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Posted by on Feb 28, 2007 in Spa Reviews | 8 comments

New Mexico: Truly the Land of Enchantment

New Mexico: Truly the Land of Enchantment

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Rancho de San Juan

Cell phone reception can be spotty, and sometimes the quiet is so rich and deep, the only sound you hear is that of your own breathing. It’s Georgia O Keeffe country, a magical landscape of crimson-colored hills and the setting for Rancho de San Juan, an elegant yet eminently comfortable desert oasis nestled between Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Owners David Heath, an architect, and John Johnson III, an interior designer, dreamed of creating a destination unlike any other in the southwest, a place where they could share their large art collection and where they could act as hosts, rather than simply as owners and developers. They succeeded in this–and more. Today Rancho de San Juan is a member of Relais & Chateaux, the only such property in the southwest, recognized by the readers of Cond Nast Traveler as one of the top 75 hotels in the U.S. and a Mobil Four-Star Award Winner for several years.

My first glimpse of the property took in a stylish Spanish hacienda, a courtyard filled with flowers, trees and sculptures, a bubbling fountain in the shade of a wisteria-covered portal. I immediately felt welcome, a feeling that grew when I entered my casita, where a split of red wine and some crunchy snacks were set out on the dining table. Designer water was chilling in the kitchen. The casita was simply gorgeous, graced with plantation shutters and flanked


The bedroom was equally comfortable and luxurious, with a king bed dressed in fine Frette Egyptian cotton sheets. The bathroom was probably the star, with a marble shower, a whirlpool bath, Aveda bath products–and a fluffy robe to snuggle into.


newmexico-402by a private patio. More than once I thought: I could live quite happily here, spending evenings by the wood-burning fireplace, reading my way through the library of books and magazines that had been thoughtfully provided. The bedroom was equally comfortable and luxurious, with a king bed dressed in fine Frette Egyptian cotton sheets. The bathroom was probably the star, with a marble shower, a whirlpool bath, Aveda bath products–and a fluffy robe to snuggle into.

My casita, like the other accommodations there are 15 deluxe rooms and casitas in all featured art by the renowned New Mexico artist, Doug Coffin, a friend of the owners. I was enchanted by Coffin’s work, and before I left New Mexico, I bought one of his striking sun pieces.

Beyond the beauty of Rancho de San Juan is the truly magical setting: 225 acres in the Chama River Valley where the Ojo Caliente River flows into the Rio Grande newmexico-6River. There are unique sandstone formations here, camp sites of the ancient Pueblo Indians, petroglyphs and the glorious sandstone shrine, commissioned by the owners and called Windows in the Earth by the sculptor Ra Paulette. The shrine, which took two and a half years to complete, features long windows that provide a stunning panorama of the surrounding countryside.

There is so much to see and do and explore, a 15-minute hike to the shrine in the early morning, a ride on horseback through the same terrain followed by Billy Crystal and Jack Palance in City Slickers, a visit to the Georgia O Keefe museum or Ghost Ranch to be followed by a leisurely recovery soak in the whirlpool.

One of the most luxurious elements of a holiday here is a massage in the privacy of your own casita. Martina, the therapist who works with Rancho de San Juan, knocked on my door exactly at the appointed time and proceeded to set up her massage table, as requested, in my bedroom  (in winter the massage could be done in front of the fireplace, in the summer, outside on the patio). After telling Martina that I had recently injured my knee, I left the rest to her. Using a lightly scented coconut oil, she proceeded to work her particular magic for a full 90 minutes ($185; 60 minutes, $135), using traditional Swedish techniques to coax the kinks from my body, but also infusing a hint of Ayurveda as she massaged my head, along with my neck and shoulders. Some hand and foot reflexology rounded out the Rancho-Swedish Massage.

Also available, for the same price, is the Wrangler, a deep tissue massage that includes some mild stretching which could be a good antidote to a whitewater rafting trip.

For couples, the Champagne Deluxe Package for Two is offered; priced at $750 per couple; it includes one night’s lodging, either in a Superior Room or Casita Suite, champagne on arrival, two 50-minute massages (or one 90-minute massage), a gourmet four-course dinner for two (excluding beverages) and a full breakfast for two.

newmexico-9In addition to pampering its guests, Rancho de San Juan serves food to delight any palate at its award-winning restaurant, where John Johnson, is not only a gracious host but the executive chef of the restaurant. The menu, which changes regularly, uses the finest ingredients from local valley growers.

