I wasn’t sure what to think about this new addition to the Best Boutique Hotels in Flagstaff list. But after a two-night stay, I was duly impressed and truly infatuated with the eye-catching design that met me around every corner. Here’s what you can expect:
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If you are hip to dramatic, well-designed boutique hotels, then High Country Motor Lodge, affectionately known as HCML, is the place for you. New owners just pumped $13M into renovating an iconic Route 66 motor hotel, and the result is stunning.
They have cultivated an environment that reflects Flagstaff’s
This hip stop is a must-visit for architecture nerds like me and design lovers like many of my friends. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a guest at the resort to enjoy the eye-catching design of the bar, the firepits on the outdoor decks or the fanciful food menu. But if you reserve a spot in the 123-room boutique hotel, then all the better!
Exceptional entry of this buzzworthy Flagstaff hotel
The wide porte cochère makes a statement as you pull up under the entry to this vintage 1962 motel, which just reopened this summer. Push wide the side-by-side plate glass doors freshly decked with a gold vinyl design that makes a statement of the luxury you’ll find within.
Gathering places that welcome extended sitdowns
The long, dark entry leads you past enormous photographic prints of vintage river runners of the 1950s and 60s, which hang on the walls awash in deep blue hues. The aesthetic has a feel of stepping through thresholds into another place and era. In next to no time, you arrive at a gathering place that welcomes an extended sit with cozy furniture custom designed and built for the space by a firm in Chicago.
The luxury boutique hotel rennovated to make better use of space
Off the central gathering space that once was the lobby, the HCML reception area, a General Store and the cocktail bar radiate from the center. The front desk counter—no longer up front— has been compressed and relegated out of sight, where according to your druthers, you check in with a friendly human or on convenient iPad stations where you make your own keys.
The bar design at this boutique hotel in Flagstaff is served up with a twist of 60s
In the 60s, the front desk counter would have been the focal point, but it now takes a back seat to the inviting lounge area.
You could almost call the adjacent gastropub a lobby bar. Still, with a wall of floor-to-ceiling retractable glass to the bi-level patio out back, it might be considered more of an avenue to the outdoors—or to the gathering spaces that direct the eye, and the flow of traffic around a nook to additional seating with a communal table, of course, and through that restful area to a sizeable game room.
One of the best family-friendly boutique hotels in Flagstaff
During one of my visits, a European family playfully shot pool on the sable felted table while two young men played chess on one of the game tables. In this space, another floor-to-ceiling plate-glass window, so popular in the 1960s, invited the eye outdoors, and the dark fireplace on the adjacent wall seemed to stand sullen and resentful of all the out-of-doors attention. Draperies fold back to invite you into the off-shoot spaces or close to create privacy for group meetings, book clubs or intimate gatherings.
HCML is one of the family-friendly boutique hotels in Flagstaff that provides games, a plunge pool and kid-friendly healthy snacks in the General Store, including “Inside-Out S’mores.”
Bringing Flagstaff's great outdoors in
From the bar, the floor-to-ceiling glass retracts, revealing the Ponderosa pine-studded Mars Hill, blue skies and mountain-fresh air. Neighboring Mars Hill is home to Lowell Observatory, where astronomers discovered Pluto and the International Dark Sky City program was launched. Read more about things to do in Flagstaff’s Great Outdoors.
Loads of natural lighting are juxtaposed with midcentury-style chandeliers that cast a glow to the oriental rugs and intimate seating areas below. Potted plants bring the outdoors in with just the right opulence of greenery.
The cocktail lounge’s Colorado River running theme extends to the menu. You’ll sip cocktails such as the Goddess of Glen Canyon with fresh-squeezed grapefruit and vodka that harkens to a surprise décor photo at the hotel’s entryway. Or nip the Canyon Bound Mule, another vodka drink with ginger beer, of course, or the Emerald Mile, the house margarita.
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Swimming pool at High Country Motor Lodge in Flagstaff
The edgy design flows out through the patio, with seating kept cozy by gas firepits, and then into the central green and cold plunge pool, the largest pool in Northern Arizona. Shaded cabanas line the far edge of the swimming pool, and the depression for a 16-person jetted hot tub awaits its finishing touches of concrete and tile refinement.
A few steps away from the future hot tub are two tiny cedar houses that contain dressing rooms and private saunas. The Nordic Spa Experience, an add-on service for hotel guests, comes with towels, long, Nordic-style hooded bath robes, an outdoor shower and a seating area that sports a gas fireplace. My insider tip is to reserve the Nordic Spa Experience early in your hotel visit to have a robe in your room for the remainder of your stay.
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The Nordic Spa Experience at HCML
The Nordic Spa Experience, one of the first of its kind in Arizona, is an add-on guest experience that provides relaxation and Scandinavian healthy practices. You may reserve one of two cedar sauna cabins in a private, fenced compound inside one of the best boutique hotels in Flagstaff.
Discover the healing power of the sauna, a centuries-old tradition that incorporates hot and cold therapies. During the 50-minute session, intervals of hot, cold and relaxation are part of the therapeutic process:
1.) Gently warm your body in the private sauna, feel the sweat and its health benefits, then
2.) Cool in the shower or plunge pool, followed by a
3.) Soak in the plunge pool to reduce pressure on joints and inflammation, then finally
4.) Relax at the fire pit while replenishing liquids and minerals with complimentary electrolytes and water drinks provided in a cooler in the private dressing area. Repeat.
