Song Pairing: The Breath You Take – George Strait
The lake was still tranquil aside from ripples caused by occasional jumping fish and gentle swirls from the paddle blade. The morning was peaceful, birds stretched their wings in the cooler air before heat drove them into thick tree cover, their tweets lyrical and apolitical.
After 45 minutes of cruising the Colorado River, I steered the yellow kayak toward the boat dock and inhaled deeply the scent from the nearby herb garden. The smell was a combination of rosemary, lavender, oregano, thyme, and renewal. I focused on my breathing, uncontained by stress, unveiled, my breath a gift of life; I took in the scent, a gift of the moment. My first morning at Lake Austin Spa Resort was restorative.
Tired of Sweltering in Place
It was the second week of July and I felt like I had been sweltering in place for years. Trips to Mexico and Florida were canceled, the holiday-less period until Labor Day loomed ahead bleakly. With the country starting to reopen, I decided the time was right for a change of scenery that would not involve commercial transportation and would infuse money back into the local economy. The perfect solution turned out to be Lake Austin Spa Resort, the 19-acre luxury wellness resort on the banks of the Colorado River in Austin.
Back in early March, I had lunch with Mike McAdams, co-owner of the wellness retreat, who, with several key team members, was in Dallas to promote the resort’s recent $2 million renovation. The pandemic interrupted their media tour and my plans to visit. But now, determined to leave town, I connected with the resort and made the easy three-hour drive a few weeks later.
The thing that, during a pandemic, can be a contagion is the very same thing that revives and energizes us. In fact, it is life itself. As I was headed to Lake Austin Spa, I was grieving the loss of a friend who had just passed away after a battle with cancer. While I was at the spa, I learned about the passing of another friend who died tragically and unexpectedly. I’m very grateful to have been in such a beautiful, peaceful setting while I was processing this.
The composition of Lake Austin Spa and the programming it offers is intentional and healing. Paddling in the mornings while the water was still and the air was thick with dew required me to breathe deeply, thoughtfully. I haven’t felt more present in any moments this year than when I was there, watching turtles pop up to the surface of the lake and birds glide from tree-to-tree.
In three words, Lake Austin Spa is: Intentional, Peaceful, Restorative.
Lake Austin Spa Resort closed down March 21, during their busiest time of year, and reopened July 1 after developing and implementing comprehensive health and safety standards, protocol and training for employees including servers, housekeepers, spa technicians, massage therapists, fitness instructors, programming consultants such as chefs, musicians, mediation experts, and others who provide their services for LASR’s unique wellness-focused programs and activities. I reviewed the information on the website and felt safe with their approach.
The resort only has 40 rooms, each of them separate with no shared ventilation or air conditioning, and has limited occupancy during the pandemic.
Plus, the unique feature of the resort is its natural setting. Its irreplaceable location on the banks of Lake Austin, the shade trees, landscaping, and thoughtful outdoor spaces, and its minimal public spaces make Lake Austin Spa especially suitable for guests during this time.
From the moment you enter the gates, it is clear that management has put thought into the guest experience relative to keeping everyone safe. Hand sanitizer is perched at the gate keypad so you can use it before and after you call the front desk to announce your arrival. There are sanitizing stations located throughout the resort so anyone can take a squirt of sanitizer or a sanitizing wipe when and where they need one. All employees are masked indoors, and the same is required of guests. Temperatures are taken daily at the front desk and color-coded wrist bands are issued daily to indicate the guest and employee has had his or her temperature checked and is normal, a requirement for any guest participating in an activity.
Guestrooms, recently renovated and presented in a calming light aqua, tan, and white color scheme are immaculate and spacious. Each room is deep cleaned and sanitized prior to guest arrival and is outfitted with the resort’s private-label lavender amenities of bar soap, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. Daily housekeeping service is discontinued as a health and safety measure, but whatever you need is a phone call away and a member of the housekeeping staff can deliver it to your door.
My husband and I stayed in room 20, which included a small workstation with easy-access plugs and ports and a spacious back patio, which included a hot tub. Connectivity was perfect and we had no issues when our Zoom/Microsoft Team online meetings took place concurrently.
I got a peak at the Lady Bird Suite, which is their version of the Presidential Suite and it is gorgeous, features fabulous antiques and a sitting room, expanded back patio with table and chairs suitable for a small dinner party. When I hit the big time, I will stay there.
