Native American statue on Museum Hill, Santa Fe, NM

Native American statue on Museum Hill, Santa Fe, NM. photo by Karen Kuzsel

The rich, the famous and the infamous pinned Santa Fe, NM to the pages of history, but it’s the arts that have solidified its reputation for the future. Whether we’re talking about paintings, sculptures, Native American handcrafted jewelry, bohemian clothing, books, movies or its distinctive cuisine, Santa Fe’s art rises from the desert floor like scented steam from one of its many spiritually sacred spas. You can see it. You can breathe it. But what matters is how it makes you feel.
The Southwestern city of 70,000 is a smorgasbord for the senses wrapped in an eclectic blanket of Spanish, Cowboy and Native American influences. It made me feel alive, refreshed, awakened, attuned, energized and wired during my recent visit. (And that’s without the light-headedness that comes from being at 7,000-ft elevation. Drink water until you feel squishy to avoid headaches or nausea.) I felt it immediately upon reaching the city limits, an hour’s drive from the easy-to-maneuver Albuquerque International Airport (20 from the Santa Fe Airport) and saw how the zoning-mandated and culturally-authentic brown adobe buildings that blend seamlessly into the inescapable desert terrain also serve as a blank canvas to the vibrant displays of art bursting like wildflowers in the Spring.  
In this flourishing city now ranked as the third largest art market in the world, there are 250 art galleries (more than a 100 of which cram the one mile stretch known as Canyon Road), 250 restaurants, 1,400 (mostly boutique) hotel rooms, and statues elegantly defining its cultural roots. My beaded braids, gypsy attire and personal spirited philosophy of life fit into the landscape as if I were a resident.
The core of the oldest U.S. Capital city, established in 1610, is a squared plaza and the oldest marketplace in the country. Across the street, Native Americans sell their authenticated handcrafted jewelry and souvenirs from colorful blankets sheltered under the roofline of the oldest public building in the country– the Palace of the Governors. During a geocaching adventure led by Santa Fe Mountain Adventures we explored the Palace of the Governors and saw the cell where Territorial Governor Lew Wallace hid out from Billy the Kid. During that months-long self-preservation, Wallace wrote “Ben Hur”. We peeked into the tiny shop where the Los Alamos scientists were directed to pick up their as yet unknown assignments for a mysterious project that forever altered the nature of warfare. One of the women in our group was a member of one of Santa Fe’s founding families. She said the world may not have known about the Manhattan Project, but the people living in Santa Fe knew something big was occurring when all these strangers suddenly appeared and headed to that shop. Later they heard the rumblings and booms that accompanied the atomic bomb tests.
You can barely walk 50 feet in Santa Fe without coming across a boutique vendor selling colorful western or bohemian-styled clothing or jewelry. I kept envisioning myself with a shopping cart and a bag of money cruising slowly from shop to table or blanket taking in the individually crafted pieces. Unfortunately for me (but better for my bank account), I had but 10 minutes to really shop and still managed to snag two beautiful upcoming birthday gifts.
There are 14 museums in Santa Fe. Four occupy Museum Hill, including the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture and the Museum of International Folk Art. Large mountains are visible from the large plaza that rests between the museums, making the perfect venue for sunset-lit cocktail receptions when winter hasn’t yet strangled warmer temperatures. We didn’t visit those museums, though there is a four-day Museums & Monuments pass that allows entry into five museums. We did, however, take an hour docent tour of the only museum dedicated to Georgia O’Keeffe, whose love affair with Santa Fe’s landscape, architecture and religious passions is renowned. When I return to Santa Fe, I’d like to travel to O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch, her 21,000 acre refuge that been an Education and Retreat Center of the Presbyterian Church since 1955 and is open to all.
I definitely want to put Gruet Winery in Albuquerque on my tour. We did a sampling of four sparkling wines (for which Gruet is famous) and a couple others. None of the ones we sampled are available in Florida, darn it. The sparklers were dazzling. I particularly enjoyed one made with both chardonnay and pinot noir combined.
I’d also like to visit the pueblos in Taos 90 miles away and check out The Bishop’s Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa, a secluded sanctuary on 450 stunning acres in the Tesuque Valley of Northern New Mexico. Bishop’s Lodge served as the backdrop for the movie, Crazy Heart, for which Jeff Bridges won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Actor. Executive Chef Christopher McLean says the ranch has horses and is surrounded by forest even though only minutes from Santa Fe’s plaza, but if you’re coming, try his European-influenced Nuevo Ranchero cooking.  
Crazy Heart wasn’t the only recent movie featuring Santa Fe locations. The 2013 American western action film, The Lone Ranger, produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films and directed by Gore Verbinski, also claims Santa Fe roots.
Santa Fe is one of the most walkable cities I’ve ever been to. People are actively walking, shopping, admiring the statues dotting the landscape, or during the summer, dancing to the diverse music offered by the plaza’s three nightly concerts. Outdoor sports are popular all year. People daily crowd the farmer’s market at the newly expanded Railyard District. On Saturdays, 300 vendors offer local harvest and crafts such as smudge sticks for cleansing negative spirits. Five new art galleries have created a mini Gallery District adjacent to the Railyard District. Groups of 100 have popularized progressive receptions through the galleries, perhaps travelling first on the 1-1/2 hour guided Loretto Lines tram tour of the city. We also had a packed educational tour of possible party venues by Marcia Skillman with Destination Services of Santa Fe. One of those venues is the 32,000-sf Gerald Peters Gallery, the largest privately-owned gallery in the U.S.
Shannon George Williams, Director of Programs for the Society of International Business Fellows and one of my fellow group members, says finding unique meeting destinations is a must for his executives, who are world travelers. “Santa Fe’s vibrant art scene offers something for everyone in my group, from meeting local artists to strolling through the myriad of galleries boasting contemporary, Native American, and traditional art.   An eclectic cultural center in a beautiful setting ensures a successful meeting. Santa Fe fits the bill perfectly!”
Miracle Spiral Staircase at the Loretto Chapel

