From Primitive to Plush
What happens when an adventure writer ditches the tent for a night at Lake Austin Spa Resort
by Pam LeBlanc
Photographs courtesy of Lake Austin Spa Resort
I generally prefer tents and sleeping bags to fancy digs and high threadcount sheets. And honestly, until now, I’d never had a facial, unless wallowing in super fine mud at the bottom of the Grand Canyon during a rafting trip counts. Could someone like me, who feels vaguely anxious at the thought of being pampered by a stranger, get comfortable in a plush spa setting? I packed my overnight bag and caught a water taxi heading upriver from Walsh Landing to Lake Austin Spa Resort to find out.
The 40-room destination spa recently revamped a block of guest rooms, including the luxe Lady Bird Presidential Suite where the former First Lady and Liz Carpenter once stayed. That suite got new furnishings, bedding, artwork, wallpaper and antiques, including a circa 1785 Louie XVI Chinoiserie Secretary, a gilded griffin and Ugo Zaccagnini lamps. (I’m assuming that you’re more sophisticated than I am and that will mean something to you.)
I started my adventure with a cup of “gem water” poured from a glass urn in the lobby area. Chunks of rose quartz, amethyst and clear quartz glistened inside the container; a sign informed me that the “energetically charged water” might impart benefits like tranquility and strengthened awareness. I tossed back a glassful, then optimistically headed to my room, which looked nothing like the tent I’m used to.
My lavish luxury hot tub cottage had just undergone a complete makeover. I bounced on the super-cushy bed a few times, admired the fireplace, inhaled the arrangement of fresh flowers and nibbled on an array of fruit and cheese on a welcome platter. The room was refurbished with wallpaper and drapes sourced from London and pillows made with hand-printed custom fabric from India. Colors were carefully chosen hues of green and blue designed to impart a soothing mood.
My agenda was open, so I trotted down to the lakefront to go for a quick swim and try out an aqua bike. I’m a rabid cyclist, but the water-borne version of a bike didn’t do much for me. If I’m on a bike, I want to move faster. And if I’m on the lake, I want to get wet. This contraption did neither, although the seat high above the water did provide a new perspective on Lake Austin.
A few hours later I climbed aboard a speedboat for an evening wine cruise, complete with a wooden box of snacks (hummus, almonds, purple cauliflower and raspberries) that looked more like artwork than something to eat. I ate it anyway.
As for that first-ever facial at the resort’s LakeHouse Spa? My appointment was set for just after dinner. For 80 blissful minutes, I shut my eyes as an aesthetician slathered something warm on my hands and feet and tucked them into soft mitts, then massaged, scrubbed, oiled and smoothed the skin on my face as music played.
By the time it was over, I was mostly asleep. I did manage to stagger back to my bungalow, where I slipped into the hot tub for a quick soak before crawling into those high thread count sheets and calling it a day. Not bad. Not bad at all.
The next morning, I experienced a new class offering – what’s described as a “lotus” session. Think of a yoga or balance session performed on standup paddleboards. Half a dozen students paddled out to a floating hub, where we locked in to create one big bobbing platform of wobbly humanity, and went through a series of vaguely yoga-ish moves. I liked it, especially when a couple of boats cruised past, creating ripples that added to the challenge. “Don’t try to control it, go with it,” our instructor told us. Good advice for the class and life in general. Clare Wu, who was visiting the spa to celebrate her friend’s birthday, liked it too. “We love it here,” Wu, of Washington D.C., told me. The friends looked fully relaxed as they enjoyed a late breakfast in the dining room, where sunlight and reflections of green-blue water streamed in the windows. “We’ve been working on our mindfulness and surrendering to the process. If you tense up and try to control things, you’ll fail.”
If you go: Prices for the Luxury Hot Tub Cottages start at $625 per person per night and include meals, fitness classes and activities, and a selection of spa and body treatments.
For more information visit lakeaustin.com.