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Santa Fe is a magical place. You can feel it when you arrive. Sometimes, it reaches out and chooses you- and when that happens, you have no choice but to move there. During my recent visit, I met many people to whom that had happened, and they are living there quite happily now. And no wonder, given Santa Fe’s storied past, which includes Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and now American influences. It boasts well-preserved vestiges of Pueblo life, fabulous art galleries along Canyon Road, ultra-chic hotels, elegant spas, and cuisine to die for- all 7000 ft. above sea level in the scenic Sangre de Cristo mountains.

 

My 5 day trip was going to be about all that- and so much more. Billed as “a soft luxury adventure experience”, parts of each day were to include an outdoor adventure. I was looking forward to getting out in the dry and earthy New Mexico landscape, for horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, and rafting down the Rio Grand, and then at the end of each day, returning to Santa Fe for exotic spa treatments, world-class dining, and luxurious lodgings.

 

After the hour long climb from the airport in Albuquerque, my first stop was at the charming La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa, my home for the next several days. Conveniently located downtown, only blocks from the famed town square, the resort features 6 beautifully landscaped acres hidden behind an adobe and brick wall. The 157 guest rooms and 30 suites all feature white duvet bedding, cozy lounge chairs, and flat screen LCD TV’s, with the décor featuring traditional Santa Fe colors of terra cotta and light sage. The pueblo-style resort is centered around the historic 19th century Staab House, which was once owned by the prosperous German merchant Abraham Staab. Now incorporated into the Posada (Inn in Spanish) itself, it features jazz performances 3 nights a week, a lovely bar, and is also rumored to have a ghostly resident, Abraham’s wife Julia, who likes it so much she refuses to leave. For those in need of a little pampering, the 4,500 square-foot RockResorts Spa™ offers an oasis for the senses. Try an Adobe Mud Wrap, the Pueblo Salt Glow or how about the Chocolate-Chile Wrap for a little spice. Want to do a little sightseeing while you’re in town? Well, any guest at La Posada can borrow an all-new 2008 VOLVO XC70 for the day, at no charge! www.laposada.rockresorts.com*

 

After I dropped my bags in my lovely room, I headed off to the 5th annual Santa Fe International Folk Art Market on Museum Hill, a 3-day outdoor affair that the airport van driver told me about. With the help of a lift from the very service-oriented La Posada, I got there just in time for several hours of coveting remarkable art and craft items from around the world. I succumbed to a pair of pastel-colored beaded dolls made by the Monkeybiz Bead Project, an organization that “creates employment, empowers women, and preserves and nurtures the tradition of South African Beadwork” http://monkeybiz.co.za, www.folkartmarket.org

 

I returned to La Posada just in time to change, and meet my fellow travelers in the lobby. We headed off to dinner at a joint beloved by the locals (it was packed!) called Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen, whose specialty is Margaritas. Real Margaritas. And what is that? One made with REAL tequila (100% Agave), REAL triple-sec, and REAL lemon or lime juice. Well, who can resist? The only problem though, Maria’s offers 142 different tequilas, including Blancos, Repostados, and Anejos, and an uncountable variety of margaritas. How can you choose between the Brass Monkey, the Margarita de la Patrone, the Horny Toad Margarita, or the USS Santa Fe Fast-Attack Margarita? Well, believe me, we did our best, and ate a lovely dinner too.* www.marias-santafe.com

 

The next morning we got up bright and early and drove off to the historic Bishop’s Lodge Resort & Spa nestled in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The land was first purchased by Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy as the perfect location for a spiritual retreat, and it still features the small and quaint chapel in which he lived and worshipped. Bishop’s Lodge itself was actually founded as a luxury resort by James R. Thorpe in 1918, and was owned and lovingly operated by the Thorpe Family until 1998. www.bishopslodge.com

 

Our goal though was to ride the resort’s famed ponies, described in 1927 as “reliable, sure-

footed, grain fed mountain ponies, accustomed to the trails and the desert, that are unsurpassed anywhere.” Upon arrival, we headed for the barn, where Karl Eiker and Troy Romero, two handsome ranch hands who looked like they came straight from central casting, were waiting for us, as were our horses, all decked out in fancy western saddles. Once we were all on board, we headed out at a slow pace (even with no riding experience, anyone can enjoy this) over trails that wound through the over 450 acres that comprised the resort’s property. On our way we passed wildlife galore, including twittering birds, rabbits, and deer, curious about the four-legged intrusion. Up, up, up we went until we arrived at the top of the mountain, and were awed by the beautiful panorama of mountains glittering in the sun, and an endless blue sky. A piece of heaven, I thought.

 

Once back on our own two (a little wobbly) legs, we headed off to the resort’s Las Fuentes Restaurant & Bar, for an absolutely fabulous lunch. The starter I chose was Green Chile Corn Chowder, and I have to say it was the best soup I ever tasted.*Recipe below And the Crab Cakes that followed more than lived up to their reputation!

