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Driving up the winding road that leads to the resort, the iconic landscape of juniper and pinion studded foothills is immediately familiar, the subject of countless paintings, fine art books and photography displays. The preternatural golden light—withdrawn now and again by dramatic storm clouds—is surprisingly soft and beautiful. It’s hard to believe that we are just minutes from downtown Santa Fe; yet this exclusive destination provides “convenient seclusion,” tucked unobtrusively on fifty-seven acres of ancient desert foothills in the Tesuque Valley (also home to artists, actors, and other colorful southwest fauna). Rancho Encantado is near the base of New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains; looking out to the West, one is treated to expansive vistas of the New Mexican wilderness, the winding Rio Grande, and the once volcanic Jemez Range.
The resort’s sixty-five casitas “whose style reflects a contemporary interpretation of traditional Santa Fe design” blend harmoniously into their surroundings. Simple, earth-toned exteriors are trimmed in rich chocolate-colored wood. Kiva fireplaces, deep soaking tubs, walls of windows, polished cement floors and stone detailing combine with private terraces, his-and-her closets, state of the art technology, plasma screen televisions and elegant, ultra-comfortable furnishings to create a perfect nest away from home. Add in the 10,000 square-foot wellness spa, an outdoor adventure team at your beck and call, and a world-class chef, and you’ve got a truly enchanting destination resort.
Rancho Encantado boasts a vivid and romantic history, hosting a succession of impressive guests over it’s distinguished years. Among them have been Hollywood, European, and even Tibetan royalty. The resort’s visitors have included Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Redford and H.H. the Dalai Lama.
Despite the privileged atmosphere of contemporary luxury, the ranch itself is no city slicker’s iteration of the west. The property itself dates back to the turn of the century when it was originally known as “Rancho de las Sonadores” or Ranch of the Dreamers. In its early years, what is now known as Rancho Encantado (Enchanted Ranch) was a dude ranch where guests cooked their own meals, cleaned the stables and fed the horses. In 1954 Bill and Barbara Hooten bought the location and renamed it Rancho del Monte. The Hooten couple was the inspiration for the novel Guestward Ho! penned by Auntie Mame author Patrick Dennis. Guestward Ho! was later made into a movie and television series. In 1967 a Cleveland widow named Betty Egan headed west with dreams of reinventing a new life for herself and her children. She came upon the ranch and was instantly smitten. Mrs. Egan purchased the property and re-opened in 1968 as Rancho Encantado, (The Hootens were on to their next business creation: The Compound, a restaurant that would become another Santa Fe landmark.) Betty’s charismatic personality, hospitality, and ability to create a world class resort with a casual, yet elegant, ambiance attracted a growing list of luminaries that legend has it would gather on the bar’s terrace, laying down bets as to the exact time of the sun’s setting. Since Betty’s death in 1992, the ranch has seen various owners and the fabled retreat reopened on July 1, 2012 as New Mexico’s first and highly anticipated Four Seasons property. Here you’ll find the classic Four Seasons vision, impeccable management, and attention to detail (most of the staff, from the Valet to the Concierge, wear a uniform of jeans and authentic cowboy boots). Today, Rancho Encantado has evolved into the perfect modern getaway; a luxe desert sanctuary that provides guests unparalleled privacy in a gorgeous natural setting, but one conveniently close to Santa Fe’s historical Plaza, galleries, shops, and charming lilac lined Canyon Road. For the ultimate guest convenience, a Mercedes shuttle leaves hourly to and from the Santa Fe Plaza.
Renowned Executive Chef Andrew Cooper, previously Executive Sous-Chef at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai in Hawaii’s historic Ka’upulehu, is one of Rancho Encantado’s crown jewels and popular draws. With more than two decades of globe trotting culinary experience behind him, handsome Chef Cooper has brought both his wealth of culinary expertise and a refreshing social conscience to the table. An advocate of Farm to Restaurant and Farm to Table cuisine, Chef is also partnering with Home Grown New Mexico and Cooking with Kids, supporting awareness of the local food community and the importance of nutritious food choices. For dedicated foodies, the hot ticket is a seat at “Chef’s Table in Terra.” This formally-set, polished granite pub-height table is smack in the middle of the working kitchen, and is “the most exclusive table in the house, a culinary night of interactive fun and hands on experience in the kitchen with Executive Chef Cooper, that includes an eight-course tasting menu.”
The experience at Rancho Encantado is not complete without a visit (or two or three!) to the impressive 10,000 square foot wellness spa. An exquisite alabaster-hued warming room overlooks a tranquil garden, its architecture and ambiance designed to invoke the spirit and atmosphere of a traditional Kiva–a sacred building used by the ancient Pueblo people of the American Southwest. Among the signature spa treatments are the Altitude Adjustment Massage and the Sacred Stone Massage, both superb means of establishing equilibrium at Santa Fe’s 7,000 foot elevation, as well as facilitating profound relaxation.
FLORA AND FAUNA
An early morning hike with one of the expert guides from the on-site Adventure Partners will familiarize you with the terrain, and introduce you to the incomparable experienced of inhaling the rarified air and natural fragrances unique to the “land of enchantment.” An opportunity to discover the native plants, stones, and minerals—including the magnetic qualities of the indigenous rocks—is fascinating. My trek with guide Justin gave me a newfound awareness and respect for the desert ecosystem. I also became more at ease with the landscape’s more elusive inhabitants; native snakes and bobcats that are beautiful to see (if one is lucky enough to spot them), and present no significant threat to alert and respectful hikers.
Hans and Marge Loehrs, experienced trekkers who have been hiking through the Southwest for over twenty-five years, helm Adventure Partners, ensuring trustworthy stewardship of the land—and the guests! With an additional roster of carefully selected and extensively trained guides, they offer a variety of excursions into the surrounding New Mexico wilderness and historical territories. Browse their library of fascinating books on New Mexico’s culture and history and then customize a tour to your unique interests. Perhaps an excursion to Georgia O’Keefe’s starkly beautiful Ghost Ranch is your dream, or the many other sites steeped in Southwest lore.
When the legendary Santa Fe light transforms into a watercolor sunset of serene pinks, reds, and oranges, a requisite toast on the spectacular Monte Vista Terrace is in order. (It’s also a popular location for celebrations, grand or intimate.) Imbibe the cleverly named Honey Badger, an innovative and delicious concoction of Taos Lightning Bourbon, basil, Santa Fe Spirits Apple brandy and honey, all locally sourced. Or choose this COWGIRL editor’s pick: a flute of golden, bubbly Gruet Brut, the refreshingly refined sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in New Mexico.