Photo: Tina Larkin
Originally published in the Taos News
Christmas is almost here and Taos gets ready to embrace it. The aromas of the season (pine cones, gingerbread and anise bizcochitos) permeate the town. The sad and poignant music of villancicos, Christmas carols, is in the air.
Houses are decorated in festive themes and so are the hotels, motels and inns that offerTaosvisitors a home away from home.
“That’s what hospitality means,” said Richard Spera, the owner and Inn-keeper of Casa Gallina, a bed and breakfast comprised of four adobe guest houses—an idyllic vacation getaway.
Spera’s goal is to give guests more than they expect and treat everyone as if they were family coming to visit. “Which, in the big picture of life, is exactly who everyone is,” he said. Every December he starts decorating the casitas so his guests don’t miss the holiday atmosphere they would have enjoyed at their own homes.
“I have made a ritual of it,” Spera said. “I take my dogs and go with them to the forest. It can be anywhere in the Carson National Forest, even out in Tres Piedras or up near the Ski Valley. I cut boughs of evergreens (piñón and juniper are my favorite because they are the fullest and most aromatic) and put them in vases, on the tops of cupboards and over the mantles of fireplaces. I fill the casitas with the smell and the strong, fresh energy of the mountains!”
Spera doesn’t use plastic decorations or store-bought garlands. “I like everything natural,” he said. “All the Christmas decorations are handmade, artisan, like the rest of the casitas’ decor.”
He usually doesn’t have Christmas trees. “But this year, I am having one and decorating it on request on one of my guests,” he said.
Honoring the inn’s name, he’s decided to decorate the tree with chicken-inspired ornaments.
He also uses lots of poinsettias. “They last a long time, sometimes until summer,” he said. “They are among my favorite Christmas plants.”
Richard Spera was born and grew up in New York. He always knew that he was meant to be in the hospitality industry. “I always loved cooking, and entertaining from when I was just a kid,” he said.
He went to Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration for four years in Ithaca, NY, for some formal training.
“Upon graduating from university, I went toNew York Cityfor my ‘real’ training and worked for an Italian restaurant group for twelve years, moving my way up the ranks there from manager to Director of Operations for a group of five restaurants,” Spera said. “But when I moved toTaos, I knew I had found my new home.”
Spera wanted to be close to the earth. He longed to grow his own food, raise animals (dogs and chickens), and be close to the mountains and the natural world. After moving toTaoshe became a licensed massage therapist and practiced massage for twelve years.
Later on, he bought the house next door and renovated it in order to make a living by hosting vacationers. By that time he already grew vegetables in his garden and had orchards of apple trees. He was also a backyard chicken farmer.
“That was why I decided to call my inn Casa Gallina, which means Hen House,” he said. “I just loved the image of a hen because she represents all things ‘giving’; she gives eggs, meat, entertainment, love, beauty, even compost for next year’s vegetable gardens! Such a giving bird just had to be in the name of my new business so Casa Gallina was born.”
Spera has had three casitas for the past five years and now he just opened the fourth one.
He is passionate about creating a warm and inviting ambiance so there are plants and artwork everywhere and fully stocked kitchens and cupboards.
“Of course, ‘the girls’ provide fresh eggs and the gardens provide fresh vegetables,” he said. “But this is not a Bed and Breakfast as I don’t prepare breakfast for guests; they’re on their own for that in their own kitchens.”
Spera guides his guests to his favorite markets and restaurants in town. He becomes basically their tour guide and host while they are here. He tells them about local events and celebrations like the lighting of Ledoux Street, Christmas Eve dances at the pueblo and the traditional posadas.
He also directs them to galleries and stores, but the guests may as well shop right at home. Spera showcases the work from many local artists in Casa Gallina.
“I have great ceramic pieces by Hollis Hansen and wood sculptor Duane O’Hagan, incredible photographs from my friend Kathleen Brennan and gardenSantosfrom Zachary Powell,” he said. “I have paintings and other artwork from the collection of my friend and art dealer Ken Nelson, who for many years owned and operated The Old Pink Schoolhouse Gallery in Tres Piedras.”
But rather than only selling people art or renting them a space to sleep, Spera looks forward to making a difference in his guests’ lives.
“By caring, baking, cooking, welcoming and creating beautiful spaces for my guests I can clearly and absolutely feel how deeply nurtured people are by staying with me at Casa Gallina,” he said. “I know they are leaving to go back to their homes and lives with a deep sense of nurturing and love, and the ripple effect of that kind of service in the world is priceless.”
Right now Spera is in the process of getting his Christmas cookies together so that he can surprise his guests with different kinds of Christmas cookies throughout their stay. “And maybe I’ll also prepare a big pot of posole to welcome them after their long journey toTaos,” he said.Casa Gallina is located onCallejon Roadin Ranchitos—just a five minute drive fromTaosPlaza. 613 Callejon Road,Taos,NM87571 Phone: (575) 758-2306 http://www.casagallina.net