There's a gentle tug at artists' hearts here in the desert that stills the mind and warms the soul.
Inside the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, foot-thick adobe walls cool the air and the provocative art of one of the world’s most beloved artists. Strolling before dreamy watercolors, oversized flowers and giant clouds, much of it inspired by the stark New Mexican landscape, we’re stunned by the scale. The work is somehow smaller than it seems in poster reproductions, yet much more powerful and emotional.
Marcia Skillman, principal of Destination Services of Santa Fe, regularly hosts 90-pax (number of people) wine tastings here. Like O’Keeffe, she’s a transplant to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains who fell in love with this magical, mystical world.
“I don’t want to get all woo-woo, but the energy is fantastic here,” she says. “All the buildings are adobe, so it’s like you’re in a foreign country. The pace is slower, which is great for people used to going nonstop. And being 7,000 feet in the mountains, for a day or so, makes you really have to relax and adjust.”
Woo-woo or not, we were delighted to slow down in this gorgeous colonial city surrounded by thousands of acres of national forest. O’Keeffe was not the only artist to stake her claim; Santa Fe has been an art trading center for centuries, and today it’s the country’s second largest art market. The current state capitol houses an art gallery; the 400-year-old Palace of the Governors—the seat of Spanish, Mexican and American governments—is a gallery selling original Pueblo jewelry and pottery. And Canyon Road, locus of 100 of Santa Fe’s 250 galleries, throws super fun Art Gallery Crawls every Friday night, although visitors often call Skillman for a handpicked gallery tour.
“Groups love the laid back way we experience art,” she says. “No pressure and no pretension.”
Another key to the energy here is the tapestry of cultures. Santa Feans revere their rich blend of Native American, Spanish Colonial and Anglo Wild West traditions, and tourists can enjoy all three or just one.
People can visit the nearby pueblos to meet Native American artisans. Everyone stays warm around the kivas, fireplace-stoves that ward off the evening mountain chill, redolent with smoke from heavenly smelling pinon scrub.
Learn about the Spaniards in Santa Fe’s town square founded in 1610 when Santa Fe became New Mexico’s capital. From the all-important Palace of the Governors at its head, it’s an easy stroll to San Miguel Mission, argued to be the country’s oldest church, built on an abandoned pueblo.
For Western lore, the Old Santa Fe Trail remains a major artery here—the Mission sits on it. Twenty minutes south, groups of up to 450 can organize barbeque feasts, ride horseback, and party at Bonanza Creek Ranch. This 18-acre expanse of cottonwood, jackrabbits and cattle features a fab stage set of general stores and saloons.
“We’ve done 150 movies since 1960—there’s always one they’ve seen,” says owner Imogene Hughes. The set’s two jails are popular with groups looking to lock up one of their own.
Steps from the O’Keeffe Museum, the 219-room Eldorado Hotel & Spa is Santa Fe’s largest. In contrast to the massive, airy lobby, the guestrooms are cozy with kiva fireplaces and Native American blankets. Large groups love the 2,000-sf Presidential Patio Suite, whose 250-pax patio is cocktail party ready.
“No hotel is over five stories in central Santa Fe, but guests call us an adobe castle,” says David Carr, director of sales. “I grew up here and it has the best balconies in town.” The view reveals mountains to the east, sunsets to the west, and Santa Fe below.
Downstairs, the 74-pax Old House Restaurant is Zagat-rated as New Mexico’s best—high honors in this town. When a restaurant has a dry-aging meat locker at the entrance, someone has to try the beef. We said "yes" to the 28-day dry aged Black Angus ribeye with mac ‘n cheese and local green chiles.
The chic Agave Lounge opened last year after a $750K infusion. Enjoy tequila flights or local draft beers on mesquite cocktail tables before a stunning wall-length kiva fireplace. And the 22,000 sf of group space includes Santa Fe’s largest hotel ballroom and three boardrooms with awesome Navajo rugs.
