Comfort, joy and hot chillis

Escape the canned Christmas and rediscover the season's spirit in chilled-out Santa Fe

Nicknamed "The City Different", New Mexico's tiny capital, Santa Fe, is a unique city with a cultural and spiritual charge. It's a US centre of the arts and a honeypot for anything linked with the New Age movement. Santa Fe revels in its reputation, sticks its tongue out at convention and flaunts its progressive, bohemian nature. It is also one of the most laid-back and cosmopolitan cities in south-west America, and perfect for a short stop on an American odyssey.

Nicknamed "The City Different", New Mexico's tiny capital, Santa Fe, is a unique city with a cultural and spiritual charge. It's a US centre of the arts and a honeypot for anything linked with the New Age movement. Santa Fe revels in its reputation, sticks its tongue out at convention and flaunts its progressive, bohemian nature. It is also one of the most laid-back and cosmopolitan cities in south-west America, and perfect for a short stop on an American odyssey.

Why go? Because there is nowhere like it. This is a city where you can find a nuclear physicist selling newspapers in the street, New Age megastar Shirley MacLaine shopping in one of the exclusive boutiques, Buddhists discussing philosophy over a Danish pastry and coffee in a French café, and a resident tarot reader in one of the most traditional hotels.

It's also great for people- watching as Santa Fe's character is personified by its 65,000 eccentric residents. Common accessories include Tibetan prayer beads, with dreamcatcher earrings, St Christopher necklaces and cowboy boots. Posters promise fulfilment and self-growth by means of Goddess worship, rebirthing, tantric meditation and line dancing. The proliferation of artists on show, such as the late Georgia O'Keeffe, is unmistakable, exuding a great diversity of colour, style and origin.

The palaces of the rich and famous rest lazily in the forests of the mountains, overlooking the Native American reservations on the desert mesa below.

Why now? Santa Fe in December is the perfect destination to escape the trials of tinned Christmas carols and bad TV films and rediscover the essence of the festive season. In Santa Fe the spicy scent of pinion pine lies thick on the senses. The pueblo- revival architecture is vaguely reminiscent of great Christmas cakes; the adobe buildings are the colour of marzipan, while traditional farolitos - lanterns simply made with brown paper bags and candles - line roofs, walls and window sills. Chilli strings hang from beams, and coloured corncobs decorate doors and porches, all indicating that food is a prominent part of life here.

It is fascinating to watch how the city swings its focus effortlessly from one culture to another, all with a relaxed attitude that is typical of Santa Fe. The celebrations start with Las Posadas (The Inns) in the central plaza, just a few days before Christmas. At twilight, crowds gather gripping candles in gloved hands. In Hispanic tradition, 'Mary & Joseph' lead a procession with a trail of followers singing a chorus.

On each side of the plaza the procession halts and the crowd sing to be let in for the night, at which point a garishly painted singer appears on the rooftop dressed as a devil. He wails an operatic answer until the pantomime continues to the Inn of the Governors where the doors are flung open to a reception of drink and laughter.

The Canyon Road walk on Christmas Eve is a modern tradition; a chance to wander through a haze of carols sung by the side of small bonfires lit in the road, and look in some of the 83 galleries that open their doors and serve warmed wine and punch.

The mission Shopping here is a civilised business, with no rush or Christmas pavement rage. There is an eclectic range of boutiques and shops, selling everything from authentic cowboy and cowgirl accessories to gems and fossilised mammoth tusks. Lining one side of the plaza, even in the snows, is a long line of Pueblo and Navajo Indians wrapped in colourful thick woven blankets. Seemingly impervious to the freezing temperature, they sit with blankets carpeting the ground that are covered in an array of stunning handmade turquoise jewellery, carved fetishes and gourds.

For serious culture seekers, Canyon Road (see above) is the place to go. Its galleries offer paintings and sculptures from all over the world, with an emphasis on south-western art.

