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New Mexico: Eating, Praying, and Loving on a Budget

How visiting three New Mexico cities can capture the spirit of a bestseller, without breaking the bank.

We can't all have Elizabeth Gilbert's good fortune. Though Gilbert, author of the bestselling book Eat, Pray, Love, has had her share of bad luck (her book was written after she went through a divorce and lost all her money), it's hard to feel sorry for a gal who signed a book deal large enough to allow her to travel to Italy to eat, India to pray, and Indonesia to find love. But what are less fortunate folks (the ones who can't afford to travel to three far-flung countries) supposed to do when they need a pick-me-up trip? The answer, as I discovered during a recent trip to New Mexico, lies in Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque. These three New Mexico cities have many of the sorts of attractions that Gilbert sought out in Italy, India, and Indonesia but are far cheaper and more convenient wellness destinations.

To kick off your trip to New Mexico right, you should probably start as Gilbert does in her book -- with good food. It can be had in abundance at The Blue Heron restaurant at Sunrise Springs Resort (tel. 800/955-0028;, a few miles outside Santa Fe. This restaurant has earned accolades for its sustainable cuisine, and its focus is on local Southwestern food that manages to be both haute and healthy. The menu changes seasonally, but recent items have included a pepita-crusted portobello entrée with red chili couscous and eggplant agro dulce, as well as garlic taro fritters with lime, caper, and green olive guacamole. In addition to its excellent restaurant, the 70-acre eco-resort features accommodations ranging from cozy pond-view rooms, priced at $125 a night in the summer, to spacious casitas, starting at $265 in the summer. All guests have access to yoga, pottery, and cooking classes, as well as the superb on-site Samadhi Spa, which offers an extensive and unusual selection of treatments. One of the most popular is the Medicine Helper, which costs $160 for an 80-minute session with a local shaman trained in using fresh herbs, native song, and prayer to restore wellness. Such transformative treatments are far cheaper than a month of meditation in India, and perhaps just as likely to work: the spa's director recently witnessed a client actually crying from happiness after her session. Samadhi Spa also has a slew of more traditional services like facials and massages, all using natural and even local products, and is open to the public.

More salvation through pampering can be found at Absolute Nirvana Spa (tel. 505/983-7942; in downtown Santa Fe. Their signature two-hour Javanese Lulur treatment involves a full-body massage with jasmine oil, sandalwood/rice powder exfoliation, and a yogurt/honey wrap, followed by a steam shower and rose petal bath, at a cost of $240. And since the spa is within walking distance of many of the city's art galleries and museums, you'll be able to work in some sightseeing around your spa services. One highlight is the Georgia O'Keefe Museum (tel. 505/946-1000;, which contains the largest number of the artist's works in the world. Afterwards, stop at The Shed (tel. 505/982-9030) and have one of their enchiladas with green sauce -- eating one is practically a life-affirming experience.

About an hour's drive north from Santa Fe, the Historic Taos Inn (tel. 800/TAOS-INN; in downtown Taos offers 44 charming rooms decorated with Spanish colonial art (starting around $105 in high season), and excellent Southwestern food at its restaurant Doc Martin's. The inn has justly been billed as the social center of Taos, since live bands play here nightly and the lobby bar draws many locals. But even if you choose not to stay overnight, it's worth making the trip to Taos for the views alone -- the High Road from Santa Fe to Taos is one of the most beautiful drives in the country, and you're sure to ooh and ahh as your car winds through the fruit orchards, towering mountain peaks, and red-sand deserts along the way. One worthy stop en route is the El Santuario de Chimayo, a Spanish-style church about 28 miles north of Santa Fe that's drawn thousands of tourists since its construction in the early 19th-century. The earth in its anteroom is thought to have healing powers, and this National Historic Landmark also claims gorgeous religious artwork.

Because of their proximity to each other, it should be entirely possible to see Santa Fe and Taos over a long weekend, and not stress yourself out in the process. Since flights to and from the state leave from Albuquerque (only about an hour from Santa Fe), it also should be easy to work in a quick visit to the city before you head home. From Old Town, which offers a good glimpse of 18th-century New Mexico history, to the equally enlightening Albuquerque Museum of Art and History (tel. 505/243-7255;, with displays of Spanish colonial artifacts and hands-on exhibits for kids, there's enough going on in town that it's even worth spending a night. And there's no better place to do that than the over 200-year-old adobe inn Hacienda Antiqua(tel. 800/201-2896; It's impossible not to fall in love with this inn's luxuriously rustic rooms, which start at $149 in high season (that rate includes a hearty breakfast), and are decked out with romantic touches like fireplaces and Jacuzzis. Cap off your stay in New Mexico here and I promise that you'll leave the state feeling full, restored, and loving life.

For more info on visiting this part of New Mexico, pick up a copy of Frommer's Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque or visit the Department of Tourism's website at

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