hotels and attractions, released its annual Travelers’ Choice Awards, which include the top 10 inns and B&Bs in the United States. Sedona properties took the top three spots: Canyon Villa Inn of Sedona, Boots & Saddles and The Canyon Wren Cabins for Two, respectively, won the honor. No other properties in Arizona, or even the Southwest, made the cut. This tremendous accolade made us curious: What is it about Sedona bed and breakfasts and B&B owners that make this town stand out above all the rest?
We chose the top five highest rated Sedona B&Bs according to TripAdvisor on April 1, 2009 to find out what makes them tick. Take a look at who and what is behind the door at Canyon Villa Inn of Sedona, Boots & Saddles Bed & Breakfast, The Canyon Wren Cabins for Two, Sedona Cathedral Hideaway and Sedona Views Bed & Breakfast. Each innkeeper has a different story and a different reason for welcoming a steady stream of houseguests, while each B&B has a distinctly different atmosphere and location. Gone are the days of Newhart, busy-body innkeepers and shared bathrooms at the end of the hall. Instead, don’t be surprised if you sit down to a gourmet three-course breakfast with a group of strangers and leave with lifelong friends.
Canyon Villa Inn of Sedona: #1
Les Belch admits most guests are surprised to find Canyon Villa Inn of Sedona, TripAdvisor’s highest rated bed and breakfast as of spring 2009, located in a residential neighborhood comprised mostly of apartment buildings. When they open the front door at the Village of Oak Creek property and find an entryway decorated with awards the bed and breakfast began receiving back in 1993 – and then spy the view of Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock from the great room windows – they know they’ve reached the right place. Les and his wife, Peg, purchased Canyon Villa Inn from its original owners in 2000. The Belches owned an independent insurance agency in Ohio, but when they began vacationing in Sedona, they knew they needed to head west. Their big question was the same all would-be Sedona residents ask themselves: How are we going to make a living? When the original owners decided to sell the Belches’ favorite B&B, they decided it was the perfect way to live in Sedona and have a home with great views. Les likes to joke, “I couldn’t afford these views if I wasn’t running an inn out of my house!”
A local architect built the 11-room Canyon Villa Inn in 1992 to be a bed and breakfast. Only a year later, the property was the first bed and breakfast in Arizona to receive a AAA Four Diamond rating; Canyon Villa Inn has received that rating every year since. Les and Peg live on-site, something Les feels is very important to customer service and is the driving factor behind the property’s many accolades. “It’s a stressful life,” he says. “We’ve had guests in our home for 10 years and you always have to sleep with one eye open in case anyone needs anything. But it’s all about the guests and we need to be here for them.”
Each of the 11 individually decorated rooms is named after a desert plant – five have fireplaces and 10 have red rock views. Each room has a jetted bathtub and patio or balcony. The inn backs up against the National Forest with walking paths right outside the front door. The swimming pool, rose garden and outdoor fireplace have some of the best views in Sedona: Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte loom so close you feel like you could stretch out and lay your hands against the warm red rock.
An estimated 18,000 guests have stayed at the B&B over the last 17 years, including the lead singer of hard rock band Anthrax and actor Matthew McConaughey, who spent three nights at the inn, even though most of the other guests were oblivious to his celebrity status. “He just looked like a kid wearing a baseball cap,” says Les.
Canyon Villa Inn of Sedona
When Irith Raz says she loves a challenge, there’s a twinkle in her eye that reveals a lot about the husband and wife team responsible for TripAdvisor’s second and fifth favorite Sedona bed and breakfasts: Boots & Saddles and Sedona Views. Irith and Sam have a storied past quite different from their present. They met in their homeland of Israel when they were kids and recently celebrated their 39th anniversary. Sam earned his Ph.D. in textile technology while Irith was an architectural draftswoman and, later, an interior designer. They landed in the United States in 1992, first in Pennsylvania, then in Virginia and later California. When the textile mills started moving business offshore, the Razes decided it was time for a change. They began looking for a bed and breakfast to purchase and landed on Boots & Saddles. They moved to Sedona in 2003.
“We’d never been to Sedona,” recalls Irith. “At first, I was disappointed! We arrived at a very rare time when the clouds were very low and you couldn’t see the red rocks. I didn’t even know they were here – we were so focused on finding the right business that we were just looking at numbers.”
Irith and Sam had decided to purchase a B&B for two reasons: They enjoyed staying at bed and breakfasts when they traveled, and they were used to having a steady stream of houseguests. “It felt like I already ran a B&B,” jokes Irith. Boots & Saddles was a three-room Swiss chalet when the couple purchased it. Irith put her architectural and interior design background to work, completely remodeling the West Sedona property and adding three rooms. The rooms all have a cowboy theme. Irith and Sam also redesigned the front of the property to fit more with the natural environment. It’s now the color of the red rocks with a waterfall in the backyard and a pod of chile peppers hanging by the front door.