Miracle Spiral Staircase at the Loretto Chapel. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Religion factors heavily into Santa Fe’s spiritual community. Native American talismans and iconic symbols of organized religions live side-by-side in harmony. I had been told not to leave Santa Fe without seeing the miracle staircase of the Loretto Chapel. It is a thing of startling beauty and so is the legend behind its construction. The story goes that in 1878 the sisters of the church had been praying for days to get a staircase built so the choir could access the loft, but they had no money and the space requirements were limited. An unknown carpenter (rumored to be Jesus) appeared, bearing only a few tools such as nails, hammer and saw. He built this gorgeous spiral staircase using woods not indigenous to the region, and then disappeared. Most remarkable is that there is no visible support to the staircase. It’s seems miraculously suspended in air.
We heard the story of why Hebrew letters are carved above the door of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, also known as St. Francis Cathedral. The cathedral was built by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy in the late 1800’son the site of an older, adobe church. Originally the structure was to have 160 steeples but their money ran out. Jewish merchants came to the rescue. It is allegedly the only example in America of a Catholic church bearing Hebrew writing.
Anyone who has read my blogs knows I am passionate about cooking (and baking), so it was with great pleasure that our group was taken to the Santa Fe School of Cooking. Though I was disappointed we weren’t actually cooking as I had thought, Executive Chef Tracy Ritter described the significance of different chili peppers and their impact on New Mexican-styled cooking. We learned Santa Fe is the oldest wine growing region in the country and that New Mexico is one of the few states that have a state cookie. New Mexico’s is the Biscochito, a light sugar cookie that melts in your mouth.
We learned that the names of chile peppers varies by where it is grown and that the smaller the chile pepper is, the hotter it is. We tasted the 3 Sisters of New Mexican cuisine: corn, beans and squash, a combination applied over and mixed into many dishes. Before we shopped in the gift store, where we could buy freshly-made chile pepper powders, other herbs, and cooking accessories specific to this type of cooking, we taste several locally-popular dishes including a scrumptious dessert of Mexican chocolate ice cream and Biscochitos. My only complaint was that I wanted more of all of it.
When I return, I definitely want to partake of some of the cooking classes. Some are demo, some hands-on. There are two classrooms. One fits 60 and the other 40. Corporate groups have made simple dishes like salsa or tamales for team building exercises, or have prepared whole meals, ranging from traditional to contemporary to Native American-inspired to a menu built around Georgia O’Keeffe’s ideas about food and cooking. One group program I thought particularly clever is called the Artist’s Menu. A menu is created around a local guest artist’s work, which is also displayed. Not only does the group get an art lecture, and eat a lovely meal, but they each get to take home a piece of that artist’s work.  
Two of the most popular menus (from over 30 offered) are Traditional New Mexican 1 and the Contemporary Southwest II.  The former includes corn tortillas, cheese enchiladas with red chile sauce, chicken enchiladas with green chile sauce, pinto beans, posole, and Capirotada (pecan bread pudding).  The latter includes spicy tortilla soup, grilled adobo marinated flank steak, Cascabel steak sauce, green chile mac’n cheese, mojo marinated vegetables, and coconut flan with salted caramel. Don’t those just make your mouth water?
With so many museums, galleries, restaurants, and naturally scenic landscape, having a party that reflects the flavors of soul of Santa Fe is easy to achieve. For indoor events, groups may want to check out the recently modernized and expanded Santa Fe Community Convention Center.  Christine Madden, Director of Sales for the Santa Fe CVB says the Convention Center can host up to 2,000. There is 40,000 sf of rentable interior meeting space, including a 17,900 sf ballroom with 22’ high ceilings, outdoor terrace and courtyard, and furniture and art pieces by well-known New Mexican artists.” Santa Fe is also known for having a plethora of downtown boutique hotels and two branded properties … all of which center around art and Southwestern décor. We didn’t visit all of them, but here are some you may want to further check into.
Governor of the Picuris Pueblo blessed our breakfast at Santa Fe Hotel