A typical dinner might start with Oven Roasted Oysters on the Half Shell with Tomato, Bacon and Basil or Celery Root Remoulade with a Caramelized Diver Scallop and Balsamic Reduction, then move on to Alaskan Halibut prepared with Lemon Caper and Basil Butter, Saffron Rice Pilaf and Sauteed Green Beans or a Grilled Double Cut Pork Chop served with Dijon Mustard Cream Pan Jus, Mashed Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Kale. The finish is no less sublime, perhaps with house-made chocolate ice cream topped with hot chocolate sauce, whipped cream and toasted almonds or a rustic apple tart served with bourbon sauce and Cr me Anglaise.

Not only is the food satisfying here, it is beautifully presented, on Limoges porcelain, with real silver flatware and fine crystal. Fresh flowers, candlelight, crisp starched linens soft jazz or classical music–all invite the diner to linger and relax, to bask in the attentive service, enjoy the art on the walls, the veritable feast for the senses. Breakfast is no less a treat; it includes granola, cereals and such mouth-watering specials as pancakes, French toast, waffles, omelets and other appealing dishes. Accompanying this bounty is freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh fruit and superior coffee.

The only regret I had during my stay at Rancho de San Juan was that I could not stay another day or two or three.

Standard rooms are $275; Superior rooms, $375; Deluxe Casitas with King bed, $450.

Rancho de San Juan

P.O. Box 4140
Espa ola, NM 87533

El Monte Sagrado

newmexico-3A different kind of luxury, a different kind of magic can be found in Taos at El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa ™, which is part of the Kessler Collection of properties. Located at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the resort is known for its commitments to ecological preservation and sustainability. It has its own water purification system, geothermal heating and cooling system and organic bio-degradable bath products.

There are 36 adobe-style suites, each different, each lavishly decorated, with design themes from the world over; there’s also a Kama Sutra suite, with suggestively carved furniture to emphasize the theme.

I stayed in the Japan Suite, which has a granite-like finish and overlapping colors on the wall, an enormous cabinet with painted panels and gold leaf, a mini-refrigerator and wet bar, Shoji screens, an outdoor hot tub in a private courtyard and other touches that created a sense of Asia in New Mexico.

After enjoying a fresh-as-can-be Turkey Wrap in the bright and airy Gardens restaurant (later I would indulge in a richer meal in the elegant De La Tierra restaurant) I hastened to explore the resort’s Living Spa, which is enveloped in natural light from soaring glass ceilings. The sound of waterfalls, the scent of tropical flowers calmed the senses, as did the serene relaxation area.

newmexico-4My therapist, Patty, explained my treatments when I asked questions and allowed me to drift when I was quiet. My High Desert Body Polish ($60 for 30 minutes, as an add-on) was a gentle exfoliation using blended plants and flowers from Taos and surrounding areas finished with an application of hydrating sage lotion that left my skin soft and without the irritation that sometimes follows a too-vigorous scrub. My Custom Massage ($115, 60 minutes) was also on the gentle side, at my request, with special attention to my injured knee, which once again responded well to Patty’s expert touch.

When my treatments were finished and while I relaxed, content, I smiled as I scanned the spa menu. This was New Age country, I thought, with offerings like Spiritual Cleansing with Grandmother Jean and Animal Communication Session with Jeff Jordy and The Soul’s Blueprint with Julie Kelly. All this made me wish I had the time to work my way through all these options.

I did have time to visit the Aqua Center, which features a plunge pool, wading pool and hot tub under an newmexico-7enclosed structure that allowed guests to comfortably use the facilities year round. The pools are chlorine-free (no more red eyes!) and like the hot tubs throughout the property, are treated with something called Curoxin ®, described as a pure liquid without undesirable by-products. The view from the Center’s soaring glass windows is sublime: the grassy Sacred Circle bordered by cottonwood trees, ponds against a mountain backdrop.

Fronting the Sacred Circle and bordered by streams and a stepping bridge is the Fitness Center, which has state-of-the-art exercise equipment, free weights and cardiovascular machines.

Throughout the year, yoga classes, meditation, fitness hikes and Thai Massage classes are offered.

Winter rates at the resort start at about $300 a night; a number of packages are generally available. The two-night  High Roads Getaway, for example, starts at about $1400 and includes luxury accommodations, daily breakfast for two, dinner in De La Tierra, one 60-minute massage per person, unlimited access to Aqua center and fitness room and guaranteed placement in the Daily Living Spa programs.

El Monte Sagrado

317 Kit Carson Road
Taos, NM 87571

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