AUSTIN, Texas – It’s rare for a hotel to offer both guided meditation sessions and hatchet-throwing classes. But Travaasa Austin is like few other hotels. This “experiential spa resort” is like a land-based cruise, with a cowboy and a shaman fighting over the helm.
The extensive list of activities – which includes hula-hooping, sachet-making (with cocktails), archery, harmonica lessons and a mechanical-bull fitness class – is both enticing and daunting. Not to worry: “You don’t have to sign up for anything,” the chirpy concierge reminded me during a recent visit, and in fact the expansive grounds offer ample opportunity for nothing-doing.
And yet I wanted to do it all – to learn the Texas two-step, tour the hotel’s organic farm, try its elaborate zip-line course, and still have the time (and energy) for a swim, massage and dinner. But how? Perhaps I needed to settle down with a yoga class or try vision boarding, a course where I’d learn to “channel the power of positive energy and see what happens.” Perhaps that power would manifest itself in a wine tasting later that evening.
Nestled in the hills about 20 miles from downtown, Travaasa Austin is a destination hotel that is worth the extra effort to get there – and the hefty price tag. Rooms start at $300 for an “a la carte” package that includes a queen-size bed and unlimited access to most classes. The all-inclusive package, which starts at $525 for one person and can go as high as $850, includes three meals a day and a $175 credit per person, per night stay, toward spa treatments and private classes (an 80-minute session with a life coach, for example, can cost as much as $225). Spa treatments range from a $35 French manicure to a full-day “I don’t want to go home” escape that lasts four hours and includes a massage, a facial and lunch and “ends with a calming herbal tea served in one of our relaxing lounges.” The cost: $650.
The hotel attracts a range of clientele – young couples, mother-daughter pairs, corporate employees on retreat – from near and far. There are, however, two exceptions: no children younger than 16 and no pets. In recent years, the hotel has been making an effort to woo male guests with programs such as the What Ales You spa package, a two-hour pampering session that features a pedicure, a 90-minute massage and an organic, locally crafted Texas beer. At $325 for two hours, the experience is slightly more expensive than a night out with the guys, but the accoutrements – an electric massage table equipped with Bose speakers – promise something far more swanky.
During my whirlwind one-night stay, I went a la carte and was able to squeeze in three classes, a swim in the outdoor pool, dinner and a light hike. (An instructor suggested leaving the campus for breakfast, a wise choice unless you absolutely must have a kale smoothie.) The experience was both relaxing and invigorating. The infinity pool, perched at the edge of a hill overlooking Lake Travis, offered the illusory sensation that I might be able to swim over its side. The upholstered lounges on the deck, surrounded by billowing drapes, offered privacy and a thrilling taste of the exotic. And even though I hadn’t splurged for a spa treatment, I was welcome to use the steam room and tuck myself into a robe and slippers as if I had.
Revitalized, I challenged myself with a slack-lining class – walking on a low tightrope, which is a lot harder than it sounds – and a dirt biking class, which is even more difficult (taking sharp turns on muddy ground requires speed, balance and humility). In the morning, as I did at sleep-away camp many summers ago, I climbed aboard a bus to the stables, but instead of riding a horse, I learned how to talk to one. Equine Encounters, a popular course taught by Keith Moon, a former Wyoming rancher, was a perfect blend of New Age and Old West. The class opened with a kind of group-therapy session, a way for us humans to get to know one another before we were introduced to our horse. Next, we started a bonding process (by combing and talking to the animal) and then were sent into a pen to try to get it to walk calmly by our side, another activity that’s a lot harder – and more dangerous – than it sounds.
The lodgings at Travaasa are scattered throughout the main property. There are 70 rooms spread among three-floor bungalow-style “casitas” and “haciendas” that look like small apartment buildings. The path winding through them is peaceful and shaded by live oaks, some with hammocks between them should your feet become tired from slack-lining or ambling through the hotel’s sprawling grounds. My room was small but clean and modern. The sheets were soft and guilt-free: “natural, free of processed chemicals and dyes,” a note on the bedspread announced. “And no ironing saves lots of energy.” The room had a balcony overlooking the tree-lined hills. Although there was free WiFi, the TV signal was not steady, and there was no refrigerator or microwave. In-room munchies are limited, but this is not the sort of hotel where you feel the urge to kick back with junk food while watching a movie in bed.
Speaking of food: If you’re hungry after all of the exercise, the dainty meals served at the hotel’s restaurant, the Preserve Kitchen + Bar, may not be enough. While delicious, the food may be the one area where the hotel hasn’t gone Texas (except in price): Portions are small. Still, sitting on the restaurant’s back patio overlooking the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, a glass of locally sourced wine in hand, you will feel your cynicism – and some of your hunger – slipping away.
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If you go
13500 Farm to Market Rd., Austin
Hotel offers an array of programs centered on its five “experiential pillars”: adventure, culinary, culture, fitness and wellness. Activities include horseback riding, hatchet throwing, meditation, a mechanical-bull workout and harmonica lessons. Guests must be age 16 or older. All-inclusive package for one starts at $525, a la carte option for $300.