When screenwriter and producer Suzanne Weinert took a break from her Texas movie-making schedule to check into Lake Austin Spa Resort, she found a cinematically perfect experience.
AUSTIN, Texas – Let me say right up front that I am not a morning person. Nor am I a Monday person. Needless to say, my assistant does not look forward to Monday mornings. But something interesting happened on a recent Monday morning.
INT. OFFICE - 9 AM MORNING
I arrive with a smile on my face. My assistant is instantly suspicious.
What do you mean?
You're smiling. You're almost...happy?
That's right, grasshopper. I fell down a rabbit hole and ended up somewhere wonderful this weekend.
My assistant rolls her eyes.
Too many movie references.Where were you?
My voice drops to a whisper. It's almost too good to share.
Instantly, she understands. And you will too if you make the 35-minute drive from Austin Bergstrom International Airport to the shores of the Colorado River where Lake Austin Spa has been operating since 1997. The location has been many things over the years — a cowboy camp, a nudist colony, a weight loss facility — but now it's one of the premier spa resorts in the United States.
I've been to other spas, and each has its own look. Many on the East Coast strive for the collegial feel. Those in the Southwest love their adobe. The few I've visited on the West Coast have a very new agey vibe. With just 40 guest rooms, Lake Austin Spa feels like you're spending a long weekend at your rich friend's 25,000-square-foot lake house.
The rooms are spacious and comfortable. Some have private Jacuzzis; all have views of the lake.
And the award for BEST BATH PRODUCTS goes to the Lake Austin Spa private label — every room comes stocked with their handcrafted, signature skincare line in two scents, Lavender Fields and Gifts of the Garden.
Part of me wanted to just light the complimentary Lavender Fields candle, lay in that big comfy bed, and takes turns watching cable TV and sleeping, but there were so many wonderful things to do that I forced myself to put on my yoga pants (their term, not mine; I don't do yoga) and headed outside.
The schedule of events change every day, so I was able to do water works; kayaking; pump and sculpt; foam roller; ballast ball; a power cardio sampler of kickbox, Hi/Lo, and step; water yoga; hydrobikes; group cycle; and bodyflow — all within a 48-hour period.
And the award for BEST NEW FITNESS CLASS goes to ABS-olutely Paddle Board, for combining the fun of stand-up paddle boarding with a series of intense core workouts while floating on water. Due to a complete lack of coordination, I didn't brave that last one, but it sounds like a lot of fun.
And then there's the food. Chef Stephane Beaucamp recently joined Lake Austin as executive chef after having trained in some of the finest kitchens in France. After a stop in Hollywood, he found himself in Austin preparing dishes that are fresh, sensible, and flavorful, the perfect combination of healthy and gourmet. If you're thinking "small" when you think spa cuisine, think again.
And the award for BEST LUNCH MENU ITEM EVER was grilled salmon BLT (served with nitrate-free bacon and lemon aioli on a French bun).
It was so filling, I almost had to take a nap. That it was only 305 calories remains one of life's great mysteries. Honestly, it was so good I wanted to eat it for every meal, but there were so many other delicious things on the menu that I forced myself to mix it up.
Other power lunch options included the pulled turkey BBQ sandwich (this is after all, Texas) made with shredded house-smoked turkey thighs and served with hickory sauce, slaw, and peach chutney on a wheat bun. Survey says — DING! — only 300 calories!! And finally, a traditional favorite, grilled cheese (reduced-fat Swiss and Vermont cheddar) with wild mushrooms and arugula on multigrain bread (320 calories).
For dinner, the choices were grilled pork tenderloin with juniper-infused cabbage and maple sweet potatoes in a red wine reduction (yum, yum, yum), and blackened Atlantic salmon in a Cajun spice, both around 300 calories.
And the award for LOWEST CALORIE YET STILL A SLICE OF HEAVEN went to key lime pie, which clocked in at a mere 100 calories.
Me being me, I wanted to order several more slices since they were so calorie-free, but I decided not to embarrass myself.
In between eating and exercising there's a lot of pampering to tend to. You'll find more than 100 different treatments on the spa menu, from Seven Centers of Life Chakra Massage (an energy-balancing, harmonizing massage using seven essential oils and guided meditation for increased energy flow) to Lemongrass Bamboo Bliss (an effervescent body scrub of lemongrass and jasmine followed by a massage with a bamboo roll and Thai lemongrass oil).
Some treatments give nod to the Lone Star State, like Tour of Texas, an exfoliating scrub featuring the native prickly pear followed by an aloe vera wrap and massage.
I tried Gifts of the Garden, which started off with me in the actual garden picking the herbs I wanted in my scrub. I chose lemon and lavender. I watched as my massage therapist, Robin, ground the herbs into the salt scrub/shea butter base and relaxed while she sloughed off all my dry skin. A quick stop in the outdoor shower, then back to the table for a full-body massage which was so relaxing I almost took a nap. (Are you seeing a theme here?)
But it's not only about pampering. The workshops and classes were a real delight.
And the award for YOU'LL NEVER LOOK AT THE SKY THE SAME WAY goes to the astronomy class Stars at Night.
Our instructor, Michael Brewster, a ranger from a local state park, had us outside at 9 p.m. looking through a telescope at Jupiter and Venus, which had been dancing around each other for the past few weeks. He was so full of fun facts, and for weeks afterwards, I found myself gazing up at the Texas sky looking for the Belt of Orion. I think I found it, unless it was a Delta 747 headed for Miami.
Other classes, like The Point of Acupuncture and Transforming Stress, were also very informative. Ninety percent of all doctor visits are stress related. Who knew?
Let's talk coming attractions, and let's make them about the food because this is my story. The spa is planning Culinary Experiences, where renowned restaurateurs, cookbook authors, and James Beard winners will join the spa's culinary team for cooking demonstrations, tastings, and wine seminars. (Wine seminars. At a spa. This is genius.) Upcoming guests for 2015: Angelo Sosa, Eric Asimov, Gail Simmons, Sara Moulton, Joanne Weir, and Jessica Merchant.
But even I have to admit that the award for BEST NEW PROGRAM goes to a four-day water blockbuster called Quench, which will highlight water-themed activities like stand-up paddleboarding, aqua Zumba, sculling, kayaking, boat cruises, and hydro biking, as well as activities and discussions with Olympic champions and water sports experts.
Who's the best audience for Lake Austin Spa? Anyone who wants to start off a healthy, new chapter in life. Or celebrate a special occasion with friends and family. Or just stop and take a deep breathe. Or take a class. Or a nap.
My front door is only 30 minutes away, so the best part of the whole experience for me is that I can pop over to the day spa anytime I need a refresher or a pick-me-up.
Dorothy was right, there truly is no place like home.
Somewhere out there, my assistant is rolling her eyes.
Lake Austin Spa
1705 South Quinlan Park Road
It's not all spa-going. Check out the vintage scene, the dive bars, and the music venues in our Austin Guide. Yee-haw.