La Posada feels like a star’s hideaway even though it’s just two blocks from the Plaza. At the center, there’s a magnificent 1883 mansion replete with heavy wood frames and ornately carved brass. All told, there’s 157 rooms on six acres housed in casitas spread amid colorful gardens, fountains and outdoor fireplaces. Most rooms have private patios, looming Spanish-style armoires and three-foot thick adobe walls.
Of the three restaurants, we savored the southwestern eats at 50-pax Fuego, like polenta bites and chili-rubbed steaks. In this light-filled main room, Sir Richard Branson brokered Virgin Galactic’s SpacePort deal with then-governor Bill Richardson.
“We’re all about small,” says Kristin Lepisto, director of marketing, “but we go to 300 for parties.” For really small, the mansion’s 193-sf Rose Room doubles as a 900-bottle wine cellar and dining room for ten guests.
The Picuris Pueblo words of welcome are inscribed over the entrance at Hotel Santa Fe: “Mah-waan mah-waan.” Planners seem to feel welcomed—70% of group business is repeat.
The 163 rooms have handcrafted pine furnishings with granite bathrooms, fireplaces and wireless. We stayed in the new 35-room Hacienda, staffed by British-trained butlers.
“We are Santa Fe’s only Native American-owned property, which means traditional pueblo bread, storytellers by the kiva and indigenous healing treatments,” says Suzanne Brown, director of sales. “There’s also our teepee, which holds 16 around a conference table. And we’ve got a British GM who ferries guests around in old London cabs painted purple.”
Brown has six event rooms and she exemplifies the cooperative spirit of Santa Fe. For our group, spread among six properties, she always had a charming purple cab available. The location is also great in the hip Railyard District with plenty of shops, restaurants and galleries just steps away.
The most photographed building in Santa Fe, the beautiful 134-room Inn & Spa at Loretto was designed in homage to the neighboring 1,000 year-old Taos Pueblo, which abuts the 19th-century Loretto Chapel. We overlooked both while sipping yummy vodka sagebrush cocktails on a large patio. The little chapel is a masterpiece of local stone and French stained glass, while inside the “miraculous” spiral spruce staircase has no nails and no visible means of support. No one uses it anymore.
Rooms are dramatically shaded with Navajo gold, terracotta red and stark Anasazi black and white, and each has a back door leading to a balcony or shared patio. Throughout the property, soft lighting and lots of candles permeate the scene at dusk.
The Luminaria Restaurant and Patio is a work of art in itself with charcoal walls, white vigas and fiery orange accents. Try the goat cheese and avocado caesar salad and the duck entrée.
The Inn's largest space is its Zuni Ballroom with a 65-foot wall of French doors that open onto the garden for and the warm desert air.
Since you won’t be able to avoid Santa Fe’s new age-y enterprises, why not dive right in? We recommend a stop at Milagro Organic Herbs and Skin Care, conveniently located just across from the fantastic Gerald Peters Gallery, a museum-type space by the man who has done more for Santa Fe’s art community than anyone else. Just have a minute? At Milagro you can pick up the cedar sticks said to eliminate bad spirits in a space. Spirits are fresh from the nearby desert and they definitely create a wonderful fragrance in any room long after you’ve left town. Do make time to talk to master herbalist Thomas Enos, the shop owner, about your complaints so he can whip up a blend for you. Enos has been studying herbs for 30 years and is a true believer in the power of plants. Fortunately, he’s also evidence-based and totally no-nonsense, for he simply and obviously cares about the environment and health. He also mixes his own Milagro brand creams—Oasis is rich enough for the high desert and New York City, too—and offers on-the-spot tutorials on natural cleanses.
For the truly woo-woo, Enos does employ a young woman who recently got her MA in Flower Essences from England, and if she’s not on hand you can make an appointment. Flower essences are extremely diluted infusions of flowers in water touted as vibrational remedies for the physical, astral and spiritual body. They smell more like brandy, which is used as a stabilizer, than like a flower, and are said to “help us recognize, resolve, or release different conditioned ways of perceiving the world.” Erin personally took us through the healing offerings, even using a divining rod to help her find the right remedy. Is our astral body cured? Hard to say. But she definitely provided the perfect final touch in Santa Fe.
Reprinted with permission of Prevue/prevueonline (edited version)