No one does bathing like the Japanese. And no one does laid-back like Santa Feans. Put them together and you get Ten Thousand Waves, the adobe-ryokan resort in the foothills of the Sangre de Christo Mountains of New Mexico.
For a lot less than the cost of airfare to Tokyo, you can take the waters in a Japanese-made ceramic or hinoki tub, either privately or in the women’s or coed public bath (where clothing is optional before 8:15 p.m.), breathing in scents of desert sage and piñons instead of cherry blossoms. The vistas you gaze over aren’t manicured gardens but wild mountains—and the light in New Mexico is like nowhere else.
And unlike my experiences at bathhouses in Japan, there’s no matron to scold you when you violate bathing etiquette by crossing your yakuta (robe) the wrong way or leaving your slippers somewhere other than the prescribed place.
The Waves has grown a lot in its 31 years and now has nine baths and 23 massage tables in its very good Japanese-inspired spa. Tip: Spa reception can feel like a crowded restaurant lobby—you check in with a hostess at a podium—so book your treatments early in the day. Ditto for the communal baths.
It also has 12 Zen-like guest rooms. Mine, Suigetsu, had a gorgeous red kimono as a wall hanging and sliding shoji walls to divide the living and sleeping areas. There’s no restaurant, but rooms have full kitchens (stocked with granola and rice milk for breakfast) and local restaurants deliver. The best thing about staying in the guest rooms: You get to use the baths before the Waves opens to the public. —Ann Abel
Top three memorable—and healthy— experiences at Ten Thousand Waves:
1. The Bathing, Of Course
There’s nothing like soaking in the midst of stunning nature. The standout among the private baths is Ichiban, which has two hand-thrown ceramic “teacup” tubs, a shower, and a sauna. While bathing outdoors might feel like a summer-only activity, the Waves is especially delightful in winter, when the night air turns cold and snow blankets the ground.
2. Japanese Spa Treatments
The menu includes international spa standards but also has authentic Japanese services, like shiatsu-style Ashi Amna foot massage ($59) and the Yasuragi head and neck treatment ($59), which employs warm camellia oil that’s traditionally used in Japan to add luster to the hair. Book the Nose to Toes ($159) to experience both, plus a full-body exfoliation and massage, in the rare holistic treatment that adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
3. Some 150 of Santa Fe’s Best Healers and Therapists
Santa Fe is a mecca for healing artists, and the Waves’ reputation—and deeply mellow vibe—have long allowed it to attract top talent. A Thai massage ($159) I had here a dozen years ago still goes down as one of my all-time greats anywhere in the world.
Day rate for baths $24. Rooms $199–$269, www.tenthousandwaves.com
Photos: Deborah Fleig, Tom McConnell, and Ten Thousand Waves Japanese Spa & Resort