Governor of the Picuris Pueblo blessed our breakfast at Santa Fe Hotel. photo by Karen Kuzsel

 HOTEL SANTA FE, THE HACIENDA AND SPA – One of the most spiritually-rewarding experiences I had in Santa Fe was breakfast on the patio of the Hotel Santa Fe, The Hacienda And Spa, the city’s only Native American-owned hotel. We dined on the patio, near to the 22’ teepee symbolizing the city’s ties to Native Americans. We received a blessing from the Governor of the Picuris Pueblo (one of 17 local tribes) while a Native American flautist serenaded. Sales Manager Ben Selcke says the tent is a huge draw for groups who want to host their reception for up to 150 people on the patio. For an off-site venue, he says groups will shuttle their party to the Picuris Pueblo, about 20 minutes away.       
The AAA 4-Diamond property has 130 rooms in the main hotel and an upscale 35-room addition called the Hacienda, which offers 24/7 butler service and private lounge for dining and drinks. Both sections have art collections worth millions. For the best rates, come in November
It was at Hotel Santa Fe that our group first saw (ever) handicap lifts at the pool and hot tub. The suite-oriented hotel has more than 7,000 sf of meeting space and one of the city’s newest spas. The beauty of the spa begins with floor-to-ceiling mirrors patterned with crystal rock wall designs. It’s as if you are instantly breathing fresh and quieting air.
HILTON SANTA FE HISTORIC PLAZA HOTEL is the only branded property in the downtown core. The entire hotel, except for the three historic casitas (extended stay villas) was recently taken down to the studs and rebuilt. The casitas, located in a separate building that once house horse stables, received all new soft goods and light renovation. “We get strong corporate business because they know the consistency they’re receiving with the Hilton brand,” says Suzanne Taylor, Director of Sales & Marketing. There are 158 rooms, two restaurants and two ballrooms. The 1995 sf ballroom is in the historic area and the 3,100 sf ballroom is in the rebuilt section.
LA FONDA – No hotel has deeper historical roots than La Fonda (Spanish for inn). It is said that accommodations were first built on that spot in 1610. In 1922 the hotel was built and in 1926, it was leased to the Fred Harvey Company for the next 40 years. Now, the Harvey Company may not mean anything to you, but I remember my Mom and I snuggling up on the couch to watch Judy Garland serving up a mean side of food and temper in MGM’s 1946 musical, The Harvey Girls. It wouldn’t have mattered to me that the hotel turned out to be stunning, beginning with its renowned hand-painted interior windows enclosing the famed La Plazuela restaurant. As far as I was concerned, this was a breathing memory of Judy Garland, a favorite musical, and my Mom.
So, for 90 years, La Fonda has been the only hotel directly on the plaza, says Director of Sales Ed Pulsifer. Multi-millions were just spent rebuilding the entire hotel with modern technology and amenities, while still celebrating the architectural styling of Mary Jane Colter, one of the Southwest’s most prominent architects in 1920’s. “We have the largest ballroom outside of the Convention Center at 6,500-sf, more than 21,000-sf of function space, 179 renovated rooms, and the new rooftop Belltower Bar, which offers stunning sunset views May through October.” La Fonda just won I AAA 4 Diamond rating for the first time.
What truly had all of us awed was the beauty of the new 3,000-sf terrace that overlooks the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. The potted flowers surrounding a large fountain, classic statues and rich mosaic tiling define this elegant terrace for a cocktail reception or dinner as an exceptional venue.
One of many Native American sculptures gracing the streets of Santa Fe

