La Fonda on the Plaza, Santa Fe

WHAT’S IT LIKE? La Fonda is one of the oldest hotels in the New Mexico capital of Santa Fe, which also happens to be the most historical city in the US, celebrating its 400th-year anniversary this year (2010). The property opened in 1922 and is said to occupy “the oldest hotel corner in the country”, as records suggest there have been inns on the site since 1610.

In keeping with the region’s traditional style of adobe architecture (buildings with thick, round-edged walls of clay and straw, and heavy wooden beams), the hotel offers guests an authentic New Mexican experience, and a refreshing change from the big chains found in other cities. The interiors are “Pueblo deco” in style, so expect colourful hand-painted tiles, terracotta floors, Native American textiles, carved wood panelling, kiva fireplaces and ornate metalwork light fittings. And, unsurprisingly for a city known for being the second-largest art market in the US, it also has a number of independent boutiques selling everything from tribal jewellery to antiques.

The property is composed of five floors (due to strict regulations developments can exceed this in the city) and is an ideal venue for small- to medium-sized corporate MICE (meeting, incentive, conferences and event) groups, as it offers 2,000 sqm of space for hire across a range of rooms, the best sunset roof terrace in town, and a “boutique hotel within a hotel” in the form of a 14-room concierge level that was added just over a decade ago, with contemporary furnishings and luxurious amenities.

WHERE IS IT? In Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, a state in the southwest of the US and bordering Mexico. The region is one of the country’s leading aerospace hubs, with Virgin Galactic and a number of federal military based here. Known as “the La of the Southwest” It also has a thriving movie-making scene. The nearest airport is in Albuquerque, about one hour’s drive from Santa Fe.

Santa Fe can also be accessed by the new Rail Runner Express train service that started operations between the two cities in December 2008. The hotel is located on the city’s central plaza and is within easy walking distance of the train station and Canyon Road, famous for its art galleries.

ROOM FACILITIES All rooms have free wifi, tea and coffee-making facilities, hairdryers, safes, robes, nightly turndown service, in-room dining, irons and ironing boards, and hand-painted furniture. Deluxe rooms and above are more spacious than the Standard rooms and also feature fridges, while the concierge Terrace rooms feature more contemporary décor, separate baths and showers (they are combined in all other rooms), private balconies, flatscreen TVs, free breakfast, and access to the Gathering room, with a working fireplace, private patio and hot tub.

My Deluxe room, complete with creaky floorboards and turquoise headboard behind the bed, was on the corner of the hotel facing the street so there was some disturbance from noise during the night – mainly because the windows are not double-glazed and I preferred to keep them open rather than use air conditioning. The technology was a little old fashioned (flatscreen TVs will be installed throughout in 2011), and the bathroom fairly simple, but the room itself was of a good size. Those looking for something more high-end should opt for a Terrace room, but the others have a quaint charm to them. There are no minibars in any of the rooms.

RESTAURANTS AND BARS La Fonda’s two restaurants are both on the ground floor, and when I arrived there was live country music playing in La Fiesta Lounge (open 11am-12am Mon-Sat, 12pm-11.30pm Sun), which offers a New Mexican buffet seven days a week. The adjacent La Plazuela sits beneath a glass roof and has trees and a fountain as centrepieces. It is open for breakfast (7am-11.30am), lunch (11.30pm-2/3pm) and dinner (5.30pm-10pm) daily. Dishes are hearty and incorporate numerous local specialities

Try filet y enchiladas – char-grilled petite filet mignon served with two Mexican cheese enchiladas and local Hatch red, green or Christmas chilli – for US$30, or the scrumptious huevos rancheros (great for brunch) consisting of eggs over-easy served on corn tortillas and topped with chillies, Asadero cheese, crispy tortilla strips, smoky black beans, and a warm tortilla (US$11).

Guests and locals alike gather for the ultimate sundowner on fine evenings at the rooftop Bell Tower bar – the killer margaritas, made with agave tequila, lime juice, Cointreau, sugar syrup and salt, have to be served on the rocks and will set you taste buds dancing.

BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILTIES In addition to a 24-hour business centre with three computers and a printer, there are 11 event spaces including the Garden Terrace (look out for humming birds), which is open between May and October and has five meeting rooms opening on to it, can accommodate about 220 people. The ballroom can host up to 750 standing, while the Exchange room can seat 20 delegates classroom style. All venues are individually designed and have natural daylight.

LEISURE FACILTIES The ground floor spa (open 9am-9pm) offers and range of treatments from US$65, an outdoor swimming pool and spa bath. It’s a little on the rustic side but pleasant nevertheless. There are plenty of good jogging routes near the hotel, and for those who are feeling particularly energetic, good walking trails in the mountains. Terrace room guests also have access to a small gym with three fitness machines.

VERDICT A charming, centrally located Santa Fe hotel offering corporate incentive and leisure guests a unique place to stay – the sunset views from the rooftop bar and the Terrace rooms are definite highlights.

FACT FILE

  • HOW MANY ROOMS? There 167 rooms and suites including 14 in the Terrace at La Fonda, a new concierge wing added 12 years ago.
  • ROOM HIGHLIGHTS The free wifi and quirky New Mexican décor.
  • PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in January started from US$137 for a Traditional king room.
  • CONTACT La Fonda on the Plaza, 100 East San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico; tel +1 505 9825 511; lafondasantafe.com

Jenny Southan


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