A vacation can be a challenge to see and do as much as possible, and with the added burdens of airport security, it becomes downright stressful. By the time your head hits the hotel pillow, you need a vacation from your vacation.
Luckily, a place like Santa Fe, where locals and tourists alike are content to spend an entire morning over a plate of organic micas or an afternoon wine-sipping and window-shopping, still exists. Blending old-world charm and culture with a modern art and food scene, the city seems to be one of those destinations that can't really speed up. But with everything that it has to offer, you probably wouldn't want it to. From the downtown Plaza's plethora of shops, to galleries and studios all over town, Santa Fe's diversions are endless. Best of all, they won't wear you down. A feeling of solemnity, which extends from the city's blend of Catholic and Native American religions, blends with the lighthearted and life-loving attitude that many of Santa Fe's inhabitants have adopted.
One of them is Carolyn Lee, a citizen of nearly 30 years. Not many people visit a place and like it enough to bring back more than a postcard, but Lee was so taken by her experience in Bali, Indonesia, that she came home with a more substantial souvenir. Luckily, it was in the form of an oasis among spas, Absolute Nirvana. Hardly open a year, this tiny four-room facility has already been voted one of the top 50 spas in the world by Conde Nast Traveler , and for a town that's famous for its high spa-per-square-mile ratio, that's no small feat.
Being small and privately owned perhaps gives Absolute Nirvana an edge on the market. So does the employees' pride in providing a thorough one-on-one experience with no hint of rushing clients in and out.
Actually, it's hard to rush Indonesian-style spa treatments. Originating from the Asian technique, the Javanese and Balinese procedure incorporates traditional, holistic remedies for beauty and health care and ancient methods of massage and skin care. The result is almost like a ceremony.
My "ceremony," the Deluxe Javanese Lulur treatment, is a purifying ritual used during the bridal preparations of Javanese princesses, and incorporates yogurt, honey, and the namesake traditional Javanese Lulur spices to rejuvenate the skin and mind. Many places will claim to make you feel like royalty, but few can provide an authentic experience like this one.
During the treatment, I began to understand why in Sanskrit, "Nirvana" means a place or condition of sublime happiness, though for me, the more accurate translation would be a drool-inducing state of utter relaxation. After the cleansing foot rub, whole body exfoliation and masque followed by a massage, and a trip to the aromatic steam shower, I was barely able to lift a limb out of the rose petal bath to sip my ginger tea and nibble the homemade chocolate truffle, but I managed. The whole process was two hours long, and in a word, it was bliss.
Like the Javanese Lulur, everything in the spa is modeled around the Indonesian influences that inspired the owner. Employees use only organic and pure ingredients, including essential oils that are specially made for the spa. Inside, the mahogany wood and stained walls of the rooms, combined with dim light and soothing Asian-inspired soft music, creates a sensation of sanctuary. There are small gardens outside: a nice place to enjoy a post-treatment cup of tea, in a traditional Indonesian robe the spa provides for you. If you're traveling with a significant other, you can both indulge together -- most treatments can be done in the couple's room. Aside from tempting deluxe packages, Nirvana also offers more basic procedures like classic and hot stone massages, as well as a variety of facials. You can enjoy a rose petal bath in addition to any of the treatments -- a nice way to end your visit. The spa employees, each working with at least five years' experience, can accommodate any needs you might have, and they're extremely attentive to individual problems, like a sore back or sensitive skin.
Another perk about Absolute Nirvana is that convenient and private lodgings are easily found nearby. The spa is on the premises of The Madeleine Inn, the city's oldest bed-and-breakfast. The private rooms feature stained glass, ornate fireplaces, unique architectural details and period antiques. Hacienda Nicholas and Alexander's Inn, the Madeleine's sister hotels, are other good options for secluded, peaceful accommodations.
Santa Fe has a lot to offer outside the spa, too, and one of its main attractions will always be the arts, from Southwestern to contemporary. Anyone can appreciate the magnitude of creativity and talent in galleries on Canyon Road. Try the Ernesto Mayans Galleries for newer art, or the Nedra Matteucci Fenn Gallery, one of the oldest and most notable purveyors of traditional art and sculpture in the city. Another artsy street is the Paseo de Peralta, where the Gerald Peters gallery, the largest in Santa Fe, is located.
Besides art galleries, museums also abound. For starters, the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2007, is a must-see. And the Museum of International Folk Art features amazing artifacts and exhibits. When you're hungry, the aromas of chilies roasting over burning pinion wood beckon from sidewalk cafes, and numerous restaurants and bistros should please any palate. The city's revered destination is Geronimo's, offering the utmost in extravagant dining. Whether you crave Southwestern-style fare (see sidebar) or gourmet cuisine, you'll find it in Santa Fe.
With so many relaxing, cultural, and culinary offerings, you don't need an itinerary to have a great time here. So leave a weary mind at home and come prepared with an open one -- you'll fill it with lots of memories after a couple of days in this Southwestern sanctuary.
If You Go
Pasqual's, 121 Don Gaspar, 505-983-9340
This Santa Fe institution has been serving enormous brunches to its loyal customers for over 25 years. Its menu features the traditional favorite Huevos Rancheros, or if you want to mix it up, the Huevos Motuleños, a strange but delicious combination of eggs, bananas, green peas, feta cheese, and green chilies. Expect to wait at least an hour on weekend mornings, but be patient, it's worth it.
El Farol, 808 Canyon Rd, 505-983-9912
Santa Fe's oldest restaurant and cantina, El Farol features a Spanish and New Mexican menu and one of the coolest bar atmospheres in town. Munch on gourmet tapas while enjoying a cocktail. Live bands play every night, and for more culture, you can catch a Flamenco dinner show.
Monroe Gallery of Photography, 112 Don Gaspar, 505-992-0800
The owners have an incredible story and a passion for photography: Sid Monroe and his family moved to Santa Fe after 9/11 to start over, and brought their collections with them. They became friends with photographer Alfred Eisenstadt and received a large amount of his work before he died, recently highlighted in "The Eye of Eisenstadt" exhibit. The gallery largely features photojournalism and always has something on exhibit, most of it for sale.
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