Insider's Guide to Spas
Hotel Cartesiano; Photography by Kenny Viese


A Sense of Cartesian Calm in Puebla

Becca Hensley

They call Puebla the City of Angels.

So, it makes sense that while at the spa at Hotel Cartesiano, one of the Baroque
city’s newest, luxury hotels, I feel like I’m visiting heaven. A celestial, rooftop
sanctum, ethereally draped in lengths of gossamer white, it contrasts mightily with the gild and ornate extravagances of the Spanish-built, Mexican city, which the spa calls home. On the rooftop of Hotel Cartesiano (a cleverly constructed lodge that spans two centuries-old mansions, blending industrial sleek with old-school warmth and coziness), the spa further symbolizes Elysian dreaminess, its location more like a steppingstone to the clouds, its tranquility evoking a floaty kind of bliss that triggers something deep in the soul.

But, that’s the point. As Claudia Cuesta, the spa expert who was brought in to facilitate the programming, tells me, “We’ve based this spa on Cartesian philosophy.” That means, in layperson’s language, that this spa takes dualism very seriously. Descartes, the 17th-century deep thinker, perhaps best known for his quote, “I think, therefore I am,” understood that people were composed of not just body—but also soul. He felt certain that without the recognition of soul (which some call heart, others construe as mind, and many visualize as a kind of inner-life force), we human beings are just inanimate objects—robots, if you will. (My yoga guru uses Indian philosophy to say the same thing. He speaks of the koshas, those various layers of who we are, a situation that Hinduism sees as somewhat like those Russian stacking dolls. He says our outer body, merely a suit we wear, has nothing to do with our spirit. Instead, it’s the soul—or anandamaya kosha,the bliss body—that defines us).

Even if you don’t request it, Hotel Cartesiano’s spa will envelop you with aspects of energy work, going beneath the layers, the koshas, the body apparent—all the way to your spiritual core.

With that in mind, Hotel Cartesiano’s well-conceived spa hopes to bring focus to
weary humans who seek repose. They want to go further than offering an anatomical massage to unleash taut muscles, and they seek to go beyond a high- end facial meant to vanquish the wear and tear of years. Even if you don’t request it, Hotel Cartesiano’s spa will envelop you with aspects of energy work, going beneath the layers, the koshas, the body apparent—all the way to your spiritual core.

“Everyone we’ve hired has been trained in energy work,” notes Cuesta, herself a reiki master. At the same time, this Mexican spa, the first of its kind in Puebla, Mexico’s fourth largest city, just around 200 miles from Mexico City, doesn’t bill itself as a new-age destination or haven of energy healing rituals. Instead, because of the therapists, and smartly conceived treatments, this wellness mecca manages to delve more deeply than most spas into your being—and to awaken your own curative response no matter what treatment you choose. “We want to help you create a map, as the Age of Discovery did for the world, that takes you along a restorative route,” says Cuesta.

I meet my therapist, Elizabeth, hours before my treatment. I’m working out in the
fitness center, adjacent to the spa—a room with panoramic windows overlooking the city. At dawn’s light, there’s a problem. The sun is startlingly bright, and I
haven’t brought my sunglasses. I’m not only squinting, but I’ve put a scarf over my eyes as I work the elliptical. Somewhere, out of nowhere, an angel arrives. She
rushes in silently to come to my aid, drawing large blinds that obliterate the
sun—bringing me instant comfort. Through the obscured windows, I can still see the rays of kaleidoscopic light, rainbow-hued, splaying out over the city’s spires and elaborate rooftops.

Later, when I discover my “angel of the glare,” is my therapist, I’m delighted. Jung once wrote that there are no coincidences, and, I believe that. Willing to surrender myself to her ministrations, I choose one of the spa menu’s journeys—a two hour, custom ritual based not only on what I want or think I need, but driven by what the therapist feels might be necessary. Together, we opt for the Magnetic North Journey, meant to ground the guest with a foot ritual, firm, rhythmic massage (to release tension and open breath) and lots of head massage and third eye work, meant to awaken the parasympathetic nervous system, relax, restore and inspire the path to intuition.

Deeply moved after my treatment, I spend some time meditating before the spa’s
stellar therapy pools, then ready myself to rush into a day of sightseeing. There
will be more mysticism in my day—a visit to a pyramid, rife with underground
chambers, a stroll through Puebla’s new and highly touted Baroque Museum, various moments of meditation inside numerous folkloric-intoned, gold-flanked churches, a mummy sighting, and the view of vivified volcano Popocatépetl spouting steam.

And thanks to Hotel Caresiano’s spa, I’m ready to tackle it all.

Becca Hensley

Becca Hensley

Based in Austin, Contributing Editor Becca Hensley writes regularly about travel and spas. She believes a good story draws you in like laughter in a crowded room, and challenges you to do it justice. Her work appears regularly in Austin Monthly, Travel Channel, Toronto Star and National Geographic Traveler.