USA, NM: Santa Fe – Downtown Retreat & Mountain Ranch ResortDuring the nineteenth century, La Fonda became the preferred destination of trappers, soldiers, gold seekers, gamblers and politicians. Through the Civil War, railroad expansion and New Mexico statehood in 1912, the building changed hands and names several times but remained a Santa Fe landmark.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2014
It was not what we expected; an icy Arctic blast had been pushed down from Canada all the way into New Mexico and it was unseasonably cold and snowing as we unloaded our bags into the lobby of La Fonda Hotel right in the heart of Santa Fe. Located on the town’s famous historic Plaza, it’s a beloved landmark of Southwestern hospitality – the oldest and best-known hotel in America’s oldest capital city.
Historical records suggest that La Fonda on the Plaza sits on the oldest hotel corner in America – dating back to 1607 when the Spaniards founded Santa Fe. In 1821, when Captain William Becknell completed the first successful trading expedition from Missouri to Santa Fe, the party found a comfortable inn – or fonda – on the Plaza awaiting them. Thus, the Santa Fe Trail was born, as was La Fonda’s reputation for hospitality.
During the nineteenth century, La Fonda became the preferred destination of trappers, soldiers, gold seekers, gamblers and politicians. Through the Civil War, railroad expansion and New Mexico statehood in 1912, the building changed hands and names several times but remained a Santa Fe landmark.
The current La Fonda, built in 1922, sits on the same site as previous inns, literally at the terminus of the Santa Fe Trail and the Plaza. In 1925, the new building was acquired by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, becoming known as the ‘Inn at the End of the Track’. It was then leased to the family of legendary hotelier Fred Harvey. The Harvey family turned La Fonda into one of the famous Harvey Houses, which it remained until 1968, when it was acquired by local businessman Sam Ballen and his wife Ethel.
In the autumn of 2013, La Fonda completed its most significant room renovation project since the 1920s. Prior to initiating the project, in an effort to maintain the historic property’s authenticity, the hotel team conducted detailed studies of the original building plans and the aesthetics of original designer Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter. The resulting design remains true to Colter’s vision while bringing fresh, new modern touches. With the exception of the Terrace Suites, all guest rooms received new lighting, floor coverings and handcrafted furnishings; new energy-efficient casement windows; state-of-the-art temperature controls and sound insulation, and updated plumbing, electrical and communication systems. Also in this project, the rooftop Bell Tower Bar was expanded by 500 square feet. With dramatic views the fifth-floor rooftop setting is one of the best-kept secrets in Santa Fe.
La Fonda’s signature restaurant, La Plazuela, was the hotel’s original 1920s open-air courtyard and retains the same Old World charm where Chef Lane Warner updates northern New Mexico classics with locally sourced organic meats and produce. Several vegetarian and gluten-free options are available, and the restaurant’s extensive wine list has been given the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
La Fonda on the Plaza is across from the St. Francis Cathedral Basilica on Santa Fe Plaza, where the local Native Americans sell their jewelry, rugs and touristy trinkets as well as being the centre of shopping, nightlife, annual art markets and special events. The hotel’s marriage of distinctive Old World tradition with contemporary luxury and convenience make it the perfect base for Santa Fe vacations.
Bishop's Ranch Lodge Resort & Spa:
Situated in the Canoncito del Rio de Tesuque, Bishop’s Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa, Santa Fe’s only authentic ranch resort is another genuine Southwestern experience just minutes and a world away from the daily life of a small city.
Spaniards had explored this area as early as the 1590s but it was Francisco Vasques de Coronado who in 1650 led an expedition to this region from Mexico in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola that were said to be made of gold but according to legend all he found were scattered adobe Indian villages and Native Americans who inhabited the foothills and mesas of the local mountains.
Bishop’s Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa presides over 450 scenic acres where four full seasons of activities and recreation are guaranteed. It is an historic destination ranch resort nestled at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Wrapping around a 156-year-old historic chapel, hence the name, the resort includes 15 Santa Fe adobe-style lodges housing 91 unique rooms many with kiva-style (a Pueblo Indian ceremonial structure) fireplaces, quiet courtyards and quaint balconies as well as eight gated exclusive villas where the likes of Johnny Depp has stayed while he was filming the western movie, ‘The Lone Ranger.’
The first Archbishop of Santa Fe, Jean Baptist Lamy, was drawn to the natural and tranquil beauty of the Tesuque Valley where he established his private retreat, La Villa Pintoresca, in 1853. Today, Bishop’s Lodge is dedicated to preserving Archbishop Lamy’s history including the original chapel, which is still in use to this day.
During spring and autumn, guests can explore the adjacent Santa Fe National Forest, which we did on one of their guided horseback rides where we enjoyed dazzling views of rolling foothills and majestic canyons. Joachim, a Native American Indian was our wrangler guide and there was little he did not know about the American Southwest. When I asked him about the lone burro mixed in with the horses in the corral, he said, “the burros hate coyotes and they feel protective of the horses, so they will raise a warning and will even fight off threatening animals – by the way the Burro’s name is Moonshine!”
The resort also boasts the award winning Shanah Spa, a Native American word for vitality and energy. There is also a beautiful outdoor pool with an adjacent fitness room, surrounded by lush lawns and towering cottonwoods ideal for a range of activities that include horse riding, mountain biking, bird watching, nature hikes and chapel history tours. There are also tennis courts, a yoga studio, sunset cookouts and a multi-sport kids program.
The resort is also home to Las Fuentes Restaurant and Bar, offering contemporary, creative American cuisine with of course a Southwestern flair. At dinner that night I opted for a delicious onion soup followed by High Desert Hare – rabbit pot pie with hatch green chile and desert thyme, roasted fingerling potatoes, stewed apples – mouth wateringly appropriate in this part of New Mexico.
One other place worth stopping in at is a little adobe building housing Santa Fe Spirits. This establishment specialises in Whisky tastings with seven or more on offer as well as specialty cocktails such as Wiskeyrita – Silver Coyote whiskey, lemon, lime and sugar to a Coyote Cactus – Silver Coyote whiskey, prickly pear juice, lemon, lime, and sugar then dusted with cinnamon.
If you venture into this Southwest corner of New Mexico, leave a few days free to visit a number of important Native American Indian pueblos, ruins and cliff dwellings that dot the landscape. Also near Santa Fe is Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The canyon was central to thousands of people between 850 and 1250 A.D. Today the massive buildings of the ancestral Pueblo peoples still testify to the organisational and engineering abilities not seen anywhere else in the Southwest. You can explore Chaco through guided tours, hiking and biking trails, their museum, evening campfire talks, as well as attending night sky programs.
No wonder New Mexico’s state motto is, ‘Land of Enchantment.’
Santa Fe is situated at an altitude of 2,130 m with it’s own municipal airport and is located approximately 96 km northwest of Albuquerque in north-central New Mexico.
New Mexico Tourism
P: +1 505-827-7400
Santa Fe, New Mexico
P: +1 505 955 6200
La Fonda Hotel, Santa Fe, New Mexico
P: +1 505 982 5511
Bishop’s Ranch & Spa, New Mexico
P: +1 505 819 4002
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
P: +1 505 786 7014
Shane Boocock flew courtesy of award winning Air Tahiti Nui, the international flag-carrier of Tahiti and her islands in the latest-generation Airbus A340-300 aircraft direct from Auckland to Tahiti and on to Los Angeles: W: www.airtahitinui.co.nz
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