IPA Magazine-Luxury Travel Reviews

The City Different: Historic Hotel Renovated to Luxurious, Simple Elegance

santa-fe-gallery-topThe historic Hotel St. Francis, located just one block from Santa Fe’s famous Plaza, is a renowned travel destination reflecting the glory days of Santa Fe’s founding Franciscan missionaries.  In 1924, the beloved De Vargas Hotel was rebuilt on Don Gaspar Avenue, site of the present Hotel St. Francis.  Heritage Hotels and Resorts acquired the hotel in 2008, re-naming it in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Santa Fe, and fully renovated the hotel to give it a refined, yet simple elegance, enhanced by handcrafted furniture and art by local artisans.  Its 79 guestrooms have been refurbished with cultural sensitivity and historical accuracy, yet each provides modern amenities including flat-screen televisions and complimentary wireless Internet access.  Truly the tranquil but lively spirit of the Southwest is resident here in the midst of this luxurious, historic hotel.

Today’s visitors to Santa Fe, the “City Different” as some call it, soon discover that nearly everything of interest—whether restaurants, historic attractions, museums, shops, or art galleries—radiate outward from the historic downtown Plaza, the very heart of Santa Fe.  The “old pueblo” of Santa Fe is an excellent walking town, and a chief advantage for maximizing one’s enjoyment of all it has to offer is to find a hotel within steps of the Plaza.  The Hotel St. Francis is conveniently located just a short block away from the Plaza, with hotel parking on-site or across the street.  With the St. Francis as your base, you can come and go throughout the day, returning now and then to change clothes, take a nap, or simply rest your tired feet.  Then, depending on your energy level and determination in your quest, you can walk north, east, south or west on your own path of discovery.

Shortly after checking in, we went on a self-guided walking tour of Old (and new) Santa Fe, using the map our concierge provided.  First, we wanted to check out the Number One restaurant on Trip Advisor—so we walked over to Kakawa Chocolate House where we indulged in a traditional Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican Mayan Aztec drinking chocolate.  Then, passing Canyon Road, home to more than 130 art galleries, boutiques, and culinary retreats, we sauntered over to the St. Francis Cathedral, located just a block east of the Plaza.  This breathtaking Romanesque cathedral was constructed in 1869 and stands as a constant reminder of the Spanish influence on this historic pueblo.  We then went in search of the Santa Fe Cooking School, scoping out in advance the location to which we would return the next day to attend a demonstration class. (See our review elsewhere on this website.)  Finally, we walked over to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum where we enjoyed a brief video presentation of the artist’s life, followed by a leisurely stroll past her landscapes and other works by her photographer-husband Alfred Stieglitz and a special exhibit featuring her time in Hawaii juxtaposed with photos from her contemporary, Ansel Adams, whose photos were also taken in Hawaii.  Although this brief afternoon tour was packed with many sights and encounters, the wonderfully condensed and culture-rich Plaza-area of Santa Fe affords innumerable opportunities to find exquisite places to absorb rich treasures from past and present.

One simple pleasure at the St. Francis is simply to sit on the portico immediately outside the hotel, on a sofa or chair, and engage in the time-honored practice of “people watching.”  With over three-hundred days of sunshine, you’ll never have to worry about the weather—just carry a coat or jacket if the weather is cool.

Back in our room, we admired the cabinetry workmanship of a hand-made Armoire encasing the flat-screen television on one side and a small refrigerator on the other.  The hand-hewn, hard-wood floor was authentic, harkening back to the Hotel De Vargas days of glory. Artisan, hand-crafted furniture, including comfortable wood-and-leather reading chairs, end-tables, a small bench, and a wash basin, reflected Franciscan-inspired simplicity and authenticity.   Brushing aside solid-colored drapes and sheers, we flung open a pair of double-door windows, enabling us to look out over the town toward the Sangre De Cristo Mountains in the distance, allowing gentle breezes to flood into our room.  A lovely down comforter topped Frette linens over our king-sized bed featuring a pillow-top mattress.  A personal safe, clothing steamer, complimentary toiletries, individually controlled thermostat, and two robes filled out the remainder of our Deluxe, non-smoking guest room.

Some Notable “Franciscan” Personalities You’ll Want to Meet

A hotel is more than a collection of rooms, lounges, restaurants and shops.  A hotel that gives you a memorable experience delivers first-class service, brought to you by people who love what they do and do it well.  Meet a few “Franciscans” who will enhance your stay:

Since 1987, the Hotel St. Francis has been proud to have the most renowned concierge in Santa Fe, Ms. Inger Boudouris.  Inger, who married a Greek, is herself of Swedish descent—she considers herself a European, she told me—and has tremendous knowledge and experience of culinary, artistic and entertainment options throughout all of Santa Fe.  On select days throughout the week, she is available downstairs in the lobby, helping guests who stop by the Concierge Desk Services, to plan an itinerary for the day or evening.  On the day I was to review Chef Charles Dale’s Bouche Bistro (see review elsewhere on this website) I spent some time visiting with Inger, a lively woman full of zest and sparkle.  I asked her if she’d visited the one-year old restaurant and how she felt about it.  Inger immediately responded to my question, explaining that, in the three or so times she’s eaten there, she preferred to eat at Chef Dale’s “Community Table” where five stools are set in front of the open kitchen and to order one of the specials.  Inger told me she liked to watch the chefs as they cook and to engage in conversation with others at the “Chef’s Table,” as it is also known.  I asked her where Bouche would rank out of the hundreds of Santa Fe restaurants one might visit and, without hesitation, she clearly opined, “One of the top ten.”  Inger made me feel like an old friend and, although she was packing up to leave at the end of her long day, welcomed the opportunity to converse at length without distraction.

Another notable personality in this town’s hospitality industry is the chief mixologist at the famous Secreto lounge in the Hotel St Francis, Mr. Chris Milligan. As it turns out, Milligan’s reputation about town is fairly well-known.  On our second day in Santa Fe, we took a class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking (see our review of this school, elsewhere on this website) taught by Michelle Roetzer.  Although the class itself was not necessarily on fine dining in Santa Fe, it is inevitable in these classes that the subject of where to eat and drink will come up.  Without prompting, our instructor volunteered that the Hotel St. Francis featured the top bartender in the area.  Milligan of the Secreto Lounge is famous for his Garden-to-Glass cocktail creations.  Put him to the test by suggesting your favorite beverages and fruit and he will create a tasty concoction before your eyes.  The “Spicy Secreto” is the lounge’s signature drink, winning first place in a 2010 Las Vegas, NV contest called “Shake it Up.”

From May to October, the Hotel St. Francis offers a 75-minute walking tour of historic Santa Fe.  Expert Tour Guide Peter Sinclaire conducts the tour every Saturday, beginning at the entrance to Hotel Chimayo de Santa Fe and concluding at the Hotel St. Francis on the other side of the plaza.

The St. Francis is a full-service hotel, offering banquet facilities, a fitness facility, complimentary wireless internet access, a restaurant, in-room coffee service, business center, and conference/meeting rooms.

Once you’re here, take a moment to listen quietly and imagine what it was like just 90 years ago when, as the former DeVargas Hotel, it was described as “A place of grandeur where the bellhops could only escort guests to their rooms after being shown their marriage license, and where house detectives patrolled the halls throughout the night to ensure that all guests stayed in their own rooms.”  Ahh, the good ol’ days!


Hotel St. Francis

210 Don Gaspar Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
Phone: 505-983-5700
Reservations Toll Free: 800-529-5700
Fax: 505-989-7690
Email: HSFinfo@hhandr.com

Website: www.HotelStFrancis.com

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