Vegas, baby, Vegas!’ That’s Vince Vaughn’s legendary line in Swingers while en route to the city where he’ll double down on blackjack and chasing women. Because that’s what Las Vegas is all about, isn’t it?
Vegas is for roulette drama, neon dreams up in smoke and too many whiskey chasers. It’s for cruising down the Strip at 6am in a gold limousine.
It’s for gorging on an Octuple Bypass burger at the Heart Attack Grill. It’s for raving to the beats of a superstar DJ. It’s for hasty decisions at the Little White Wedding Chapel.
Las Vegas, in short, is hedonism, excess and regret. If there’s one thing we can all agree Las Vegas is not, it’s health and wellbeing. Yet I’m here for precisely that — to explore the city’s lesser-known salubrious delights.
As someone whose lifestyle oscillates between that of green-juice Gwyneth Paltrow and all-nighter Ozzy Osbourne, the prospect of a ‘wellness’ holiday in Vegas is a pertinent conundrum.
Sian Boyle goes to Las Vegas for a wellness break, and takes a detour outside the city to admire the dramatic landscape around the Colorado River (pictured). ‘We drift past kayakers basking in springs, heated by volcanic rock,’ she writes
This week, I would not be Raoul Duke — the fictitious journalist sent on assignment in Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-hazed Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.
Yet as we touch down on the runway, the blazing landmarks of London, Paris and New York all light up as skyscraper hotels, I can’t help wonder: can Sin City really be done virtuously?
Yes, but at first it requires a little detour. Soon after arrival we are whisked away from lasers and lights and transported into tranquillity — yet not so far from the neon madness, just 40 miles or so.
Beyond the glassy Lake Mead, one of the largest artificial lakes in the world, we find ourselves in the Black Mountains of the Sierra Nevada, whose craggy red peaks and dramatic canyons are straight out of a spaghetti Western.
Behold! The Hoover Dam: a formidable feat of Depression-era engineering more than 700 ft tall. We step into the shadow of its colossal concrete archway to board a raft on which we spend the next three hours floating down the Colorado River.
For 12 peaceful miles, we are virtually the only souls within the vast Black Canyon, taking in swooping double-breasted cormorants, bufflehead ducks, a red-tailed hawk and a pair of bald eagles.
Arizona is to the left of us, Nevada to the right. We sail through remote cacti-speckled, coyote-prowled landscape — Clint Eastwood is nowhere to be seen, although we do witness a Hollywood drama of sorts ahead: a police helicopter practising a search-and-rescue mission, flying so low that it fans white water before thundering away.
Sian writes: ‘I can’t help wonder – can Sin City really be done virtuously?’
We drift past kayakers basking in springs, heated by volcanic rock, that the Navajo Native Americans believed were a sacred portal to another dimension. We spot the ‘emerald cave’, where a trick of light allows swimmers to bathe in ethereal green waters.
Kathleen, our guide, who has known these parts for decades and whose grandfather worked on the Hoover Dam’s construction, says: ‘Vegas is Vegas. But there’s so much beauty in the surrounding area.’
She’s right. But then it’s time for a Cosmopolitan.
No, not the citrussy vodka cocktail but the glitzy, chandeliered Cosmopolitan Hotel in the heart of the Strip, where I undertake a high-intensity workout involving 60 zingy minutes of grunting, jumping and sweating.
‘I bet you didn’t think you’d be doing burpees in Vegas!’, beams Palani, our muscle-bound fitness instructor. No, Palani, I most certainly did not.
At the Venetian Hotel, I pass by the imitation gondolas for my next blast of ‘wellness’, far away from the madness of the Strip: a private yoga class with deep breathing and stretching.
Next, at Cosmo’s spa, I’m immersed in monsoon rain showers and icy mist rooms. At Caesars Palace spa I lose myself in a deep-tissue massage. At Resorts World’s Awana Spa, I detox in a crystal salt room.
Before long I’m drunk on good vibes. Did Hunter S. Thompson ever discover it’s possible to overdose on relaxation?
As many as three-quarters of a million Britons visited Las Vegas each year pre-pandemic, and with direct ten-hour flights from Heathrow and Gatwick, numbers are rising again. You don’t need to be a high-roller to make the pilgrimage. The average room rate is £140 a night.
‘If there’s one thing we can all agree Las Vegas is not, it’s health and wellbeing. Yet I’m here for precisely that,’ says Sian
Visitors can ‘lose themselves’ in deep tissue massages whilst in Sin City (file photo)
Many come for the shows. I meet Gary from Wolverhampton, who says his family often watch four shows in five days before flying home. In the space of a week you could see Katy Perry, Sting, magician David Copperfield, or any of Cirque du Soleil’s acrobatic spectaculars.
At the Bellagio Hotel we are treated to the last of these, Cirque’s astounding ‘O’ show, in which performers tumble 60ft into a pool.
Others come for the sport.
Vegas has long been renowned as the capital of world-title boxing fights, but next year it will also host NFL’s Super Bowl — the largest event in the U.S. sporting calendar. Meanwhile, in November a Formula One Grand Prix will be held in Sin City.
We dine with Lip Smacking Foodie Tours to try out their concept of three courses across three restaurants — all surprisingly upmarket.
But we are defeated by the American reality of three huge meals, not three courses. Javier’s Mexican serves us trays of stuffed enchiladas before we decamp to Julian Serrano for a Spanish tapas feast. By the time we arrive at Mastro’s Ocean Club, we are stuffed to the gills and can’t even attempt the 28-day-aged steak.
Sian (not pictured) tries a high-intensity workout class at the glitzy, chandeliered Cosmopolitan Hotel (above) in the heart of the Strip
Virgin Atlantic Heathrow-Las Vegas return from £753 (virginatlantic.com). Doubles B&B at Paris Las Vegas from £121 (caesars.com) and £110 at Resorts World Las Vegas (rwlasvegas.com). Visit from February–May and September–November when weather is moderate. Rooms are cheapest in high summer, but it can touch 40c, and winter, when it can drop to -3c. See visitlasvegas.com and lvcva.com.
Our U.S. cousins are nonplussed when we Brits wave away mountainous slabs of cheesecake and warm butter cake. ‘You’re not even going to try it?’ asks one of our bewildered dinner companions.
But the accompanying margaritas, sangrias and lemon martinis are starting to work their charms and further enticement is calling.
In the subterranean depths of the Resorts World Hotel resides a place called Here Kitty Kitty Vice Den. Across the casino floor, behind a door disguised as a wall, is a red-lit den of iniquity.
I’m supposed to be here for zen and vitamins, but the temptation is too strong. Suddenly, it’s bourbon cocktails, peanut butter beers, $80 lost in eight blackjacked minutes and Saturday night in Vegas. Then it’s daylight, and I wake up with two most unwelcome companions: Fear, in the form of alcohol sweats running down my spine, and Loathing, at the prospect of the journey home.
I’m also loath to leave the wholesome side of Sin City, its hidden natural beauty and the unexpected health benefits — even if I blew it on the last night at the Here Kitty Kitty Vice Den.
It all brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Viva Las Vegas’.