Remember this Visit the Loretto Chapel on the Old Santa Fe Trail and see the "miraculous staircase". The story goes that a young French architect dropped dead halfway through designing the chapel, and so it was built without any means of reaching the choir loft, 20ft above the nave. The Sisters of Loretto prayed for a solution to their problem until, according to the story, a mysterious man appeared and built the staircase without nails or support of any kind before disappearing without asking for payment. Sadly now it has to be propped up with a metal brace, but it still has a certain magic.

Santa Fe has a plethora of galleries and museums, from a Georgia O'Keeffe museum (Santa Fe Plaza) to the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (710 Camino Lejo), plus the Santa Fe Children's Museum (Old Pecos Trail) which features interactive exhibits. Pick up one of the many local free magazines that give comprehensive details on events.

If you get an overdose of culture, you can always head for the hills and go skiing. From the centre of town, it is a stunning drive up to the small ski station. You can park your car along various designated points on the drive and carry on up on the shuttle equipped for carrying skis and boards. There are enough runs to suit most levels of skier.

If you have a car, there are great opportunities to see some breathtaking places such as the famous open-air Santa Fe Opera (performances only in the summer season), the ancient cliff dwellings at Bandelier, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Taos. There are various pueblos around Santa Fe and Taos that occasionally have traditional Native American dances that tourists can visit. Look in local papers for details. The dances are ceremonies, not performances, and you must get a permit to take photographs or video footage. (Dates can be changed at the last minute if the spirits aren't ready.)

Eating out There is a bewildering range of restaurants in the city with everything from sushi to Tex Mex. Nothing beats watching your waiter making guacamole at the table. South-western cuisine is tasty and sets your average culinary rules on their head, although for the Christmas traditionalist a turkey dinner can be found, albeit one garnished with chillies. Drink margaritas, of course.

Try La Casa Sena (125 E Palace Ave; tel: 001 505 988 9232); either the main restaurant with its wine list of over 600 selections that earned the 'Best Award of Excellence' by Wine Spectator, or the adjoining cantina that features singing waiters. Also worth a visit is the Anasazi restaurant (113 Washington; tel: 001 505 988 3030), named by Condé Nast Traveller as one of America's most distinguished restaurants. For breakfast try the enormous pancakes at Café Pasqual's (Don Gaspar Ave).

Where to stay The Santa Fe Motel is one of the cheapest places to stay at around £55 per night (510 Cerrillos Road; tel: 001 505 982 1039). Hotel Santa Fe is a fun adobe-style place to stay at around £70 a night (Paseo de Peralta; tel: 001 505 982 1200).

For deeper wallets, La Fonda de Santa Fe (the Plaza; tel: 001 505 982 5511) has plenty of old-style character, as has the Inn at Loretto (211 Old Santa Fe Trail; tel: 001 505 988 5531) complete with award-winning design, galleries and shops. If you're feeling really flush, the Eldorado Hotel is an AAA 4-Diamond full-service luxury hotel (309 W San Francisco St; tel: 001 505 988 4455).

Getting there Fly to Albuquerque with Continental (tel: 0800 776464) for around £365 including tax or with American Airlines (tel: 0345 789789) for around £604 plus airport tax. You can fly to Santa Fe's municipal airport, which is 10 miles south-west of the town, via commuter planes from Albuquerque (Mesa Air; tel: 001 1-800 637 247) or from Denver on United Express (tel: 001 505 471 0008).

Shuttlejack mini-buses go directly from Albuquerque airport to Santa Fe around 10 times a day ($22/£15) or hire a car. Hiring a car is recommended as you can get out of Santa Fe and see some of the spectacular sights. Book in advance from the UK, particularly for the busy Christmas period: Alamo (tel: 0870 400 4580), Avis (tel: 0990 900500), Hertz (tel: 0990 996699).

Further information The Santa Fe Visitors Bureau (201 W Marcy St) has plenty of information on every aspect of Santa Fe, or you can get information before you leave by logging on to their website: www.santafe.org or www.newmexico.org.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year