I’m currently — mostly — happily ensconced in Santa Fe’s only 5-star hotel: The Four Seasons Encantado. It’s a lovely little place (more of a compound, really, in the Kennedy sense of the word) with desert sunset views, dry earth, loads of sage and lavender in the landscaping, and a pretty fancy pants spa-slash-fitness-center. The linens, as you would expect are lovely. The room is filled with delightful smelling body lotions and shampoos, and the tub is big enough to drown a donkey. The steam room is attached to an outdoor shower (always a joy; seize the chance if you should ever find yourself in such life circumstances) and there are single-sex hot tubs which encourage, nay, demand, skinny dipping after dinner.
It’s so hard to say critical things when one has one’s bed turned down every night and there are fresh, oversized, super-plush bath towels in one’s bathroom every day. But sadly, sometimes, it’s required.
Let me put it this way: As I write this, a very, VERY loud backhoe is driving, ever-so-slowly toward my little piece of paradise. With the beeping and the rumbling and the whole business. I want to throw dried apricots and almonds at it, but then I won’t have anything to eat, and I don’t think I can hit it from here, anyway. That sense of luxuriating in perfect serenity…gone. Other small, but niggling observations: the water for the shower in the middle of the day was lukewarm at best; the construction of the casitas — large, multi-room affairs — are designed to share walls without sharing much sound-proofing; the world’s slowest wi-fi that isn’t available in the fitness center. It’s as if the resort ticked off the “luxury” list and felt satisfied. Result? Crabby husband who had to listen to our neighbors do, at all hours, whatever it is that people do in “fancy” hotels in the middle of the desert and me, thinking about expectations around “luxurious” experiences, and their relative worth.
Why point this out, when really, I’m in mostly marvelous digs? Am I simply tapping into my hidden malcontent nature? I’ve been considering, since I’ve been here, the reasons why this experience doesn’t feel like the kind of high-end experience one would expect from the Crillon in Paris, or, as I experienced during a recent stay, Calistoga Ranch. I’m unsure if it is the location (Santa Fe is pretty casual) that has left me feeling disconnected from the very nice environs. Maybe it’s the lack of attention to some of the details that has derailed the seamlessness of the experience.
Because submerging yourself into a 5-star should be accompanied by a sense of effortless grace in achieving the life that the hotel provides. Before I realize it’s time for a cocktail, one arrives. As I consider going to bed, the covers are turned down. Here, the effort that is expended to bring this level of service is palpable, although, I must concede, not always visible. And it should feel rooted in a place. Service + terroir = luxury of experience.
Let me be clear: I love Santa Fe. I love the harshness and sublimity of the mountains and the mesas. And I’m very aware of how lucky I am to be staying in such a peaceful place in one of my favorite cities in the world. This is not everyday life for me; in fact it’s the first vacation I’ve had in years. To its credit, the Four Seasons Santa Fe has a pretty phenomenal location. It feels remote, but it’s very accessible. Which makes this disconnect even more pointed.
It’s less about lounging at the pool and having a massage (any hotel can start checking off the requisite amenities), than finding yourself living fully. Not so much consuming luxury, but providing the quiet structure and space to allow a guest to fully feel alive. In a way that is authentic to the geographic place you’ve chosen to visit.