Chef Stepháne Beaucamp has led the culinary mission there for nine years and still, he manages to keep it fresh and creative. His menu is innovative, relying heavily on locally-sourced plants and protein. Spa cuisine is meant to be healthy, low cal, and low carb, and Chef Beaucamp’s is, but his cuisine is abundant with flavors, textures, and visual appeal which, to me, made every meal feel indulgent and luxurious.
Preparing nutritious, tasty meals is labor intensive, time consuming, and requires technical expertise for preparing ingredients in ways that magnify the flavor, texture, and color without adding fat or salt. Every menu item I tasted, which was a lot, I confess, was memorable and bursting with flavor.
Lake Austin Spa is an all-inclusive property, so all meals are included in the price per person per night. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in the main dining room and the adjacent outdoor patio. Menus are presented using a QR code you can scan with your phone and on a disposable paper menu. Dinner specials are featured on an A-frame stand. The Aster Café up at the spa also serves lunch packaged to-go so you take choose to eat in the lovely dining room there or go picnic anywhere on the grounds.
Some of the lunch menu standouts include Texas Pecan Vegan Tacos, which uses chopped pecans as a beef substitute, giving a rich, slightly crunchy texture with a slightly spicy kick. Tacos are served with gently pickled onions, avocado, and pico de gallo on corn tortillas.
Another standout was the open-faced falafel burger which piled hummus, tzatziki, a slice of heirloom tomato, arugula, cucumber, red onion, and feta atop a house-made falafel patty. It was flavorful and filling and only 231 calories which allowed me to partake guilt-free in the pistachio frozen yogurt dessert. The lunch menu offers salads and Power Bowls with protein options such as Red Bird Farm chicken, grilled avocado, and sustainable salmon.
Dinner is by reservation only to ensure guests are appropriately distanced and the restaurant adheres to maximum occupancy guidelines. The menu is robust and offers a selection of interesting salads such as the Vitamin Boost Salad with citrus, fennel, radishes, herbs, watercress, and pistachios in a honey Dijon vinaigrette and main courses with chicken, fish, beef, and vegetarian options. As I mentioned, Chef Beaucamp is a genius with vegetables, and the dinner sides are each works of art.
Roasted cauliflower with harissa, cucumber, pomegranate seeds, almonds, and charred broccolini were big on flavor and virtually fat free.
Wine, beer, and cocktails are available for an additional cost and the list is approachable and well-priced. Dessert options change nightly and could easily pass as some something you’d expect to find at The Mansion Restaurant in Dallas, including a chocolate mille feuille with a passion fruit sauce and a stunning raspberry bread pudding.
Really, the whole point of coming to Lake Austin Spa and Resort is the spa. A brief shady, scenic walk from the guest rooms, the spa is an impressive building positioned between the Pool Barn, where guests take aqua fitness classes, therapies and swimming, and the Palm Pool, an aquatic retreat with shaded cabanas and chaises for lounging.
Spa personnel take guest’s temperature or look to ensure they are wearing the proper wrist band for the day prior to check-in. The ground-floor locker room is well equipped and has a lovely shaded patio for relaxing before or after treatments, or guests can go upstairs to the Blue Room, which perhaps is the most memorable room in the entire resort. The massive yet cozy room is Austin Hill Country chic, with a cornflower blue vaulted ceiling, paneled walls, clerestory windows, and botanical and bird prints on the walls. The room is elegant and comfortable, and I thought it almost a shame to leave when called for my treatment.
Therapists and technicians carefully explained the sanitation and safety precautions they take to ensure guest and employee safety. The rooms are thoroughly sanitized, and therapists wear masks during the treatment as do guests unless they are getting a facial. Something I noticed on this and my previous visit to the spa is the commitment to wellness that each therapist demonstrates. I have had two significant injuries that throw my entire musculoskeletal system out of whack. The therapists at LASR, more than any I’ve had before at a spa, are interested in how the injuries occurred and how they impact me on a day-to-day basis. With that knowledge, these therapists focused on the areas that would be most beneficial to me and I left my treatments feeling relaxed, steady, and more upright than I had in a while.
In keeping with its natural wellness vibe, LASR includes the Naturopathica treatment line, which is an all-natural, plant-based line used for my Luminous Skin Brightening Facial. Two of the products were so impressive I ended up buying them: the Manuka Honey Cleansing Balm and the Sweet Cherry Enzyme Peel which was gentle but effective and looks and smells like something you’d smear on a biscuit.
