Editor's note: This is the second story in a two-part travel series on Santa Fe, N.M. Visit www.vaildaily.com to read the first story.It was our third day in Santa Fe, and already we awoke feeling more rested and relaxed than we had in a long while. I was visiting the 400-year-old city with my best traveling cohort, Holly, soaking up all that the Southwest has to offer on our girls-only, offseason sojourn. After two nights staying in town at the beautiful and charming Inn of the Five Graces, we packed our belongings and prepared to switch accommodations. Our next two nights would be spent at Encantado, a hotel set on 57 acres in the sage-covered Sangre de Cristo foothills. Before leaving the city, we headed to the Inn at Loretto for breakfast at Luminaria, the hotel's contemporary Southwest restaurant. After filling our bellies with fresh fruit, pecan waffles with pumpkin butter and huevos rancheros, we headed north on 285. Before checking in at the resort, I wanted to show Holly the Tesuque Flea Market (www.pueblooftesuquefleamarket.com, open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, March through December), which was conveniently on the way. We wandered around the large, open-air market for nearly an hour, looking for treasures. Though the market doesn't have nearly as many vendors as it once did, we still found souvenirs to take home - ground chile powder and a turquoise ring for Holly and a necklace and notecards with brightly colored paintings by a Santa Fe artist for me.
Next, we headed off to Encantado, which means "enchanted," a fitting term for the quiet, sprawling resort. A 10-minute drive from downtown Santa Fe, Encantado is close to the action but feels a world away for those seeking silence. The resort has 65 casitas and is the first and only AAA Five Diamond-rated luxury resort in Santa Fe.Though it was mid-October, it was unseasonably warm, so we spent the afternoon relaxing and reading by the pool before putting on our hiking shoes and taking one of the hiking trails that starts behind some of the casitas and threads its way up and around the nearby hills before ending on the opposite end of the property. We crested the highest hill on the trail just as the sun dipped below the mountains, throwing orange and red streaks into the sky. We stuck close to our home for the night, opting for dinner at the hotel's Terra Restaurant rather than driving into town. And we were glad we did. Executive Chef Charles Dale spent many years in Aspen, where he three restaurants, Renaissance, Rustique Bistro and Range. He was ready for a change and ended up in Santa Fe, drawn to the city's diverse culture and reinvigorated culinary scene, he said. Like the best chefs, Dale believes food is a silent conversation between the person who creates the meal and the person who eats it. But beyond making refined, tasty food, Dale knows how to have fun. Which brings me to his homemade cheesy tater tots, something he promised his kids he'd put on the menu. Thankfully, it's a promise they made him keep. Made with Wisconsin cheddar, the little puffs almost melt in your mouth. I had a sudden urge to pass them out to other diners, saying, "You have to try these!" But in the end, we hoarded every last one.
The next morning, we visited the gallery at the resort, a satellite LewAllen Gallery. LewAllen is one of Santa Fe's largest and oldest art galleries, with a focus on contemporary and modern art. Interestingly enough, the gallery carries work by Luis Jimenez, a familiar name to some people familiar with Colorado public art. Jimenez was the artist who was killed while moving his 32-foot-tall blue fiberglass sculpture "Mustang," which now lives off Pena Boulevard near Denver International Airport. Despite having spent an entire afternoon exploring art gallery after art gallery on Canyon Road the day before, we were hungry for more. So we headed for the historic Railyard district in Santa Fe to explore the area and look at the large, contemporary galleries, shops and restaurants, marveling that this vibrant part of the city was once considered "blighted."After a quick Italian lunch downtown, we struck out to see some of nature's art. Our waiter at dinner the night before recommended hiking some of the trails in the Santa Fe Ski Basin area, up the road from Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese-style bath house and our late-afternoon destination. With the aspen trees in full golden glory, we did an easy hike near the Big Tesuque Santa Fe National Forest campground. The trail we walked followed a meandering stream, a nice soundtrack to our quiet outing.
Refreshed from our time outside, we arrived at Ten Thousand Waves, excited to see the spa we'd heard much about from local residents who seemed jealous after we told them of our plans to visit. We climbed a few dozen lantern-lit stairs, through a forest of trees, into a watery dream world. The mostly day spa (there are also 12 rooms you can rent to stay overnight) has been around for 30 years and feels like a giant, secret treehouse, with stairs and rooms and pools branching out from the check-in-gift store-waiting area. Spa-goers gather at the base of a large cedar tree, in front of a coy fish pond, to await their tub time. From there, we were led up another staircase to an outdoor premium private tub (there are indoor and outdoor options, as well as communal and private) called Shoji ($35 per person for 55 minutes). The water for the baths comes from a 900-foot-deep well and is constantly circulated, filtered and cleaned. Along with the large tub, there was a walk-in cold plunge (45 degrees, yikes!) and a concrete sauna. Rotating from the warm bath to the hot sauna to the cold plunge and back through again was shocking to the senses but in restorative way, like when a massage hurts so good. Afterward, we splurged and each got a spa treatment: the "Yasuragi Head & Neck Treatment," a 25-minute scalp, neck and shoulder massage with warm camellia oil that made our hair shine for days. It was a place that stays with you for quite some time, and, much like Santa Fe itself, a place we can't wait to visit again. High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2984.