Friday, May 29, 2009

Santa Fe: the Perfect 3-Day Getaway

Travel+Leisure magazine gave Santa Fe, New Mexico its prestigious 2008 World's Best Cities Award, Outside Magazine called it a "Best Town" on their 2007 list, while American Style named Santa Fe in their Top 25 Art Destinations for 2008.

Better yet for my Pinewood neighbors, Santa Fe is an easy six-hour drive away. Easy because you're driving on open, four-lane Interstate highways. Many vacationers are opting to stay near home this summer. If you are one of those "staycationers," Santa Fe -- a world-class destination located right in our back yard -- might be the perfect choice for you.

Called the "City Different" for a reason, Santa Fe is unlike any other place on the globe. Its long and colorful history and its cutting-edge arts community are a couple of the reasons that Santa Fe is ranked among the world's most prominent getaways. Historic adobe structures line the downtown plaza where European visitors buy exquisite silver jewelry from local Native Americans. The sorrowful chords of a Spanish guitar may stray out from a narrow alleyway. The smell of green chilies and blue corn tamales is in the air.

Santa Fe's favorite artist Georgia O'Keeffe said about New Mexico: "It's something that is in the air; it's different. The sky is different. The land is different. The air is different." We left lazy Pinewood one Friday at 6:30AM to check out the "City Different."

With road tunes cranked, we passed the fiberglass dinosaurs guarding Petrified Forest National Park. At Gallup, we drove right on by my favorite restaurant, El Rancho Restaurant located in the historic hotel of the same name. By 12:30 Arizona Time we were pulling up to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. A mere 399 miles from the Pinewood Post Office.

The Museum of International Folk Art is one of the only museums in the US that has a wing dedicated to Hispanic/Latino cultures. Check their calendar for current exhibitions. So many fascinating museums fill Santa Fe that it's difficult to narrow your choices. For a three-day stay, we recommend the $20.00 pass to any of five museums (Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Museum of International Folk Art, New Mexico Museum of Art, Palace of the Governor's Museum and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art).

Santa Fe is a historic "walking city." You'll feel comfortable strolling around the Plaza day or night. The landmark La Fonda hotel has attracted visitors to the city center for decades. Or you could choose the adobe, eye-inspiring Inn and Spa at Loretto, an up-market property located next to the famous Loretto Chapel and just off the Plaza.

We opted for the Native-American owned, Hotel Santa Fe with a short, ten-minute stroll to the Plaza. They offer a generous shuttle service with friendly and prompt drivers. The feel is intimate and friendly and you'll enjoy exploring the grounds while photographing the inspiring sculpture gardens. Special touches include live native flute performances on scheduled evenings and colorful tribal dancing during the summer months.

One of the splendors of Santa Fe is its fabulous cuisine, so Friday evening we venture out to sample the food fusion for which SF's award-winning restaurants are famous. We choose Chef Brian Cooper's kitchen. The renowned Chef makes his culinary headquarters at the Inn and Spa at Loretto's new restaurant, Luminaria. He fuses Southwestern and Mediterranean tastes by using seasonal and organic fruits and veggies grown right in the Santa Fe area.

The professional wait staff is friendly and polite as I ask for names of ingredients that I can't quite wrap my brain (tongue?) around. It's chipotle in the pumpkin seed biscotti. And, of course, blue corn in the tasty, moist muffins. The Jicama in the crispy slaw is a stumper, but I can sure taste the cucumber in the sorbet topping the raw oyster appetizer.

The scallops and Spanish chorizo on a bed of lemon spaetzle, wilted arugula and sweet corn sauce is to die for! But if this sounds too frou-frous for you, cowboy rib eye steak, buffalo NY strip and filet mignon, too, are on the menu.

We took a stroll through the delightful Luminaria's patio -- which has an incredible nighttime view of the illuminated Loretto Chapel -- before we walk off the strawberry-rhubarb claufois and vanilla ice cream strolling back to Hotel Santa Fe.

For an easy way to get to know any city during a short stay, I always recommend a walking tour. So on Saturday morning we meet our friendly guide in the lobby of La Fonda. (I like to practice what I preach.) Knowledgeable Joel packs into two hours much more that I could ever read in a history book. He sifts it all out and makes Santa Fe's stories come alive as we walk streets that have been trod since the 1600s. Santa Fe is the oldest continuous capital city in the nation. It has been under the rule of Spanish kings, Mexico, the US and even the southern Confederacy.

After the tour you could head to La Boca, one of Santa Fe's newest spots for tasty tapas with new friends from the tour. Or you could try my ol' stand-by for lunch: The Blue Corn Café and Brewery. I douse the fire in the Grilled Corn and Chipotle Soup with the Rio Chama Amber Ale, as recommended by out tattooed waiter, Mica.

Gallery hopping and shopping was the rule for the remainder of the day. That evening we relax listening to native flute music with quite a crowd at the Hotel Santa Fe's lobby/lounge. Then off for margs at a local's haunt, The Shed.

"You've been to Santa Fe, but never to The Shed?" crooned the blonde bombshell at the bar. I learned that she has two homes: one in Santa Fe and one in LA. "I just got off the plane; haven't even been home yet. I just had to stop in here first and have my "regular." If her regular was THAT good, I had to have one, too. The Silver Coin Margarita, made with El Tesoro Silver Tequila and Cointreau went down just fine.

Any 45-minute wait at a locals' restaurant is a promise of good food, but my source had said, "Some of the best New Mexican food in the state. I have been eating there for twenty years." Blue corn chicken enchiladas smothered in green sauce with hearty beans and posole on the side. No food fusion here: 100% Northern New Mexican cuisine! My source was spot-on!

On Sunday morning you have time for a horseback ride before you mosey back to Munds. There is no better way to experience the desert Southwest than from the back of a horse. At Bishop's Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa, our horses were well-trained and the views of the Sangre de Christo (Blood of Christ) Mountains were breath-taking. Disclosure of height, weight, age, and level of riding experience are required upon making a reservation, but the wrinkled wranglers promised not to share my personal information with anyone else. As a special Sunday treat, the resort's restaurant, Las Fuentes offers a fabulous champagne brunch. The Bishop's Lodge is a nice hideaway and makes for a memorable launching pad for your trip back home.

Vagabonding Lulu's Hot Travel Tips:

For a limited time, book two nights and get 15% off the Best Available Rate at the Inn and Spa at Loretto. Hey gal-pals, there are also Spa Packages available! Sweet!

Don't miss any of the Santa Fe experience: walk with professional guides that truly love their 'City Different.' They'll show you why.

Fill your tank and coffee cups at Winslow's Flying J (gas typically ten cents less per gallon than in Flagstaff). Just west of Albuquerque -- a friend from Wales loves to say that word -- at Exit 102 there is another Flying J.

Directions: Simply grab I-17 north to Flagstaff and hang a right onto I-40. The only tricky part is merging onto I-25 north when you are in Albuquerque. But the signs reading "To Santa Fe" are big and green, and easy to follow through that stretch.

Reprinted from The Pinewood News, May 20, 2009

Vagabonding Lulu Travel Column

Flagstaff, Munds Park, Pinewood, Arizona

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