Relish the Pueblo Revival architecture of Santa Fe by immersing yourself in one of its finest establishments, La Fonda on the Plaza. According to the city’s records there has always been a fonda (inn) on the hotel’s site since the Santa Fe was founded in 1607. This venerable luxury hotel was constructed in 1922 as railway hotel under the auspices of the Fred Harvey Company, who operated several dozen lodgings across the Western USA. You can learn more about Fred Harvey’s remarkable empire at the nearby New Mexico History Museum. Before embarking into the wondrous world of luxury lodgings and fine dining, Fred was a New York dishwasher.
The vaunted Southwest designer, Mary Jane Coulter, was deployed by Harvey to unleash her creative verve across a slate of their railway hotels, including the Grand Canyon’s El Tovar. La Fonda continues to faithfully radiate with Coulter’s divine vision, best expressed by the whimsically painted headboards in every guestroom and the handcrafted furniture. Early New Mexican themes predominate, from painted tile murals in the bathrooms to Native American textiles and designs on the blankets, curtains and rugs, to the local art that hangs in every room.
Despite a major renovation several years ago, La Fonda has remained true to Coulter’s seductive Southwest aesthetic, which first lured rail passengers to this iconic sanctuary, over a century ago. Santa Fe prides itself on its distinctive blend of traditional Native American culture and edgy hipster cool. La Fonda personifies that spirit, from the café in its time-honoured tiled lobby to its Pueblo Revival tower. I soon noticed that the lobby is a vibrant nexus for locals and visitors alike, who flock here to wine, dine and revel in the property’s finest features. The museum-like attention to detail is remarkable, from the hand-carved furniture, glorious fireplaces and vintage light fixtures to the staggering collection of Southwest art.
Docents lead regular free tours, dipping into the hotel’s deep history and art. (Reservations are essential.) Alternatively, you can download the La Fonda mobile app and explore the artworks like a local. Spanning off the lobby is the buzzing La Fiesta Lounge, the atmospheric La Plazuela restaurant, along with a slew of galleries and boutiques, ranging from La Fonda Indian shop, which specialises in Native American jewellery and pottery, to Passementrie, which offers handmade textiles. Stylish and festive, La Fiesta Lounge presents nightly live music, a supreme perch for people-watching and some of the best margaritas in town.
As much a Native American museum as a restaurant, the hotel’s legendary cuisine is lustily showcased at La Plazuela, with its hand-painted windows illuminating an abundance of folk art. All individually decorated, the glass panes festoon the surrounds of the restaurant and are a cat-nip for Instagram. They were created by Ernesto Martinez, widely regarded as la Fonda’s resident artist, who stamped his mark throughout the property, including commissioned paintings and murals and custom tinwork. La Plazuela (little plaza) is an instantly likable space, high-ceilinged and atrium-style with fairy-lit trees in the middle of the room.
Beyond its dazzling design, classic Santa Fe cuisine prepared with a modern twist is what you can expect, such as enchiladas del norte and red chile pork tamales. I got my days off to a cracking start breakfasting on Huevos Rancheros, comprising eggs cooked over-easy on corn tortillas, New Mexico Hatch, red, green and Christmas chile ( Santa Fe’s spelling of chilli), asadero cheese, crispy tortilla strips, smoky black beans, pork posole and warm flour tortillas. For dinner, don’t miss the Filet Enchiladas, bursting with chargrilled beef, fresh white corn, cheese enchiladas, chile, pinto and pinto beans. In the warmer months, another stirring hospitality spot is the Bell Tower Bar, a supreme rooftop roost from which to watch the afternoon fade into a rich Santa Fe sunset, over playful cocktails.
My gorgeous guestroom, brimming with contemporary creature comforts, was also graced with hand-carved Southwestern antiques and fine artwork, including a brightly-painted headboard. Higher-end suites are accentuated with fireplaces and balconies. Designer toiletries, a custom-tiled walk-in shower, bidet and large tub define the bathroom.
Iconic architecture, a prime location, stylish digs, a deep history, ever-evolving art, embracing ambience and highly attentive service all combine to make this decorated hotel the Grand Dame of Santa Fe. It’s now wonder that La Fonda keeps enticing guests back time and again to experience the American Southwest. How very apt that the Santa Fe Trail, which previously carried goods and helped populate the American West, ends right at the doorstep of the inn. https://www.lafondasantafe.com/
Routinely lauded as one of the USA’s finest destinations, if you’re planning a visit to this New Mexico treasure-chest, check-in on the official visitor website. https://santafe.org/
Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.