Rustic yet refined, Los Poblanos Inn makes an enchanting rural retreat in New Mexico’s largest city

Lavender dreams: rustic yet refined, Los Poblanos Inn makes an enchanting rural retreat in New Mexico’s largest city

Randy Mink

TUCKED AMID HORSE RANCHES AND rambling homes in Albuquerque’s North Valley lies a country estate that charms overnight guests with Southwestern flair. Los Poblanos Inn, an exclusive bed and breakfast with a storied past, offers just six guest rooms, all with a fireplace. It’s almost like having your own private hacienda. In fact, on my winter visit, I practically had the place to myself.

Organic lavender and vegetable fields provide a buffer between the Santa Fe-style home and the road, where the speed limit is a civilized 25 m.p.h. A canopy of stately cottonwoods shades the long drive leading to the historic farm.

Nestled among 25 acres of fields and gardens, not far from the Rio Grande River, Los Poblanos Ranch consists of two flat-rootEd adobe houses from the 1930s. They are Spanish Territorial masterpieces designed by architect John Gaw Meem, the “Father of Santa Fe style.” Hand-carved doors and beams, decorative tin light fixtures, regional artwork, and exquisite tile and iron work mirror the Southwest. For me, a Midwestemer who had just driven from the airport on his very first trip to the state, it was instant New Mexico.

The inn, built around a peaceful brick courtyard with a blue-tiled fountain, flowering trees, vines, potted plants, and patio chairs, is the remodeled 19th century ranch house once owned by Albert Simms, an Albuquerque lawyer elected to Congress in 1928. His seat on the House floor was next to that of Illinois Rep. Ruth Hanna McCormick, whom he married in 1932. Both were Republicans and recently widowed.

Patrons of the arts and local philanthropists, the power couple built a second house on the property, La Quinta, for entertaining, and it soon became the hub of the city’s cultural and political life. Today La Quinta Cultural Center, with its grand ballroom, art gallery, and formal gardens, hosts company banquets, seminars, concerts, and art shows. Inn guests may use the swimming pool at La Quinta.

I stayed in the Simms Suite, one of five high-ceilinged guest rooms off Los Poblanos’ courtyard. (The sixth is a suite in the former guardhouse in back.) Once the bedroom of Albert and Ruth, the Simms Suite has a long hallway with closets, floor-to-ceiling cabinets, and two dressing rooms, plus a large bath with the original tub, sink, tiling, and radiator. I made myself at home in the large sitting area with a kiva-style fireplace and windows all around.

For the reading pleasure of guests in the Simms Suite, there’s a copy of Ruth Hanna McCormick: Life in Politics, 1880-1944. One of the first women active on the national political scene, she was the daughter of Sen. Mark Hanna of Ohio (who ran William McKinley’s presidential campaign) and widow of Illinois Sen. Joseph Medill McCormick. She co-chaired Wendell Willkie’s 1940 White House run, a first for a woman.

I made sure to find time to explore the grounds and the house–and just soak up the atmosphere. Indoors and out, there are many places to linger and relax. From the swing on the front porch, I could see the snow-streaked Sandia Mountains and a pond with lotus plants. I could read in the courtyard or the garden in back.

The inn’s cozy library, decorated with Native American rugs and art objects, has a leather couch and easy chairs, TV, and fireplace, plus a leather table-and-chair set with a checkerboard. On the bookshelves are intriguing titles like The History of Oil Well Drilling, Six Thousand Miles of Fences, and How the Garcia Sisters Lost Their Accents.

The lobby, originally the Simms’ living room, is a gallery of New Mexican art, including a collection of saint figures. Innkeepers Armin and Penny Rembe, who bought the estate to save it from development, are long-time collectors of New Mexican and Latin American art and are glad to show you around the house and grounds. (The ranch is listed on both the New Mexico and National Register of Historic Places.)

My favorite part of Armin’s tour was learning about lavender, a crop introduced to New Mexico by Spanish settlers in the 16th century. The field of 4,000 lavender plants is harvested in July, the cuttings bundled and hung in the drying barn.

The lavender oil is distilled on-site, while lavender moisturizing soap (found in each guest room) is made at a location down the road. Soap ingredients, besides dried lavender blossoms, include olive, coconut, and palm oils, and grapefruit seed extract. Guests can bring home their bar of soap in a plastic bag provided for that purpose. Bundles of dried lavender perfume each bathroom, and you’ll even find a sprig or two in the toilet paper roll.

The inn’s gift shop, just off the breakfast room, sells not only soap but lavender lotions, oils, sachets, lavender butter healing salve (hands, heels, and insect bites), and a white chocolate bark flavored with lavender.

Mexican colors accent La Cantina, the festive breakfast room done in bright blues, reds, and yellows. Framed portraits of Mexican presidents from the 1800s adorn the walls, and one of Pancho Villa hangs above an antique wooden bar from the notorious outlaw’s hometown. A wall of windows looks out on a lawn frequented by strutting peacocks.

Breakfast treats range from eggs Benedict and creme brulee French toast to cheese-spinach pie and Southwestern dishes using cheese, chiles, and tortillas. For an afternoon or evening snack, help yourself to cookies, pound cake, or nuts on the kitchen counter. Note the vintage stove and refrigerator, relics from the ’30s.

Albuquerque is a fascinating city with lots to see and do just minutes from Los Poblanos, but I felt so comfortable at this country oasis that I always wanted to come back “home” to relax, reflect, hear the birds, and wander the garden paths. I never did have time to find the walking trails leading to the Rio Grande River. Maybe next time.

Contact: Los Poblanos Inn, 4803 Rio Grande Blvd. NW, Albuquerque, NM 87107; (866) 344-9297; www.

Room rates range from $135 to $250. Honeymoon and other special packages are available.

COPYRIGHT 2005 World Publishing, Co. (Illinois)

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group