Santa Fe, New Mexico: two unparalleled stays in “the land of enchantment”

The American Southwest is a place of stark, almost unearthly beauty. And the city of Santa Fe is perhaps the most extraordinary urban locale in a region where everything transcends the ordinary.  Condé Nast Traveler calls it one of the top 25 cities of the world, but locals would differ – they’d designate it city numero uno.  Historically, this movie-set landscape has been home to Native American tribes, Spanish conquistadores, and real-life cowboys, all struggling to coexist.  During the mid-20th century, artists from the east began settling in droves, enraptured by the unusual quality of light, the fragrant air, and the jewel-box night sky at Santa Fe’s 7000 ft. elevation (2150m).

In the simplest of terms, there are two Santa Fes.  First, there is the town itself, where traditional adobe architecture abounds. This is the foodie haven and design hub where the now ubiquitous “Santa Fe style” was born.  It’s also a healing mecca, drawing more alternative health practitioners per capita than anywhere else on the planet—or so it seems.  And, of course, this Santa Fe is a thriving arts center, renowned for galleries, artisans, and a world-class open-air opera.

The second Santa Fe can be found on the outskirts of town and beyond, in a land ringed by mountain ranges, where piñon dotted, clay-colored hills reflect the hues of blazing sunsets. This rustic Santa Fe is a favorite of hikers and mountain bikers, cyclists and skiers, as well as anthropology buffs in search of petroglyphs etched into rock.  In these lands you might discover a left-behind snake’s skin on your hiking trail, or stumble upon waterfalls and forest streams, rife with local fish.

Just as there are two Santa Fe’s, there are two perfect ways to experience the area. One of them: a carefully chosen city vacation home, replete with personalized five star amenities.  Another: a pristine resort hideaway snuggled into the curvaceous landscape just outside town. Which of these enchanted stays calls to you?

Aqui Santa Fe: your home in the “City Different”

Aqui Santa Fe is an oasis of refined luxury in a city where every real estate agency promises (but rarely delivers) vacation rental bliss. The firm’s petite, friendly, and energetic proprietor, Caroline Morgan, is blessed with the kind of background that makes her uniquely suited to caring for discerning guests.  As the executive assistant to one of America’s most beloved First Ladies, Caroline learned the true meaning of “exclusive” when she traveled the world in actual Presidential style. Later, Caroline managed art galleries in Santa Fe, and brokered multi-million dollar homes in Colorado and New Mexico.  Her understanding and personal experience of the art and luxury markets now translate into what I can best describe as “vacation home curation.”

AquiSantaFe condo

Each property in Caroline’s portfolio is carefully selected, designed, and furnished, exuding a wealth of old world charm coupled with contemporary sophistication. From the treasured art collections and hand-wrought four poster beds, to the crisp Italian linens and modern appliances, every aspect of an Aqui home receives Caroline’s expert and tasteful attention. Try to imagine a hotel comprised of designer suites located in varied destinations, while maintaining brand quality and consistency throughout, and you’ll grasp the Aqui difference.  Each Aqui home is individual in style and aesthetic, yet all properties retain equivalent standards of quality, luxury and care. I only wish Caroline could clone herself and develop Aqui branches all over the world.

Some of my favorite touches found in all Aqui homes:

Frette custom linens
Frette bathrobes
Plush Eco towels
Lofty down duvets
Etro designer toiletries
Protect-a-Bed allergy-free sleep zones
High speed WiFi
Stereo/CD
Flat screen TVs
Private Parking
Washer/dryer

Some homes also feature hand-sculpted wood burning fireplaces, deep soaking tubs, gardens, terraces, and the grand vistas that are so much a part of any Santa Fe experience.  I stayed for a month in a gracious art filled, two-story townhouse just steps from the Georgia O’Keefe museum, and couldn’t have been happier.

Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado

One of the newest Four Seasons properties, the Rancho Encantado resort is nestled in the magnificent pink-tinged hills of Tesuque just ten minutes north of Santa Fe—though being there feels as though you’re a million miles away.

Twenty years ago, when I first visited Santa Fe, the original Rancho Encantado was a small equestrian ranch with a storied history and a handful of adobe casitas scattered across the surrounding acreage. Their terrace restaurant was one of my favorite spots for brunch or drinks with friends; a lovely place to gaze out over pastel hills to a shocking blue sky, and watch enormous cotton-ball clouds drift by.

Today, the scenery is just as spectacular, but the original ranch house and casitas are gone. In their place is a luxury compound set on the same 57 unspoiled acres tucked gently into the Sangre de Cristo foothills.

Each of the 65 guestrooms and suites is a private casita of contemporary Southwest design. You’ll find soft linens, lofty beamed ceilings, polished cement floors, patios facing the staggering vistas, and kiva fireplaces, with cut wood stacked daily outside your door—plus an on-call “fireplace butler” to light it if you wish.

4S Casita

Though the nostalgic cowboy vibe of the original ranch is no more, today you’ll find these delightful new elements:

Fitness facilities that include an outdoor swimming pool, 1,200-square-foot gym, and an 800-square-foot movement studio for yoga, Pilates and meditation.

A “house” Mercedes to drive.  Just reserve and take it for a spin.

The Spa, where 15 treatment rooms provide innovative wellness services honoring the healing traditions indigenous to the region. The Spa also offers treatments to counterbalance the effects of the high altitude, plus men’s treatments, seasonal treatments, and special experiences for couples.

The Adventure Center – and, take note, that’s “Adventure” with a capital A. Because you’re in the high desert and have direct access to the 1.6-million-acre Santa Fe National Forest, seasonal weather patterns can be extreme, and sports activities vary accordingly. Thanks to the expert guides/instructors here, outings can be tailored to the climate and your interests or capabilities – whether you’re a rank beginner or daredevil outdoor enthusiast. Staff will help you design a dream experience, no matter what the season.  Of course, if a tour of nearby archeological or artistic sites is more your style, the Center will arrange that, too.

If you take advantage of the Adventure Center you’ll probably build up quite an appetite. Happily, the comfortably casual Terra dining room and cocktail lounge is open from morning ‘til night.  The restaurant showcases the freshest in locally influenced cuisine, with oversized windows and an open-air terrace that frames panoramic mountain views.

4S Terra terrace

At Terra, I especially loved the award winning soup of roasted winter squashes, chorizo and maple foam – tasting creamy and smoky, with just a hint of spice. And, while I don’t often wax poetic over restaurant desserts, Terra’s sampler of delectables is worthy of a sonnet—especially the cream brûlée topped by caramel-citrus fluff, which could inspire an ode all its own—or, in this case, maybe a country-western song.

New Mexico is known as “the land of enchantment” for too many reasons to count. But, surely, Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado is one of them.

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