When I tell people I’m from New Mexico, I’m usually met with, ‘Santa Fe?’
‘No. Not Santa Fe,’ I respond. ‘Albuquerque.’
Then, when I tell them that most, if not all, my time on trips home is spent in Los Ranchos, a village enclave just minutes from downtown Albuquerque that’s poised to steal the spotlight from the ever-cherished Santa Fe, I smile knowingly at their confused expression. As the leaves begin to change, the hot-air balloons inflate in droves, and green chile hits the roasters, there’s no place I’d rather be than Los Ranchos. Here’s why.
Long Rides and Shaded Walks
The best way to get around is by starting at the north or south end of Rio Grande Boulevard, and roaming on bike or foot. The exact borders of Los Ranchos have always been a bit hazy to me: Los Ranchos is as much a state of mind as it is a village. It’s all about the cottonwood-lined roads and footpaths winding throughout the river inlets. On these paths, you come upon a mix of old and new: classic New Mexican brunch joints (red or green, anyone?), mid-harvest vineyards and farmlands, Instagram-worthy hacienda style courtyards, and a growing collection of boutique agri-tourism villas—not to mention plenty of places to sip a glass of wine or tequila.
The Farm Shop
For most, summer through fall in Los Ranchos is synonymous with lavender. You can stay at Los Poblanos Inn and Organic Farm and wander the labyrinth of lavender fields and acequias. Here, they ‘welcome guests to celebrate their surroundings and embrace the relaxed, easy-going spirit,’ says manager Amy Jones. Among your squad are always some drunken bees and a very social peacock named Albert who flaunts his feathers throughout the 25-acre property—Albert slays, to say the least. A glass or two of wine primes you for a mini-shopping spree at the Farm Shop, a lavender-inspired apothecary of pungent lotions, soaps, sunscreens, salve, candles, and sachets—all of which have made their way to boutique shops from NYC to LA to Tokyo. I stock up on honey lavender lotion and blue corn mint soap, which takes up far too much storage space in my tiny apartment.
A Mix of Classic and Modern River-Valley Cuisine
Every misty morning, as an occasional hot-air balloon drifts overhead, a long walk ends at Santa Fe-style El Camino Dining Room with huevos rancheros ‘Christmas’, New Mexico’s answer to any breakfast ever. The kick of red chile clears the sinuses twice over. For lunch and dinner, you can experience the spirit of the village at innovative field-to-fork restaurants like La Merienda and Farm and Table while roaming the sustainable gardens from which the menus are born. Historic dishes like Garden Chile Rellenos sell out just as quickly as new endeavors like Pigs’ Ear and Peaches, all complimented by the fruity blend of Meritage Red from the Casa Rodena Winery. Lavender tarts are the perfect finish to the meal as the brisk evening air trickles off the Sandia Mountains, aptly nicknamed ‘Sandia’, meaning watermelon, for their picturesque pink color at sunset.
The Balloons—But Not How You’d Think
Every year, for the first two weeks of October, Albuquerque plays host to over 800,000 visitors for the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. For those who are crowd-averse like myself, Los Ranchos is the tranquil and Instagram-perfect escape. Locals are no stranger to a balloon or two, or a hundred, landing in the Los Ranchos fields. And that’s because the standard wind pattern, called the ‘Albuquerque Box’, pushes the balloons directly over the village after take-off. So, when over 500 balloons lift off within two hours of dawn, I recommend joining the roadrunners and cranes on the dirt paths of north Los Ranchos—by far the best seat in the house.
Sweet Treats on Zia Plates
New Mexican-styled plates or bowls belong in everyone’s kitchen, especially during fall when you can fill them with fresh tomatoes, peaches, and corn from the Saturday grower’s market. The hand-painted ceramic plates and bowls from Kelly Jo Designs—sporting the bright-red ristra and zia, deep-purple lavender, and forest-green cacti—are perfectly glossy and inspire serious nostalgia. When finally leaving the village with a bag of Celina’s green chile pecan biscochitos in your pocket, it’s easy to catch yourself thinking about how perfect and secret the village is. What was one of the first settlements of central New Mexico, Los Ranchos remains wildly verdant, full of rural character, and touts a sustainable, eco-friendly model for agri-tourism. It truly is New Mexico’s capital of charm, and it’ll stay that way.
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