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French Tucson

A France-Inspired Trek to Tucson's Hotels, Spas, Restaurants and Attractions


Springtime blooms in the Tucson area are reminescent of lavender fields in Provence.

Springtime blooms in the Tucson area are reminescent of lavender fields in Provence.

© Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau/Gill Kenny

What? You don’t think there’s anything remotely “French” about Tucson, Arizona? Boy, are you wrong. For one thing, Tucson is a hauntingly beautiful city of extremes: sweeping desert on one hand and lush Southwest flora and fauna on the other. Hint: It’s a metaphor. For Paris. Not Hilton.

Tourism in Europe has hopped the pond. Thanks to a weak dollar, tourists are beginning to discover that Tucson is a stunningly beautiful part of America. So when (oh, you’ll go) you get there, don’t be surprised to hear gaggles conversing in Spanish, Italian, French or Russian with sprinkles of English thrown in now and then. Tucson speaks to Everyman.

French natives, by nature, may spend hours dissecting and deconstructing philosophy, literature and history, but true aficionados of excellence will undoubtedly agree on Tucson’s subtle beauty and distinct personality. Spoken also of many French women throughout literature.

Tucson's French Personality

A city of extremes — from the vagaries of climate to the wealth of French dining opportunities — Tucson offers a stimulating change from the same-old beach trek. With a hint of the old arrondisement.

And if there’s one thing the French can agree on, it’s the importance of appreciating and lauding beauty. Even if it means donning desert boots rather than de rigeur silk neck scarves. Naturellement, this historic town owes a debt to its wild cowboy past. And visitors with kids will find plenty to tres americain activities to salute — from Old Tucson Studios and its nod to the sci-fi movie, “Westworld,” to the simple joy of cavorting amid the abundance of cacti and desert blossoms.

Just be sure NOT to touch the plants. Even an accidental brush against one little cactus can result in unwanted “splinters.” I know, first-hand. Actually, left-hand on the ring finger.

So if you and your gang crave old-tyme cowboy action, check out Old Tucson for faux cowboy fights, saloon drinks and year-round fun where guests can dress up in cowboy garb or pretend to be the chanteuse-flavored entertainment.

French-Style Hospitality

With expert guidance from the friendly staff at the Tucson Convention & Visitors’ Bureau, you will find whatever you need, from accommodations in your price-range to gourmet French dining, worth every euro, er, dollar.

Kim Schmitz, the affable and well-informed Director of Communications & Public Relations for the city, knows Tucson like a Renaissance art specialist knows Michelangelo. Her entire team is willing and able to help you.

Frankly, I’ve visited larger cities whose info bureaus would do well to take a page from Kim’s “book” of visitor know-how. And know-who.

Kim didn’t blink an eye when I requested info on attractions, restaurants, resorts and spas with a French flare. Smart lady. She rattled off restaurants so fast I couldn’t keep pace, and if you choose to dine in any recommended, be prepared to work off those kilos by hiking, climbing, swimming or doing nada (I hear sleep burns calories…).

Undiscovered Tucson

Tucson is an oft-overlooked metropolis, despite it being the home of the University of Arizona and numerous accolade-ridden spas, resorts and outstanding Arnold Palmer-designed golf courses. Tucson’s image as an afterthought to Phoenix and its seam-bursting suburb of Scottsdale is a puzzlement to me.

In fact, it’s reminiscent of Philadelphia, which has always taken a backseat to New York City. Now, before you Philly fans object, I know that of which I speak: I’m a Philadelphia byproduct (like cheese steaks and the old television dance show, “American Bandstand”) living in New York.

In this case, I hope it remains thought of in such terms. I don’t want it to be “discovered.” I’m afraid it will lose its charm. But then I think of the wonderful, warm visitors and let them know it. They are the heart of Tucson — so I am reassured.

Finding France in Tucson

“French” Tucson can be found in odd places as well as the obvious, from the outstanding French-inspired fine dining southwestern cuisine experience you’ll discover at Janos Restaurant on the grounds of The Westin Paloma Resort and Spa, to French products used in discerning spas, including the Westin’s self-contained Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa.

This resort draws both a healthy number of conferences as well as the leisure travelers. And you would never know there were hundreds of people on site. In fact, conference attendees are typically placed in one wing and leisure guests in the other. Is that thoughtful and smart or what?

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