The remodel was complete in 2007 and, one year later, Irith and Sam decided one B&B just wasn’t enough. When the Wishing Well Bed & Breakfast was put on the real estate market, Irith jumped at the chance to own the property she’d always loved, located at the top of a narrow road at the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon. The couple bought the B&B in August 2008, spent five weeks remodeling all five rooms and reopened at the end of summer. Each room is a fusion of Old World and southwestern décor. Hardwood floors, fireplaces, and private decks with hot tubs and sweeping views of the red rocks and Oak Creek Canyon draw repeat guests. The public decks are outfitted with furniture, bird feeders, a telescope and a waterfall that attracts wildlife.
Both Boots & Saddles and Sedona Views serve multi-course breakfasts with recipes created by Sam and the couple’s professional chef son-in-law. Guests never experience the same breakfast twice, right down to the place settings and dishes. Irith and Sam divide their time between the two locations (they live at Boots & Saddles in separate quarters). All guests receive an extensive orientation about Sedona, including maps with the must-see spots and tips on the Razes’ favorite hikes and drives. Irith admits running two of Sedona’s most popular B&Bs can be exhausting, but she has no plans to slow down any time soon.
Boots & Saddles Bed & Breakfast
Sedona Views Bed & Breakfast: #5
Sedona Views Bed & Breakfast
The Canyon Wren Cabins for Two: #3
Milena Pfeifer sits next to the koi pond at The Canyon Wren Cabins for Two, surrounded by flowering trees and chirping birds, and says two different types of people live and vacation in Sedona: those who prefer Sedona proper and those who prefer Oak Creek Canyon. “Canyon people like the appeal of staying outside of town, of removing themselves at the end of the day,” says the co-owner of the bed and breakfast. “They want to be near the rocks but also near the creek. We have cooler temperatures and we’re greener.”
Indeed, TripAdvisor’s No. 3 B&B has a completely different feeling from the four other favorites in Sedona. Located six miles up Oak Creek Canyon, the four 500-square-foot cabins – three of which are two-story – have a mountain vibe. You won’t find prickly pear cactus or Native American art, but you will find flower boxes, sycamores, bird houses, hammocks, grassy lawns, private patios with gas grills, wood-burning fireplaces, full kitchens, whirlpool bathtubs and country furnishings. Breakfast is simple – Milena’s husband and the property’s other owner, Mike Smith, wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to bake muffins and cinnamon rolls, which are served alongside fruit, juice, coffee and tea. Guests can dine together outdoors or enjoy their breakfast in their cabins. Every day, Mike’s fresh-baked brownies are delivered to the rooms.
Born in Slovenia, Milena is no stranger to hospitality – her family has a background in the industry. In 1976, her parents opened Slide Rock Lodge and, in 1977, Milena moved to Sedona to be closer to her family. Milena and her father designed and built Canyon Wren (then called Slide Rock Cabins) in 1985, after the death of Milena’s mother. The cabins were located right next to Slide Rock Lodge. “No one thought we could fit four cabins on a 100 by 100 [foot] lot,” she says. “We were the last newly built property in Oak Creek Canyon.”
Milena married Mike, who was from Florida and also relocated to Sedona in 1977, in 1991. When Milena’s father died three years later, the couple sold Slide Rock Lodge and renamed the cabins Canyon Wren after Milena’s favorite bird. In fact, the B&B has become a destination for bird watchers from all over the world. Milena says she began feeding the birds 23 years ago and has lost count of all the species that dine and nest on the property. There’s the constant sound of singing, chirping birds that’s audible even from the highway. Milena and Mike have extra pairs of binoculars (and hiking supplies) for anyone interested in doing some serious bird-watching.
Many married couples will admit they’d never be able to work together, but that’s obviously not the case with Mike and Milena. “Mike tells everyone that I needed a maintenance man and he needed a job so we were a match made in heaven,” Milena laughs. “We’re a great team, and we really like each other.”
Sedona Cathedral Hideaway: #4
To put it succinctly, if you are drawn to Cathedral Rock and the iconic Red Rock Crossing, there’s no other property in Sedona with better views than the tucked away Sedona Cathedral Hideaway. And if you’re the type of traveler who likes to make friends on vacation, or just revels in being pampered, than owners Larry and Kathy Jaeckel will win your heart.
Sedona Cathedral Hideaway, a five-minute walk from Red Rock Crossing, only has two rooms, the Evergreen and the Safari, ranging from 700 to 1000 square feet. The list of amenities is a mile long. Each room has a flat-screen TV, walk-in closet, refrigerator, microwave, two-person jetted bathtub and separate shower, humidifier, warming towel rack, gas fireplace, private phone line and hidden wall speakers for playing your iPod. Kathy, a licensed esthetician, has a salon on-site for facials and skincare treatments.
Maybe it’s because they’ve only been doing it for three years, or maybe it’s because owning a B&B in Sedona has to be better than acting as assistant warden in a juvenile correctional facility, but Larry and Kathy seem to love having houseguests. The breakfast menu includes choices such as a pancake medley, egg pizza and Kathy’s special: a poached egg in a pastry shell with crab and avocado. Guests have their choice of everything, right down to turkey or pork sausage in patties or links. They eat breakfast at a time that’s convenient for their schedule and have the choice of dining outside, in their room or in the indoor dining area. Larry and Kathy do all the cooking (and all the cleaning). Afternoon snacks can include anything from fresh soup to homemade ice cream – it all depends on the guest.
Sedona Cathedral Hideaway