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Three Special Santa Fe Hotels

RANCHO ENCANTADO
State Rd. 592
Tesuque
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.

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