SANTA FE, N.M. — May was a particularly hectic month: If we weren't dodging tornadoes, we helplessly watched our neighbors' homes destroyed. At work, keeping up with all the damage felt like a vortex on its own. So when I got the opportunity to take a break at the end of the month, I snatched it — literally.
That chance came in the form of a media trip to Santa Fe to check out the city's oldest hotel — La Fonda on the Plaza — and experience some of what one of America's oldest cities has to offer. La Fonda has been undergoing extensive renovations that began in January and are expected to be completed this month.
Santa Fe is fairly close to home but far enough away to feel like a vacation getaway. Chances are that many Oklahomans have vacationed there and even stayed at La Fonda.
I'd been to Santa Fe previously, pulling in to a Holiday Inn after a nine-hour road trip with my son and mother-in-law the night the “shock and awe” campaign began in Iraq. As a news junkie I could not get away from the TV set for long. In any case, it turned cold and sleety the next day, inhibiting plans for an excursion through the city.
That was more than 10 years ago. But this was a totally different experience — and so good. To say La Fonda has a comfortable atmosphere is an understatement. It feels like home, but a vacation home you've always wished for — elegant without being over-the-top, exuding carefree relaxation, with New Mexican artwork that compels you to purchase something original before leaving the city.
The current hotel was built in 1922 under the influence of architect John Gaw Meem and Southwest designer Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter. Today's renovations still bear Colter's cultural and aesthetic Southwest influence but updated by preservation architect Barbara Felix. One such influence is found surrounding the hotel's main restaurant, La Plazuela, a cheery place for dining — breakfast, lunch and dinner — where scores of hand-painted windows were retained in French doors that surround the dining room.
I stayed in one of the newly renovated rooms, part of what hotel chairman Jenny Kimball described as a “significant investment” that will include all regular guest rooms. It was a relaxing suite that shows off original hardwood floors, with a comfortable sitting room, spacious bathroom with oversized shower and conveniences for the digital-savvy. The furniture and decorations are all Southwestern. A cozy balcony overlooked part of the plaza, offering a relaxing respite in the evening. It was from here that I sat frantically keeping up with text messages and calls from my son on May 31 as he tried to outrun another tornado.
There's plenty to do within the hotel itself, including 17 shops where you can browse or purchase souvenirs, handmade gifts, artwork, imported items and other goodies.