Q&A With Bishop’s Lodge General Manager John Volponi
Bishop’s Lodge just outside Santa Fe is the latest jewel in the crown of the illustrious Auberge Resorts Collection. Both General Manager of Bishop’s Lodge and Regional Vice President of Auberge Resorts, John Volponi was tasked with the difficult effort of restoring the historic property to luxe Auberge standards while maintaining the site’s unique culture… all in the midst of a world-wide pandemic. Despite these trials, Bishop’s Lodge opened this summer of 2021.
All Roads North got the chance to ask John all our top questions about the remodeling of the new Auberge resort, how it incorporates the soul of Santa Fe, and so much more!
ARN: With Bishop’s Lodge being in such a culturally unique place outside of Santa Fe, how do you handle remodeling and giving it a fresh, new look while staying true to that culture?
JV: It’s interesting– it’s a very sensitive topic for a lot of people locally. They fear that the developer would come in and turn this into some kind of modern monstrosity. So there’s been a lot of care and thought into how the place has been restored.
A lot of the old artwork and some of the old furniture got rehabbed and we really chose things for the design that would keep the style and character of the resort as it was before, while still giving it a fresh new look.
Another thing is– Bishop’s Lodge has always been a resort. It opened as a resort in the 20’s, when Americans first got their cars and started driving to resorts. So we have tried to develop a whole program of activities and amenities that maintain that kind of spirit of being in the outdoors and embracing the outdoors. Whether it’s horseback riding or leading a hike or outdoor yoga classes, we’ve designed Bishop’s Lodge to encourage people to get out in the fresh air.
You mentioned the challenge of pleasing the community while staying true to the Auberge standards. I’m sure another huge challenge was the fact that it’s all been amongst a global pandemic…
That has generated more than its share of challenges, I will admit, what with delivery challenges, supply chain issues, and that kind of thing.
But those challenges also breed some innovation. For example, we created a wonderful in-room spa program so you have a mini spa right there in your room.
How has your background in the hospitality industry prepared you to take on this project?
Over the course of my career, I’ve done a lot of openings and a number of those were since I joined Auberge. I joined Auberge to open up Chileno Bay Resort in Cabo. I also did work at Alta Gracia in Costa Rica, and I reopened Malliouhana, a couple of years ago.
So each one of those is a different cultural environment. You find out what’s special in that particular area, and bring that sense of discovery to those properties. That’s been one of the fun things about Bishop’s Lodge, because there’s just so many different cultures in one place.
There’s lots of artisans that are contributing in so many different ways. We have a guy who comes in and teaches Native American rattle making, like the kind they would use for ceremonies. There’s somebody else who comes in and leads this whole chocolate experience and explains the history and uses of chocolate across many different cultures. And there’s the artisans that we found to make everything from our dishes in the restaurant to the work on the walls around the property. It’s been such a fun part of the project to meet these people.
Have you had an opening before that was a remodeling to this extent, or was it typically the creation of a brand new property?
No, I’ve opened hotels that have been closed for a period of time before remodeling due to hurricanes and all kinds of things. So Bishop’s Lodge was kind of a hybrid of remodeling and new build. It was interesting because this hotel’s been closed since 2015, but fortunately, there was still a big, loyal following.
Would you say that people use Bishop’s Lodge as a base camp to go further afield or that they stay close and enjoy the activities on site?
It’s a combination of both. We’re bordered by Santa Fe National Forest, so that gives us immediate access for trail rides as well as some hiking experiences right out the back door. The trout stream, which is coming in a couple of weeks, is designed to be a place where someone could learn how to fly cast. But then we also have an outfitter here on site that can take them further afield to some of the private waters around here and go fly fishing. We do trail rides here, but also about an hour away is Ghost Ranch, which is another horseback riding experience that takes you through some of the canyons, and so forth.
For example, I’ve got a family in-house right now and we’ve got the younger teenagers going out whitewater rafting and hiking, and so forth. And some of the older folks are enjoying some art classes on property and things like that.
What are some of your favorite details on the property?
The centerpiece of the whole place is the old historic chapel, which dates back to the 1860s. And I think it’s just so unique that we have that here. It’s a very simple building– it was the private chapel for the Archbishop back in the 1800s. We’re getting everyone from brides using it before their actual wedding to people who do some classes up there like incense making classes.
I also love the artwork that has been preserved. The art collection for the hotel really started way back in the 20s. And so we have these wonderful works of art by Warren Rollins and a few other artists that are on display around the restaurant. It’s so unique to have people come here just to walk through the place like it’s a museum.
And that artistic tradition is continuing on because we have an artist in residence program now. And so we’ll have different artists who are here for several months at a time and each one of them will leave a piece to add to the collection at the end of their time here.
We talked about the negative impact of COVID, but I’m also curious about your observations on the boom of domestic travel that we’ve seen in the US this past year as a result of the pandemic?
I have regional responsibility for all of our Auberge mountain properties, in addition to Bishop’s Lodge, and every single one of them has been seeing this enormous upsurge in travel from people from the United States. It’s great that people are rediscovering the American West. You’re seeing a lot of road trippers and it’s reinvigorated the great American road trip.
In particular for Santa Fe, it’s a new discovery for people. The Santa Fe area is very unique to the United States because of the convergence of the cultures that we have here, the architecture that’s preserved, and the fact that the history of this area dates back to the 1600s when the Spanish were coming in. Americans don’t realize what in-depth history and culture that there is in this part of the United States. And so I think it’s interesting to see people discover what they had no idea is right here.
What lasting impression would you hope that a guest at Bishop’s Lodge leaves with?
I hope people leave here having tried something that they’ve never done before. Having some kind of new experience, whether it was sitting down with an artist and creating a piece of art or learning how to ride a horse on a trail ride. Or maybe learning how to fly fish or just cast a fly rod. Then if they pick up and enjoy some of the history and the culture around them, that’s an added bonus.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.