One of many Native American sculptures gracing the streets of Santa Fe. photo by Karen Kuzsel

THE ELDORADO HOTEL & SPA is more like an art gallery with the largest volume of meeting space and 213 guest rooms and six suites, thanks to a recent renovation that expanded the lobby and displays the art of seven galleries and the artists they represent. Each piece is displayed in a vignette or posed for purchase. “We love showing off our art,” says Norbert Relecker, GM. “When people come out for conference breaks they can be inspired by the art and the setting.”
The Eldorado is is across the street from the Lensic Performing Arts Center and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. It’s accessibility to both are perfect for groups who want to capitalize on an artsy tour followed by a gourmet meal for 250 max in the lobby or in one of the hotel’s ballrooms, according to Doug Libby, director of Sales & Marketing. The Presidential Suite’s 3,710-sf patio can accommodate up to 150, with 360-degree views of downtown Santa Fe and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (Spanish for “Blood of Christ”).” The Eldorado has over 23,500 sf of function space, including the rebuilt open-air courtyard called the Pavilion, which can hold 400 for banquet, 700 for reception. During cooler seasons, the space can be enclosed and heated. All the ballrooms contain wood-burning fireplaces.
LA POSADA OF SANTA FE RESORT & SPA is justifiably nicknamed The Art Hotel. Art Curator Sara Eyestone presides over more than 600 pieces selectively displayed throughout the AAA Four Diamond resort and 157 individually styled rooms, of which 119 are historic and retain features such as traditional viga and latilla ceilings and kiva fireplaces.  This hotel is so beautiful that I kept tripping over my feet to admire the décor and art.
Art collectors, take note: the six-acre downtown property featuring Pueblo revival architecture has an exclusive Collectors Rate program. “Buy a piece of art and return at half the nightly rate, with resort fees waived,” says Mark Miller, Senior Sales Manager.
Cocktail receptions for 180 are often held on the lawn, which can be tented for cooler nights. For an elegant dinner, dine at Fuego, a AAA  Four diamond award-winning restaurant. The Staab House, named for original owners, offers specialty cocktails and light food.  Some say the ghost of Julia Staab, the victim of deep depression over the loss of a child, still haunts the Staab House. Witnesses have sworn that she wears a dark flowing gown and a hood. That and similar tales have made La Posada a favorite of TV shows, “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Weird Travels.”
DRURY PLAZA HOTEL doesn’t open until summer, 2014, but the 182-room property will be located two blocks from the plaza and adjacent to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. The family owned and operated hotel is an “adaptive reuse” of the 1954 vintage territorial-style St. Vincent Hospital building designed by renowned architect John Gaw Meem. The former boiler building has been restructured into a meeting center. The hotel will have an on-site restaurant and a 204 space parking garage with retail shops fronting on Paseo de Peralta.
Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events.; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.

0 replies
    • karen kuzsel
      karen kuzsel says:

      It truly was wonderful. They took excellent care of us. Loved the educational aspects as much as the activities and food, but I must say: the Santa Fe hosts and the people in our group were exceptionally friendly, outgoing and fun.

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