In a non-pandemic time, Lake Austin Spa offers hundreds of different classes, activities, and events for guests, some cost extra, some don’t. Though they are scaled back a bit now, there were still plenty of things to do.
Guests are advised to review the options prior and book in advance as some activities have guest limits to ensure proper social distancing. For me, my goal was to make this visit an investment in my health and well-being so I can return home with knowledge I can apply back in the real world.
To that end, I signed up for an AquaStretch™ Myofacial Release upon my arrival and spent one hour one-on-one in the Pool Barn with Monica, a certified aqua fitness professional. This is a great treatment for anyone who is stiff, sore, or spends hours at a time in the same position, such as surgeons, who make up a large segment of Monica’s clients. After I was loosened up, I trekked over to the Fitness Center to meet with Paul for a Functional Movement Assessment, which, even as loosened up as I was from my previous treatment, I still flunked. However, included with the cost of the assessment is access to the Functional Movement Systems app and a personalized fitness routine that I can do at home. Both treatments cost extra.
The resort has a spacious and well-equipped demonstration kitchen and classroom where cooking classes are offered several times a week, led by Chef Beaucamp and local guest chefs. Chef is an engaging, entertaining teacher who prepared Baja Shrimp Tacos for the group of eight guests who all admitted to cooking more at home during the pandemic and saw this class as a way to expand their culinary repertoire. When I mentioned my failure in pandemic bread baking, Chef spent a few minutes to share bread-making hacks to the guests who also copped to unsuccessful pandemic bread baking.
Programming doesn’t end when the sun goes down and guests can take advantage of an outdoor lullaby concert by local musicians, meditation practices for bedtime, or watercolor classes. Or, if you’d rather, find an empty hammock or bring a blanket and find a spot to listen to nature and stargaze.
Lake Austin Spa is an all-inclusive resort, so rooms, food and non-alcoholic beverages, most water and ground activities, classes, activities, events and parking are included in the price.
At first glance, the rates might give you sticker shock, but when you break down costs, it’s completely in-line with any luxury property without pricey airfare. Activities that cost extra include the evening wine cruise, water sports such as tubing, skiing, and wakeboarding. Wellness is worth the investment–more so, in my view, than a handbag, shoes, or the latest fashion trend. Today, two weeks after I returned home from Lake Austin Spa Resort, I feel more energetic and optimistic, and I’ve lost two pandemic pounds from the healthy cooking tips, exercise plan, and motivation I got at the spa.
Many of the guests during our mid-week visit were women on mother-daughter, sister, or girlfriend getaways. In fact, I ran across several locals including Kelly Yandell, author of The Meaning of Pie blog, who was there with her incoming ESD senior daughter, Lily. Lamenting canceled spring break and epic summer trips, Kelly and Lily took every advantage of their time at the spa, including Kelly slalom skiing for the first time in two decades (being pulled by the resort’s resident former NCAA champion water skier) and the both of them challenging us to a dessert eat-off (which they won).
There were a few couples there as well, so my husband didn’t feel completely out of place, though he wants to return for a couple’s weekend when guest demographics are more evenly split male and female.
I look forward to returning there to enjoy it during cooler weather, taste what Chef does with fall and winter produce, and restore the halo of wellness I gained there this summer.
Every room is lovely, some have covered porches with comfy chairs, perfect for morning coffee. Many guests walk around in spa robes or athletic apparel and even show up for dinner that way. It’s perfectly acceptable and, in fact, encouraged. Just be comfortable (and covered). Be sure to fully understand which activities and events cost extra, you don’t want a surprise at check out and it isn’t fair to the front desk staff when guests react poorly to their bill.
The gift shop and spa shop are well curated and worth visits. Included in my package were discount coupons for each and I shopped in each, picking up a pair of light-as-a-feather Anatomie travel pants and a LASR resort tee for my husband at the main shop. Check-in time is 4 p.m., but you can go “on property” and use the activities while your room is being prepared. Check out time is noon, so I checked out, left my bags at the front desk, and headed to the spa for a facial before driving home. Parking is a breeze and free, unlike many resorts. The spots, some shaded, were filled with luxury SUVs and sedans and are located conveniently close to the guest rooms.
For more information on Lake Austin Spa, visit their website https://www.lakeaustin.com/.