Once upon a time, not that long ago, an eccentric billionaire “discovered” Taos.
He promptly moved here with his family and entourage, and got busy buying old properties all over town. Within weeks the town was abuzz with activity; the billionaire hired local architects, contractors and builders to renovate the crumbling adobes he had acquired. Feng Shui Practitioners, Dowsers, Magicians, Medicine Women from Guatemala and Venezuelan Shamans were brought in to ensure the locations were free of Geopathic Stress and other bad vibes.
Locals were aghast at the speed with which these changes were being made. Old familiar buildings were transformed seemingly overnight into unrecognizable edifices. Two of the properties he bought on Kit Carson Road were razed to the ground and a flurry of activity began at the location, creating even more gossip and rumours regarding the monied newcomer.
Sustainable Water Experts and Landscape Architects were imported from afar, to design the gardens he envisioned surrounding the hotel he had decided to build where an old motel and a neighboring B&B had once stood. A saltwater pool was installed in a huge greenhouse-like space adjoining a world-class luxury Spa.
Artists and artisans were hired (and fired) to decorate over-the-top casitas and rooms that sprung up at the speed of light.
The Shamans and Medicine Women declared there was a Sacred Circle on the property (where Summer Weddings are now held) which was left intact, as such, the hotel designed to envelope this so-called Sacred Ground.
At the same time as the hotel was being built, the billionaire bought and razed another property on Ranchitos Road, intending to build a home for himself and his family. One evening the house burned to the ground. Arson was indicated but the culprits were never caught.
Soon the El Monte Sagrado opened its doors, but by then the billionaire was disillusioned with the idea of Taos as his home and already had one foot out the door. Nonetheless, locals flocked to the site to see the result of all the excitement and activity. Entering the grand new addition to our sleepy little town, one was greeted by a stunning Art Collection including Picassos and Basquiats that hung on the lofty walls of the entry.
A vaulted dining space off the lobby boasted a five-star culinary experience, but the space that really got people talking was the bar, which featured a giant Anaconda sculpted into the entire ceiling, snaking around pillars and walls, and huge aquariums filled with tropical fish; a nod perhaps to the South American Shamans who had blessed the grounds and declared them Sacred.
The billionaire eventually sold off all of his Taos properties, including half the shares in his dream hotel. Eventually his partner (the Kessler Enterprise) bought the remaining shares and the fabulous art was removed from the walls and replaced with the work of a local painter. The billionaire meanwhile, moved back to where he came from.
The dream of turning Taos into another Aspen, albeit with a more “spiritual” than celebrity vibe, was dashed. Arson, unfriendly locals and a town that stubbornly resisted change had proven too much for him.
A few months ago, Heritage Hotels and Resorts acquired the El Monte Sagrado and one evening a couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Maresa Thompson (the Senior Communications and Creative Director for Heritage) and being hosted at the hotel for a night.
I had already featured two of the company’s fabulous properties on the blog. The Palacio de Marquesa in Taos and the Eldorado Resort and Spa in Santa Fe, so I was looking forward to a night at El Monte and meeting Maresa whom I’d been communicating with via email.
After checking in at around 5pm, I was shown to the Bali Suite, one of the original (and more understated) suites decorated by one of the artists hired by the billionaire. Gorgeous teak carvings from Indonesia and hand painted details adorned the doors and walls of the suite, which had been given the signature Heritage touch of Italian linens and added amenities including a small refrigerator, coffee, tea and bottled water, along with fabulous bath and body products in the bathroom, thick, fluffy towels and two cosy terry robes hanging in the closet.
I had an hour before meeting Maresa, so took a shower in the beautiful bathroom, wrapped myself in one of the robes and settled down on the bed, propped up by at least five down pillows, to read for half an hour before getting dressed.
Maresa was already in the bar when I arrived and within minutes we discovered we had met over twenty years ago when we were both involved with the infamous Taos Poetry Circus.
A poet and writer herself, Maresa is chic, witty and a lot of fun. Growing up in Albuquerque (her family moved here from the East Coast when her father was offered a job at the Sandia Lab) Maresa is no stranger to Taos. She has worked for Heritage for several years and is largely responsible for their great online presence and innovative Marketing and PR style.
We decided to eat in the bar but ordered off the dining room menu. Executive Chef Ray Naranjo has roots from tribes scattered across North America including Tewa (Pueblo), Odawa, and Crow Nations. He has created a menu that is a fusion of traditional Native American and Modern American Cuisine.
I ordered a steak smothered in Red and Green Chile which was grilled to perfection and served with Calabacitas. Maresa, a vegetarian had the Poblano Chile Relleno that looked fabulous. We both finished everything on our plates and enjoyed a couple of glasses of a good Argentinian Malbec along with our meal.
By 9pm we were both ready for bed and headed outside to our respective rooms. As we walked briskly in the cold night air, Maresa asked me what I knew about the Sacred Circle. I told her the story of the Shamans and Medicine Women as we parted ways.
“I knew it was manufactured,” she laughed.
No matter, it’s all “Sacred” Land here in Taos and now that the El Monte Sagrado is under New Mexican ownership, the energy is certain to right itself once more. Already one senses the shift. The Staff and Management couldn’t be more friendly and approachable (another Heritage trademark) and the service as with all of their properties, is impeccable.
I slept soundly that night and woke to a dusting of snow on the ground, with more on the way. I had a meeting at 10 so checked out early. The Parking Lot Attendant quickly scraped the ice off of my windshield with a friendly smile.
As I drove away I couldn’t help smiling myself. The El Monte Sagrado has been reinvented and instead of seeming an anomaly in this town rooted in so much history, the hotel now feels like an authentic part of the Taos experience, notably with the pared down elegance Heritage has brought to many of the rooms and public spaces.
I silently thanked the billionaire for his prescience in providing us with the Resort in the first place. As the Ski Valley ups its ante and rumours of an expanded airport continue to circulate, the El Monte Sagrado points to the town’s future.
For more information on the El Monte Sagrado Resort and Spa please visit their website linked below this post.
All photographs care of Heritage Hotels and Resorts.