The Southwest’s premier art city has become a wellness haven.
There are countless reasons to plan a trip to Santa Fe: art, chiles, history, chiles, the opera, chiles. I didn’t think wellness was one of them until I visited Ten Thousand Waves, a spa modeled after the mountain hot springs resorts of Japan, several years ago (see sidebar).
Since then, wellness tourism – travel based on spas, fitness and overall self-care – has exploded. According to the 2018 Global Wellness Economy Monitor report released by the nonprofit Global Wellness Institute, travelers took 830 million wellness trips in 2017, and the wellness travel market grew 6.5 percent from 2015-2017 – more than double the 3.2 percent growth rate of tourism overall during that same time period.
When I received an invitation for a wellness-themed press tour of my favorite New Mexican city, I was intrigued. Were there more health-minded things to do than get a massage and chill in an onsen-style hot tub at Ten Thousand Waves? Were there enough healthy dishes incorporating chiles to tear me away from Christmas-style enchiladas and chilaquiles?
The New Wellness Resort
Not long ago, “wellness resort” was code for a shmancy drug rehabilitation facility or a chichi weight-loss camp. Today’s wellness resorts are more like traditional resorts, but with health and mindfulness woven throughout the luxury. They offer abundant programming centered on holistic health and happiness, from the usual suspects (massage and meditation) to more out-there offerings (energy work and animal communication).
We began our Santa Fe wellness blitz at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort (242 Los Pinos Rd., 800-704-0531, sunrisesprings.ojospa.com), a beautiful property on the outskirts of Santa Fe. Its 70 acres are nourished by the same springs that slaked the thirst of travelers on El Camino Real for centuries. Now you can soak in a private, open-air, mineral-infused tub overlooking a pond before or after treatments at the resort’s spa, which offers a Native American blue corn and prickly pear salt scrub.
Sunrise Springs’ experiential activities and Thrive Guides (wellness experts specializing in fields from culinary arts to regional history) customize your stay. We took an archery class, where I discovered I “hook” with arrows just as I do with golf and bowling balls. We chatted with the resort’s medical director, Dr. Sally Fisher, who gave us healthy cooking tips (lots of veggies; little grains; no meat). We played with black lab puppies at the resort’s Puppy Preschool, where staffers train service dogs.
My favorite experience was the Medicine Wheel with personal wellness counselor Michael Schroeder. A medicine wheel is an earthen or stone circle with four segments, each representing a different season and cycle of life, often with corresponding colors and spiritual significance. It’s a common religious tool in many North American Indian tribes and is sometimes called the Sacred Hoop. Schroeder walked us through the circle and we shared our issues relating to the various quadrants (spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical). One woman struggled to overcome a negative worldview, another worried she intellectualized everything at the expense of her soul. I was touched when even Schroeder shared some of his personal pain and how he was working through it. It was an afternoon of beautiful vulnerability, healing and support with complete strangers. We left the wheel as friends.
The Mind-Body Connection
Soon we bonded in a more visceral way: shared sweat. We spent a morning with Stacy Kinsley, founder of YogiHiker (yogihiker.com). Kinsley and her guides lead groups on hikes in the Santa Fe National Forest that culminate in mountaintop yoga sessions. You know those split-screen effects in movies that show the chasm between expectations and reality? That was me on our YogiHike. Expectation: nimbly scaling a small hill and feeling like a goddess doing warrior pose on top of the world. Reality: heaving myself up a much-taller-than-I-thought mountain on an unseasonably hot day, pausing often for water and tokes on my inhaler, and finally making it to the top only to spend more time than not in child’s pose. “Margaritas, margaritas, margaritas” was my mantra as we made our sweltering descent. (I’d still do it again, but on a cooler day and with a more realistic view of my fitness level.)
The universe manifested my desire: a prickly pear margarita and icy gazpacho on the gorgeous patio of La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa (330 E. Palace Ave., 505-986-0000, laposadadesantafe.com), a property with history extending to Santa Fe’s territorial days. We went straight from lunch to Spa Sage, which welcomes guests with a white sage burning ceremony and indigenous art. The treatments also reflect the culture: My Spirit of Santa Fe massage included blue corn exfoliation and desert sage oil, and there’s a Santa Fe Chocolate Chile Wrap and an Altitude Adjustment Massage that several of my travel companions booked to stave off altitude sickness.
