"I came for a visit…"
You are staring at somebody's suede fringe, and you know where the story is leading.
"…and I was so stressed out and I went back home and I quit my job and I moved out here and I never looked back and it's been ten years and I really can't believe it."
Again and again you hear this tale from the citizens of Santa Fe, as you make the rounds of their chenille-lap-throw shops on the plaza and their fiber-art galleries on Canyon Road and their mellow-yellow newsstand-coffeehouses on Water Street. Will you be one of them?This is high season in Santa Fe, when the innocent visitor is most susceptible to the romance of New Mexico. A stay at any of these hotels only increases the likelihood of your giving everything up and going adobe, as they are the best that Santa Fe has to offer. But in no way are the hotels alike, so think before you book: Santa Fe looks quite different from each of these vantage points.
THE INN OF THE ANASAZI
113 Washington Ave.
800/688-8100 or 505/988-3030, fax 505/988-3277
High season doubles from $235, suites from $395
In hotels, first impressions are everything. At the Inn of the Anasazi, it's the little lobby that wins you over immediately, with its perpetual fire fragrant with pinon, its four leather club chairs distressed like your favorite bomber jacket, and the fluty music in the air, the sort that makes you think you're having aromatherapy. Get used to that music. You're going to hear a lot of it.
Somehow you just know that you are checking into the most sophisticated hotel in Santa Fe. You won't find a better location, a few steps from the Plaza. You won't find a more seamless atmosphere or smoother service. And though this place acts like a hotel, it feels like an inn, with only 51 rooms and eight suites.
Quickly you learn the local language of decorating. That's not a fireplace in your room, it's a kiva, with a gas flame that burns blue; that's no armoire holding the television, it's a trastero, its fresh blue paint chipped and peeling to perfection; and those aren't beams and planks in the rustic wooden ceiling, they're vigas and latillas.
No views here, but every detail makes a style statement: the cactus next to the bathroom sink, the striped cotton robes with terry-cloth lining, the shampoo made with "medicinal" cedar, the do not disturb totem hanging from the doorknob on a leather thong. For that Day of the Dead touch, there is a whittled cross over the fireplace, a naive carved angel over the bed, and a candle waiting to be lighted.
Local color is sometimes very uncomfortable to live with, but this is first and foremost a luxury hotel, and everything is crisp, fresh, impeccable. The air-conditioning works, the cable-television channels are clear and abundant (sounds obvious, but too often that's not the case), and every lamp is on a dimmer, all of which makes it feel less like a rented room.
Ready to quit your job yet?
Think it over while you have drinks in the charming library—more pinon in the fireplace, more flute music spooking up the place—then talk it out in the hotel dining room, Anasazi, one of the best and loveliest restaurants in the city. The golden setting is the Neiman Marcus version of pueblo style, the illumination is as flattering as candlelight, and the dress code is liberal, anything from a crushed velvet broom skirt to a down vest. The night I visited, a flawless prix-fixe menu was served for $35: to start, flash-fried calamari with grilled-pineapple salsa and spicy avocado-lime salsa; for the main course, mesquite-grilled peppercorn- and chili-rubbed ribeye steak in a port wine-chipotle reduction; and for dessert, honey cardamom custard with strawberry-orange compote.
"Our waitstaff," the menu notes, "will be more than happy to explain these exciting dishes in detail."
THE BISHOP'S LODGE
Bishop's Lodge Rd.
800/258-6028 or 505/983-6377, fax 505/989-8739
High season doubles from $205, suites from $255
Impatient Range Rovers zoom past as you make your way three miles from the city plaza to the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where the Bishop's Lodge is tucked into its own valley, as it has been since 1918.
Out here among the luxury adobe subdivisions, this is quite a spread: 1,000 acres, with 70 rooms and 18 suites in 11 small sand-colored lodges, no two of them quite alike. You'll need some help deciding where you want to be. Here's a start: For a big view, request a top-floor room in the Sunset Lodge; for an intimate view, try to face the pond in Cienega; for the power position, ask for suite 101 in the North Building, which looks across the corrals and the valley.
I had space, and lots of it, in a two-year-old lodge called Chamisa—the Crate & Barrel version of the Inn of the Anasazi. My room nonetheless had all the elements: the gas-burning kiva, the wooden ceiling, the coyote sculpture in metal. Its bathroom was positively huge, with twin sinks, a separate stall shower and a deep tub, a skylight, and some lovely Mexican tilework. They stopped at nothing when outfitting this room, down to the ironing board and iron.
Space matters here because the Bishop's Lodge is a family place, and every bed and sofa-sleeper gets filled with children in the summer. Kids have their own program of pony rides and swims and cookouts and movies; it starts at 8 a.m. and might last until 9 p.m. Their parents, meanwhile, can be found on the horse trails, or learning to shoot skeet, or playing tennis—or perhaps getting motivated in the conference center.
The dining room has the atmosphere of a national park lodge, with heroic WPA-style murals of Native Americans. It serves an unpretentious Southwestern menu, with just enough spin to be interesting but not so much as to be insistent. There's no cute food here; instead you'll find a simple charbroiled chicken breast with red chili sauce. No architectural desserts, either—just flan or, for the children, individual baked Alaskas.
Such is the charm of this place. The Bishop's Lodge isn't as designed as the rest of Santa Fe. Indeed, in places it could have used a bit more of an eye; there's an awful lot of asphalt. But the plan here is to wear you out with horses and spectacular hikes, not with sophistication. It's a sign when the maid arrives to turn down your bed at 5:45 p.m.
State Rd. 592
800/722-9339 or 505/982-3537, fax 505/983-8269
High season doubles from $175, casitas from $250, villas from $315
What you will remember about Rancho Encantado is the silence. Here, eight miles from the heart of Santa Fe, New Mexico quickly gets back to being its old self: high chaparral, big sky, and the easy ranch life.
Princess Grace, Robert Redford, the Dalai Lama—they've all stayed here. Right now they would find their hotel in transition. Last year the 28-year-old Encantado changed hands, and the new owner has his work cut out for him: the older rooms can be a bit down-at-the-heels, and refurbishing has begun. But the setting looks better and purer than ever, as the rest of the Santa Fe area becomes more suburban. Get yourself a horse and ride, or hike if you prefer, out past the "cantina" and the corrals, and into Marlboro Country.
The ranch has a variety of idiosyncratic accommodations; you might poke around a bit before settling in. For most people the choice comes down to either the new "villas"—squeaky-clean condos with kitchens, fireplaces, air-conditioning, views, and plenty of space—or the older, more romantic "casitas," which are junior suites on the funky side.
I asked for funk, and got it. Room 127 had a 40-mile view, a hodgepodge of dude-ranch furniture, and a small bathroom with a skylight. One minute the room seemed hopeless (no robe, no hair dryer, lumpy pillows), the next it seemed charming (is that Marjorie Main singing at the washboard?).
Note to self: This is a ranch. And what sticks in your mind long after you've gone, certainly more than the quality of the pillows, is the pleasure of laying out a sweet-smelling pinon fire in the kiva as the sun goes down and the temperature, here at 7,000 feet, drops 30 degrees.
The dining room is spectacular, with tables on four levels and huge windows that look right into the sunset. Everybody somehow gets a quiet little table in the corner and a view. I could have made a meal out of the roasted-corn chowder, served with a rice timbale and blue corn "ribbons." I could also have made a meal out of the first course of barbecued pheasant quesadillas laced with Mexican asadero and goat cheeses. After all that, you can only hope to graze from the main course. By 8 p.m. you are on your way back to your room. And by nine you are in bed. If the stars, so many of them, don't keep you up.