  
The afternoon was reserved for luxury! And so it was at Absolute Nirvana Spa, Tea Room & Gardens, just a short walk from La Posada. The spa is dedicated to the ancient art of using all organic plants, herbs and spices for both inner and outer beauty. The treatment I received, at the hands of the amazing Pamela Balanag, is called “The Deluxe” and it lasted a lovely 120 minutes. First, I sipped a fragrant elixir of golden champa and pikake flowers, a ritual food cleansing. This was followed by an hour-long massage with hot aromatic oils, a deeply penetrating mask, and then an invigorating scrub, after which I reveled in a private steam shower. After rinsing off, I was invited to luxuriate in a rose petal bath, while sipping hot Javanese ginger tea and nibbling on fruits and an organic homemade chocolate truffle. Wow! ($240) www.absolutenirvana.com

 

That evening, we stayed home for dinner at Fuego, La Posada’s AAA Four Diamond Award winning restaurant featuring innovative cuisine with a traditional French flair. The amazing menu, featuring delicacies designed by Executive Chef Mary Nearn, offered a great deal of temptation, but after a short period of soul searching I decided on the following. For the appetizer I undefinedchose Slivered Maine Scallops with Leek Velouté and Baby Radish and Pea Sprouts; for the salad course I tried the Tomato Trio which featured small tasty morsels of Heirloom Tomatoes, Tomato Essence and Concasse Canapé, and for the main course it was Roasted Duck Breast with Duck Confit Plum Compote and Braised Baby Fennel with Port Duck Sauce. One of Fuego’s specialties is its Cheese Cart featuring 14 of the finest Artisanal Selections from Around the World, and of course, who could say no to that?

The next morning we met up with several members of the innovative Sante Fe Mountain Adventure, a company whose goal it is to “thrill and rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit”. The company specializes in arranging individual activities for visitors, including guided mountain biking trips, river rafting or geocaching, all geared to your level of experience. Or they can plan your entire vacation, including activities, lodging and transportation. On this particular day, our intrepid group was transported to the Santa Fe National Forest for a mountain biking experience, with bikes, helmets, water and other essentials provided by our guides. And what an experience it was for this reporter, who had not ridden a bike in at least 2 decades, and had never gone mountain biking at all! After a dubious start, including falling while trying to cross a dry arroyo, my confidence began to grow thanks to the patience, and strength, of what turned out to be my personal guide (everyone else rode off into the sunset), a charming Frenchmen named Georges Mally. With Georges both encouraging me, and pulling me up too-steep-for-me-hills while riding his bike at the same time, I nervously forged ahead Pretty soon I felt pretty good, so Georges and I picked up the pace and voila, there I was- a mountain biker. www.santafemountainadventure.com

 

Next, we were fortunate enough to visit the Bandelier National Monument, about an hour from Santa Fe. It’s an unexpected delight, featuring steep narrow canyons with plentiful wildlife, mountains rising to 10,000 feet, and a colorful section of the Rio Grande river valley. Named after archeologist Adolph Bandelier, who first visited Frijoles Canyon in 1880, the site includes the remains of an ancestral Pueblo village called Tyuonyi. Around 1325, 400 home-sites were built into the side of a mountain made of a soft, crumbly rock called tuff, which has a “Swiss Cheese” appearance. By the late 1400’s, over 700 people lived there. There are also the remains of 3 ceremonial gathering places called kivas. There is an easy, paved walking trail through the park, and it is possible to climb up rickety wood ladders to enter several of the homes. Looking out over the canyon, it’s clear why the beautiful view, and the plentiful and diverse natural resources found here had made it an ideal place for the native people to settle. www.wnpa.org

 

Though the usually ice blue New Mexican sky looked a little grey that Wednesday evening, we set off with our new Santa Fe Mountain Adventure friends none-the-less (including Georges), on the Sundowner Hike through the mountains but this time the reward for our effort was an outdoor cooking demonstration courtesy of the Santa Fe School of Cooking’s talented chef Rocky Durham. www.santafeschoolofcooking.com

Nestled in a small clearing surrounded by Aspen groves, with tall Ponderosa Pines visible in the distance, was an outdoor kitchen, which included a wood-burning cooktop for frying and grilling, and a fire pit for boiling. Rocky graciously plied us with wine and beer, most delicious after our long and strenuous day, and then put us to work making our own tortillas, an integral part of the Mexican-influenced meal to come. Salsa Fresca with organic vegetables and chips was the starter, with Guacamole, and Grilled Vegetable skewers to follow. But the delicious Outdoor Southwestern Paella with sliced Andouille amd Chorizo sausage, and sumptious Peach Cobbler which arrived bubbling and steamy from the outdoor grill, really made my day.

