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Inn-Chanting, Rancho de San Juan

by Joanne Goldstein

Secluded amid sculptural rose-and-gold sandstone cliffs above New Mexico's Ojo Caliente River Valley, Rancho de San Juan is an exclusive hideaway for those who appreciate serenity and scenery, sybaritic accommodations and sumptuous dining.

Located approximately halfway between Santa Fe and Taos, this Relais & Chateaux Country Inn and Restaurant was designed to blend into its 225-acre setting, a tribute to the beauty of nature. The main adobe Hacienda is the spot for guests to gather for breakfast on the flower-filled patio, sunset cocktails in the Kachina Bar or courtyard and leisurely four-course gourmet dinners complemented by a world-class wine list.

Innkeepers John Johnson, a noted chef, and David Heath, who oversees the day-to-day operations, used their architectural and design backgrounds to create structures and interiors that are both gracious and comfortable. In addition to the public spaces in the Hacienda, the six rooms and 11 suites (10 in private casitas with jetted tubs) feature an eclectic mix of the owners' family antiques and stunning southwest furnishings and accessories. Paintings by local artists adorn the walls.

Scattered throughout the property, the Casitas feature the finest of Frette
linens and plush robes; stereo systems with a choice of CDs (but no
television); ceiling fans, and private portals with a breathtaking vista of
the Jemez Mountains and the desert expanses bordered by silhouettes of the mesa so familiar from Georgia O'Keefe's paintings. Sip that first cup of coffee on your patio in the early morning and share the view with songbirds and eagles, roadrunners and rabbits. Black Mesa "In Suite Spa Services" offers guests facials, soothing massages and relaxing reflexology in the privacy of their rooms.

Not to be missed is "Windows in the Earth," a cathedral-like chamber of
soaring vaulted ceilings and massive columns created by the gifted sculptor Ra Paulette. A 15-minute hike up from the Hacienda takes you to the shrine's entrance; inside the sculpture long windows fill the chambers with light and provide a spectacular panorama of the surrounding countryside.

Rancho de San Juan is a Mobil Four-Star Award Winner for the past four years; the Restaurant has also received Wine Spectator's "Award of Excellence." Bring your appetite to enjoy John's daily changing menu that incorporates the finest and freshest of ingredients from local valley growers. Breakfast, available from 8 to 9 a.m. (no room service), includes a choice of granola, yogurt or cereals or John's "special" which can range from pancakes, waffles or French toast with crisp bacon or sausages to huevos rancheros, omelets with smoked salmon or other creative dishes. And, always, there is freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh fruit and excellent coffee.

Dinner seatings are at 6:30 or 8 p.m., but the table is yours for the evening to afford an opportunity for leisurely enjoyment of the cuisine that has garnered awards from James Beard, Zagat Survey and Harper's Hideaway as well as Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Travel & Leisure and Country Inns Magazines. The four-course Prix Fixe Menu offers delectable choices. Appetizers might range from Braised Escargot with Warm Kidney Bean and Truffle Oil Salad to Chilled Spinach and Sorrel Soup with red Pepper Mousse to Rancho Pizza. Each evening
offers a choice of entrees; recent selections were Grilled Veal Sirloin with Red Pepper, Red Onion and Potato Medley; Grilled Chipotle Marinated Tiger Prawns with Mango Salsa; Roasted Rack of Lamb with Dijon/Pepper Crust and Caramelized Shallot Mashed Potatoes; Seared Salmon with Red Wine and Truffle Oil Reduction; Grilled Tenderloin of Black Angus Beef with Sautéed Shitake Mushrooms; or Seared Mexican Diver Scallops with Red Wine Reduction and Potato and Mushroom Napoleon.

Entrees are followed by a "cleanse the palate" salad of fresh greens. And, the Rancho's desserts are worth preparing for! John's offerings might include Rosemary Cream Brulee with Fresh Blackberries; Fallen Chocolate Cake with Cream Anglaise; Apricot Clafouti with Cream; or Chocolate Tart with Pinon Pecan Crust & Whipped Cream.

The owners are justifiably proud of their carefully selected wine list.
Although there is an emphasis on French wines, choices include a varied and affordable selection of California, Italian and Australian vintages.
Rancho de San Juan often hosts gourmet vintner dinners as well as theme weekends and Black Tie Christmas and New Year's celebrations.

Local recreational activities include white water rafting, boating, fishing,
hiking, camping, picnicking, horseback riding and skiing. Historical and
cultural opportunities include several Native American Pueblos and Historical Sites; Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs; Georgia O'Keefe's Home and Museum (reservations need to be booked far in advance); Bandelier National Monument; and, of course, the museums, galleries and shops of Santa Fe and Taos and the world-famous Santa Fe Opera.

Rancho de San Juan is a non-smoking facility, both inside and out. Rates from $175 per night, including breakfast. Breakfast daily, no lunch service (picnic lunches available with 48-hour notice) and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. No children under 12 years of age and no pets. For reservations and information call (505) 753-6818 or 1-800-726-7121; ranchoj@roadrunner.com; ranchoj@cybermesa.com. Also, see their website at: www.ranchodesanjuan.com.

Joanne Goldstein is a Houston, Texas based travel writer.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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