New Mexico: Old world appeal

By Mike Yardley


Santa Fe is a city of many imaginings, with an embarrassment of aesthetic charms as rich as a New Mexico sunset.

Santa Fe's tourist trail appeals to casual but sophisticated travellers, who flock to the New Mexico capital for its alluring trove of adobe architecture and artisan community, deeply threaded in Hispanic culture.

The Spanish-Pueblo style of architecture is to be found everywhere in Santa Fe. The building style is based on the adobe (straw and mud) and wood construction of the past.

In the 19th century, at the time of the Wild West, the town was so isolated that a railway had to be built to connect it to the rest of the nation.

The famous Santa Fe Railway, reaching out to Los Angeles and Chicago, was completed in 1880, making it one of the longest rail structures in the world.

Kick off your sightseeing at San Miguel Mission, reputed to be the oldest standing church building in the United States. Two Spanish priests, with the help of local Tlaxcalan Indians, built the humble mission, which was extended into a bigger building in 1610 - the remains can still be seen today.

Next door is the sumptuous Loretto Chapel, which positively glows in the sunlight, and was modelled on France's La Chapelle. Explore the interior of the chapel and its curious spiral staircase, which keeps visitors guessing.

The physics of the staircase's construction, which has no visible means of support, and the identity of its designer are the two great mysteries of Loretto Chapel.

Wine buffs should sample the rich reds of New Mexico at the local vineyards, just north of town. If you're visiting in winter, Ski Santa Fe, just half an hour from the town centre, has a base elevation of 3km.

Snowbunnies rave about this field, notably its steep bump runs, torrents of groomers and snow-filled channels. But you could quite happily plump for more sedentary pursuits such as shopping, noshing and lingering in the city's atmospheric lanes, which are packed with eye-catching boutiques and art galleries.

The most famous street of all is Canyon Rd, an extravagant 3km expanse of galleries, studios, shops and restaurants. Another requisite stop is the Plaza, dating back 400 years to the city's beginnings, where traders from as far away as Missouri drove their goods-laden wagons.

Today the Plaza is home to local Indians selling jewellery and pottery. The neighbouring Palace of the Governors is an enduring monument to Santa Fe's colonial heritage of Spanish and Mexican rule.

The city centre boasts some magnificent museums, but the Fine Arts Gallery is my favourite. The century-old building is a grand specimen of adobe architecture, featuring 20,000 artworks.

- Hamilton News

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