The cultural ecosystem services (CES) construct has evolved to accommodate multiple worldviews, knowledge systems and conceptualizations of nature and values, including relational and mental health values. Cultural ecosystem services research and practice has mostly focused on cognitive ways of constructing and expressing intangible values of, and relationships with, nature. But our non-material relationships with nature are not exclusively cognitive: sensory and affective processes are fundamental to how we build, enact and experience these relationships. Building on the core ideas of relational values, embodied experiences and connectedness with nature, we present a simple framework to explore the sensory, affective and cognitive dimensions of human–nature interactions, as well as the settings and activities that frame them. We demonstrate its use in a case study in the Peruvian Andes, where we applied an inductive, exploratory approach to elicit personal imageries and imaginings related to nature, place and recreation. The narratives shared were rich with symbolism and personal sensory experiences, emotions and memories, which the interviewees linked with general assertions about people, place and nature. We discuss the usefulness of such a perspective for CES research, and for human well-being, environmental justice and landscape management.