Drinking in the arts. And chili-ing out in New Mexico.

 

Santa Fe. Everyone knows something about Santa Fe even if they haven't been there.

Famous for being the oldest U.S. capital city (founded in 1610). Famous for being the highest U.S. capital city (at 7,200 feet above sea level, make sure you drink lots of water and take things slowly at first). Famous for having the longest U.S. city name: La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís (the Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi). Famous for Georgia O'Keefe's images of cow skulls in the desert (although the truth is the city of Santa Fe is not desert country).

But mostly famous for Canyon Road, once a footpath for Pueblo Indians, now a half-mile stretch of more than 100 galleries, jewelry stores, boutiques and studios. It's an art lover's paradise, propelling the city to a UNESCO designation as a Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art.

Traditional chili ristra hangs on door, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USAThis is a food lover's paradise, too. Perhaps it's the combination of white settlers, Native Americans, Mexicans and Spaniards (Santa Fe was on the Camino Real, a 1,600-mile trade route that connected with Mexico City). Today, the city of 70,000 is an inviting fusion of cultures, reflected in its award-winning restaurants, where the biggest argument seems to be red or green – chilis, I mean. In fact, New Mexico declared "Red or Green?" the official state question in 1996, referring to your chili preference.

Before you eat, walk the town. On the walls of the convention centre hang red chilis drying in the sun. At the Palace of the Governors (built in the early 17th century as Spain's seat of government in the New World – 10 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock!), Native Americans offer everything from finely woven rugs and elegant turquoise jewelry to carved mementos and feathered curios. Standing under the arches makes you feel like an extra in a Hollywood movie.

With almost everyone wearing denim and boots (the Four Seasons Santa Fe is the only hotel in that elegant chain that encourages staff to wear blue jeans), the absence of cowboys and horse-drawn carriages almost seems ridiculous. And while Hollywood's cinematography may be to blame for the letdown when first seeing iconic sites, the Old West look of Santa Fe doesn't disappoint – its incredible mix of arts, culture and gastronomy only adds to its allure.

Photo by John Fowler

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