Leave it to dynamic duo and No Crowds reporters, Gary and Lorraine, to find a Japanese-inspired, hot springs mountain hideaway, ten minutes from downtown Santa Fe. I so want to go.
Yes, Gentle Reader, we know. Santa Fe, in the southwestern high desert of the US, hardly qualifies as a “No Crowds” destination. After all, it’s been mentioned prominently on “Grace and Frankie”, so clearly the secret’s out. Not that it is without attractions: a lively arts and culture scene, great restaurants, the wonderfully weird “Meow Wolf” installation, and the architecturally magnificent open-air opera house, to name a few. The influence of that most recent famous resident, the American modernist Georgia O’Keeffe, is everywhere.
However, today’s story is about Ten Thousand Waves, an inn and spa built and run in the Japanese Ryokan tradition, high in the hills surrounding the city. In fact, it’s almost a doppelganger for my favorite ryokan in the world, high above the city of Kyoto. (Note: sadly, Ten Thousand Waves does not have traditional rooms like the one in Kyoto where you sleep on tatami mats on the floor – an oversight that should be corrected). We managed to snag an evening here thanks to a recent cancellation (everything usually books up weeks in advance.).
Our evening began with an excellent meal at Izanami, the Japanese/southwestern fusion restaurant, which takes pride in never serving sushi. The dishes were as creative as you might imagine, from mushrooms we had never heard of, to Wagyu filet mignon that we seared on a hot river rock delivered to our table, to a grilled avocado with a soy reduction sauce. The wine list included sixty odd types of sake, and amazingly, our waiter was knowledgeable enough to tell us about the differences in flavor, production and aging.
As good as the meal was, the high point of the evening came next, at the spa next door. We checked in and were issued our kimonos and ushered to the changing /shower rooms. Once ablutions were complete, our host led us to the real No Crowds experience - the private Japanese garden I had booked for the two of us. She introduced us to our huge spa pool, waterfall with cold plunge pool, and sauna, all for our exclusive use, and then left and locked the door behind her. As the night cooled and the stars came out over our garden, we realized that the zen attitude here was having an impact, and that we really needed a break from the craziness of the news and the world in general. Not only was every aspect of the operation designed to instill calm, but the management was prescient enough to make sure there was neither wifi nor cell service available in the spa.
If you plan on visiting Ten Thousand Waves, book ahead. Their website details each of the themed private gardens (as well as public women’s and coed spas) and allows booking of them as well as hotel rooms, massages and treatments, and restaurant reservations. As latecomers, we were not able to get an outdoor table, but I would highly recommend this, giving you a chance to dine on a deck suspended over the valley below. As for me, I have acquired a nicely shaped river rock and some grass fed beef tenderloin, to keep us going till we’re able to return.