Some gals felt so depleted from the altitude that they scheduled oxygen treatments at Santa Fe Oxygen & Healing Bar (133 W. San Francisco St., 505-986-5037, santafeoxygenbar.com), which also offers intuitive readings. I passed and instead ordered one of the healthy elixirs at the bar’s Apothecary Restaurant. I chose One Love Leche primarily for its groovy name, but it was delicious, with coconut milk, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and rose mingling with a purportedly anxiety-reducing ashwagandha tincture.
Things got even more “woo-woo” the next day at BODY Santa Fe (333 W. Cordova Rd., 505-986-0362, bodyofsantafe.com), a boutique/spa/fitness studio/vegan cafe/gathering spot for the city’s well-heeled hippies. Luckily, I love woo-woo, so I was excited for my first polarity session. Polarity aims at balancing internal energy through a series of gentle touches that adherents say redirect energy to the proper places in the body. My therapist asked what was troubling in my life and then did “energy work” to shake loose the trapped energy and move some of it out of my body. Skeptics will say it’s psychosomatic, but I did feel an energetic shift during and after my treatment. BODY Santa Fe owner Lorin Parrish – a surfer girl in Hawaii turned spiritual seeker in Southeast Asia turned wellness entrepreneur in Santa Fe – joined us for a vegan lunch of collard green wraps with spicy peanut sauce and a raw chocolate-almond tart. In an industry that often foments charlatans, Parrish felt like the real deal and truly exhibited the calm, centered vibe her business promotes.
The Good Stuff
I love Santa Fe for its unhealthy food – chile-topped burritos at Casa Chimayó, green chile mac and cheese at Cowgirl Santa Fe, buñuelos at The French Pastry Shop – so I greeted our super healthy (often vegan) meal itinerary with more than a little side-eye. I needn’t have worried. The Teahouse (821 Canyon Rd., 505-992-0972, teahousesantafe.com) has the most extensive tea menu I’ve ever seen, from trendy matcha and tea lattes to flowering teas and kombucha-plum green tea. At Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen (1512 Pachecho St., 505-795-7383, sweetwatersf.com) we ate avocado toast with kimchi, green chile grits and buckwheat banana pancakes made with buckwheat milled in-house.
Speaking of pancakes, I had some of the finest I’ve eaten back at Blue Heron restaurant at Sunrise Springs – blue corncakes with homemade almond butter and honey. And at Modern General (637 Cerrillos Rd., 505-930-5462, moderngeneralonline.com), where I had an incredible pozole ramen during my first visit to Santa Fe, I feasted on an array of savory pancakes I still dream about. The menu calls them Modcakes, and they’re crafted from interesting, high-fiber flours: teff, corn and White Sonora Wheat (yes, the kind our own Hayden Flour Mills produces – I spotted Hayden’s products on Modern General’s chic sundries shelves!). I couldn’t decide which I liked better – the green chile-cilantro corncakes with scallions, Jack cheese, cilantro-lime crema and red chile maple syrup, or the Supercakes with kale, cabbage, flax, dashi, scallions, aioli and okonomi sauce – so I just kept going back and forth until my plate was clean. Can we please make savory pancakes a thing in Phoenix?
Years ago, I took a wonderful Georgia O’Keeffe-themed class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking (125 N. Guadalupe St., 505-983-4511, santafeschoolofcooking.com) and still cook dishes from it, so I was thrilled to return for another course. This one was health-themed, naturally, but through the prism of New Mexican cuisine and its bold flavors. We made blue corn tamales stuffed with calabacitas (a Mexican dish of sautéed zucchini and onions), turkey breast with mango salsa, and rice cooked in green chile broth.
The meal was a perfect summation of Santa Fe wellness: healthy with a little zing. I’d had a great time hiking, crying with strangers, embracing woo-woo treatments, getting pampered and playing with puppies. And I’d managed to pack in plenty of chiles, though I was definitely ready for a cheeseburger.
A JAPANESE OASIS IN THE SOUTHWEST
Ten Thousand Waves is arguably New Mexico’s finest spa, and certainly its most unique: a traditional Japanese onsen-style spa nestled among piñon pines and juniper trees. In recent years, it-’s expanded its offerings to include:
Izanami – an upscale izakaya restaurant with an omakase chef’s tasting menu
Houses of the Moon – spa-adjacent lodging in the style of a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn
21 Ten Thousand Waves Way