What to expect during the Nordic Spa Experience
The two-room bathhouse has a private dressing room and an adjacent heated dry sauna. If you prefer steam, water and a rustic wooden ladle are available for putting sprinkling water on the hot rocks. Flip the wall-mounted hourglass timer on the wall to keep track of your 15-minute intervals.
After 15 minutes, I stepped out of my private sauna bathhouse and jumped into the cold outdoor shower. Be aware that you share the outdoor shower with Nordic Experience participants from the other bathhouse, so don’t be surprised if your “private” experience becomes clubby.
After the cooling shower, I drank some of the water provided in my private dressing room and then stepped back into the hot sauna. After another 15 minutes, I left the secluded area and went to the large pool for a polar plunge. That cooled me off sufficiently for a final warm-up in the sauna, after which I headed back to my room dressed in my sauna robe.
I could have relaxed next to the fire pit, which I shared with people from the other sauna house but private from the rest of the resort, but I did not.
The Nordic Spa Experience was a delightful hot-cold affair. But make sure to wear a bathing suit for the cold shower and plunge pool.
Reserve the Nordic Spa Experience for yourself or your group at the reception desk. The 50-minute session is $50.
UNSTOPPABLE Travel Tip: Reserve the Nordic Spa Experience for your first day at the resort, and then you will have a robe that you can use throughout your stay.
Uncommon dining experience at one of the newest boutique hotels in Flagstaff
Order pinsa-style pizza from the General Store, and it will be served to you at your fire pit retreat or other spots in the resort. The artisan-style hand-pressed pizza dough is shipped in from Rome. Italiano aficionados won’t be disappointed with the Margherita, the High Desert (my personal favorite with arugula, tomatoes, burrata, prosciutto and balsamic drizzle) or the Drifter’s Escape spread with ricotta, lemon zest, roasted zucchini, chili flakes and lemon ash. Salads, sandwiches and healthy breakfasts are also provided via this uncommon dining experience.
“Flagstaff is a very outdoorsy place, and we try to be as accommodating to that as possible,” says Ellie, who serves clients in the General Store, not an ordinary hotel pantry with healthy provisions you wouldn’t usually see.
The bar and fire pits at High Country Motor Lodge make a perfect après-ski or après-river running spot or a getaway into another world for the weary Munds Park wanderer. The only difficulty will be deciding where you want to relax, outdoors or inside, at one of the many comfy gathering spots.
Rooms at HCML, one of the best boutique hotels in Flagstaff
When I first entered my spacious guest room, it felt a bit TOO big. Still, later during my site tour, High Country Motor Lodge General Manager Tara Lehr explained that renovators designed the rooms for Flagstaff travelers, which typically need extra space for ski and snowboard equipment, outdoor gear, dogs and additional family members.
Later I also realized that the former Holiday Inn rooms, which, BTW, I’d spent 1000s of nights in during my 1980s-90s traveling sales career, were opened up in the recent remake by eliminating the closet. In its stead is a freestanding metal garment rack with a wooden cabinet that doubles as a luggage stand and console for extra bedding. I also like the abundance of wall hooks guests could use to hang ski jackets, raincoats and dog leashes. HCML is one of the few Flagstaff Boutique hotels that offer dog-friendly rooms, by the way.
The guest room colors reflect the beauty of northern Arizona forests and are dark, soothing and intimate. Solid wood trim and dark green walls mimic the nearby forest.
Moss green sitting chairs with enough support to be work chairs at the small round table with a wrought iron pedestal that harken to the turn of the century.
Toiletries with more sustainable formulation and packaging practices
In the bathroom, the forest green walls show off the snowy white 100% cotton towels and white tiled walk-in shower handsomely outfitted with black fixtures. Toiletries include cilantro hair conditioner, rum body wash and peppermint shampoo by Malin+Goetz. All are cruelty-free and vegan.
The under-mount sink is outside the bathroom and built into a modern countertop that supports the coffee and tea area and an under-counter mini refrigerator.
Pour-over Vietnamese coffee
To eliminate plastic waste, the HCML provides an electric kettle, pour-over coffee with Copper Cow premium Vietnamese blends and an assortment of organic whole-leaf Tea Drop teas.
Above the brewing area are shelves with a minimalistic wooden tissue box and a vase holding sprigs of eucalyptus. The light dimmer is a real upgrade.
Light fixtures on each side of the comfortable bed also have dimmers, and in general, all the lighting in the room enhances the intimate, cushy atmosphere. In addition, many electric outlets with USB ports make charging your devices easy.
Retro mood music
Tipping a hat to Route 66 just out the front door, each room has a retro Crosley cassette player with Bluetooth capability and FM radio. What’s more, you can listen to three unique mixtapes curated specifically for the High Country Motor Lodge.
The tall ceiling is painted white but with the rustic look of plywood placed there when builders poured the cement for the concrete walls and ceiling back in the early 60s.
Although the PTAC heating and air conditioning units aren’t incredibly efficient, they’re straightforward to use, and you don’t need an MIT degree to set the temperature and airflow as you wish. For example, I rarely need air conditioning in Flagstaff, so I turned it off. Once in a while, when entering my guest room, I turned the heat on to warm up the room and then turned off the unit for sleeping.
Tara shared that with the help of APS rebates, they are changing the PTAC units for more energy-efficient solutions.
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Hi, I’m Stacey
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel is a travel blog focused on immersive travel that highlights food, wine and the spirituality of place. I also occasionally write about life as a Camino de Santiago pilgrim. I hope you enjoy what I post here. Feel free to leave comments! Read more…
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As is common in the travel industry, DiscoverFlagstaff provided UNSTOPPABLE Stacey with accommodations for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the author believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
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