The next morning we got up early for a 9am Rio Grande river rendezvous with the New Wave Rafting Company, which offers trips from mild to wild. We chose the Half-Day Racecourse itinerary which featured 5-miles of exciting whitewater rapids (Class 3/Moderate), and was exciting enough for me. True-blue thrill-seekers though, will want to check out their full-day Taos Box itinerary (Class 4/Difficult and Class 5/Very Difficult, in high water) boasting 16-miles of non-stop rapids (I did this on a previous trip, and it’s not for the faint of heart!). The company provided all the necessary rafting equipment (paddles, helmet, and life-vest). www.newwaverafting.com

 

That afternoon, we sadly checked out of our new home-away-from-home La Posada de Santa Fe, and headed North to the town of Taos, NM, a smaller and more gritty version of Santa Fe. Taos also features an authentic town square, with Indians selling traditional crafts and jewelry, and galleries and restaurants at every turn. Though I didn’t stay in Taos, others from the group did, and highly recommended a stopover at the Taos Inn, “where Old West atmosphere meets the perfect location and terrific food”. www.taosinn.com They also touted a ‘Cowboy Buddha’ Margarita at its Adobe Bar, and a meal at Doc Martin’s Restaurant. Also highly recommended was Taos’ best kept secret since 1988, Casa de las Chimeneas Inn & Spa. This hidden gem, tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood is within walking distance to the Plaza, and was, according to my source “perhaps, the nicest surprise of the trip”. Featuring spacious accommodations, exceptionally lovely 
breakfasts, and gracious gardens (with cozy seating and WiFi), it had me wishing I could have stayed there, too. Casa de las Chimeneas Inn & Spa
 

My last night in New Mexico was spent at the remarkable Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, where geothermal mineral waters have flowed from a subterranean volcanic aquifer for thousands of years. The resort itself is literally nestled in the shadow of very distinctive hills, adjacent to four steaming pools (80-109°) in 

which you can soak your body, and soothe your mind and spirit. The Lithia Spring is believed to produce positive effects in mental balance, the Iron Spring is beneficial to the blood and immune system, the rock walls in the enclosed Soda Spring create a soft echo providing calm and relaxation, and the Arsenic Spring (Yes, arsenic) brings relief from arthritis. In addition, you can induge your inner child by jumping in the mud pool and then letting the mud dry on your body in the hot sun. Fun, and good for removing toxins from your system. By the way, all of the Springs and the Spa are a Whisper Zone so that guests can have a quiet peaceful experience at this unique retreat. It’s no wonder then, that the word SPA is the acronym for the Latin phrase “Salud Por Agua”- “health through water”. www.ojospa.com
 
Apart from the fabulous Artesian Restaurant, 1100 acres of private hiking paths and trails, and a world class spa featuring unique treatments such as the Ojo Signature Milagro Dry Wrap a $10, 25 minute delight, there is yet another treasure to explore at Ojo Caliente. If you are willing to climb up a steep mesa, and walk about a mile, you can visit the ancestral home of the Tewa people, called Posi-ouinge. In the 15th century, 1000 people lived on this bluff, and given the beautiful and wild 360° view, it’s easy to understand why they chose it. The morning I was there, I was alone, and between the brisk wind, and the sounds of the desert, it was easy to imagine that the music and the laughter of the people who once lived there are still blowing in the wind.http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM121D

Though my trip to Santa Fe and Taos was a busy one, I still felt there was more left undone than done for me there. Who knows, perhaps Sante Fe has reached out, and is calling for me too? But sitting here at my desk in Nashville, I feel the pull of the blue sky, brown dust, black rocks, and the mountainous ranges that tower over the area. As Arnold Schwarzenegger so famously promised in The Terminator, “I’ll be back”.
 

EXTRAS

*For more about margaritas, don’t miss The Great Margarita Book written by Al Lucero, the owner and margarita master at Maria’s, with a forward by Robert Redford (apparently a big fan of Maria’s concoctions).

 

*Green Chile Corn Chowder

3 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced

3 cups finely diced Spanish onion
6 cups fresh corn
1 cup roasted green chile, mild to medium heat to taste*
2 cups heavy cream
3 quarts chicken stock
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup flour, all-purpose
½ cup vegetable oil

For garnish: 

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, marinated with garlic
4 jalapeno peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded
4 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded
4 sprigs cilantro

 

Saute onion with vegetable oil until transparent, add corn and cook until golden brown, about six minutes.
Add Green chile then chicken stock and stir, add potatoes and simmer until potatoes are done, about 15 minutes, then add the cream. 
Mix flour and butter to make a roux in a separate pan and cook over low heat until light brown in color add this to the soup, cook for another five minutes. 
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Grill and slice chicken breast.
Garnish with roasted jalapenos, roasted red peppers, chicken and cilantro.

Makes 4 generous servings.

 

*Green chiles can be ordered online at nmchili.com or new-mexico-catalog.com

 

Check out the Hot! Hot! Hot! Sante Fe Wine & Chili Fiesta September 24-28, 2008. This gourmet event featuring celeb chef dinners, and food & wine seminars sells out every year. If you’re interested, don’t hesitate to visit santafewineandchile.org
 
*La Posada de Santa Fe “Celebration of Women” Package includes two nights accommodations, special spa treatment, Georgia O’Keefe gifts, and more. $1,076 per room through December 21, 2008 www.rockresorts.com

 

*Ojo Caliente offers the special Las Diosas Del Agua (Goddesses of the Water) two night package that includes a new Plaza Cottage, Custom facial, and 50-minutes in a Private outdoor pool with kiva fireplace, and more $559 www.ojospa.com

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 112 - September 6442
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