So Far Away
As I was receiving my official walking tour of Lake Austin Spa, I noticed an older woman who had seemingly melted into a cushy chair in the enchanting Blue Room. She was eavesdropping on my conversation with Robbie Hudson, the spa’s program director, while sipping herbal tea in her supplied robe and slippers. Unsolicited, and rather loudly, she began to sing the praises of the spa in her relaxed East Texas drawl: the staff, the rooms, the wonderful activities that kept her coming back time and again. Naturally, I bit.
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
“Five nights, honey. I’m checking out right after this. Excuse me if I’m a little out of it. I just had an incredible foot massage.” She was clear-eyed, freshly scrubbed and beaming with the requisite post-treatment glow. I was leaving the next day. It was hard to wrap my head around the luxury of five nights and days in this place.
She went on and on about an evening garden tour, yoga, facials, and the nutritionist she’d met who had helped her turn her back on artificial sweeteners forever. “And lord, I need to sit up when I talk to you like they taught me in posture class.”
Hudson hugged her goodbye and asked her not to stay away too long. The woman said she would try to be back as soon as possible and looked utterly crestfallen at the thought of heading home. This happened again and again as we continued our walk. The robed women approached, threw their arms around Hudson and said their sorrowful goodbyes.
The anxiety about re-entry into normal life is real. At Lake Austin Spa, guests are protected from processed foods, unpleasant noises, traffic and appointments that are anything less than a pleasure. After a half-hour walk around the property, I was plotting my escape from society. Logistically, what would it take to steal away from the rest of my life and settle in here forever?
I had been to LAS before, in 2000, when the spa building was a simple, rustic dwelling that resembled a modest two-story home. That was before the facility underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation and expansion in 2004.
The new spa, café and pool sit atop a hill reached by a winding meditation path that will take you to the proper headspace for a relaxation treatment. In recent years the spa has been at the top of several national and even global “best of” lists from Conde Nast Traveler to Travel + Leisure.
As we watched monarch butterflies flutter across the junior Olympic pool, Hudson told me about the healing powers of this place. Many guests seek refuge here after a traumatic event—divorce, the death of a loved one, even chemotherapy. She spoke about how restorative the environment is and how fascinating it is to get to know someone during this time in their lives.
Room and Board
My room was beautifully appointed but simple and free of pointless decor. The fluffy white king bed and gigantic garden tub were clearly the priorities. To my surprise, there was a TV (I thought spa people only read books) and a library of various romantic comedies and chick flicks available for checkout 24 hours a day. Each room has a veranda facing Lake Austin, where you can really get down to the business of self-renewal. There were always people enjoying quality porch time, which offered great opportunities for guest watching. I noticed a lesbian couple sharing a few romantic stolen hours, a husband and wife enjoying a bottle of wine in the middle of the afternoon, and several groups of women who had made time for a girls-only vacation.
Time quickly evaporated. The only need for a clock was to make sure I didn’t miss a meal. The dining room overlooks the lake and staring at the calm water over a cup of coffee is a divine way to greet the day. When I went down for breakfast, I was eager to meet fellow guests and interrogate them, so I snagged a seat at the designated “friendship table,” which is large and round. However, when everyone else took a seat alone at one of the other tables and began to read the New York Times, I took my tray and casually did the same. You don’t want to be the woman sitting alone at the friendship table.
Breakfast was a light buffet of fresh fruit, assorted cereals and every healthy dairy alternative under the sun. There were also off-the-menu options, created by Executive Chef Stephane Beaucamp, available for every meal. If you start to feel like you’ve been a little too healthy, they even have dessert. Many of the dishes are made with fresh ingredients from the extensive “Healing Gardens” on the property. Wine is available but not overly encouraged. All food is included in your nightly rate but alcohol will cost you extra. Calories and fat grams are listed on the menu where the prices normally go. I tried everything. Lunch was seared tuna and eggplant over a surprisingly flavorful quinoa. Dinner was five small courses of fresh vegetables, fish and a teeny tiny filet mignon. The highlight was a cherry tomato that was so fresh and filled with sunlight I could feel the vitamins coursing through my body.
On any given day, guests at the spa have around 20 activities to choose from. You can hop in and out of a wide range of classes including astronomy lectures, water aerobics, Pilates, book clubs, and something called “Water Color and Wine.” I took a stab at paddle boarding on the lake and was pleasantly surprised to learn that muscles exist in my core. A summer seafood cooking class followed, in which Chef Beaucamp himself taught us how to recreate the LAS experience at home with scallop ceviche and steamed mussels in tomato broth. In the afternoon, I stopped by a workshop on tapping out anxiety that taught us how to silence obsessive thoughts. My obsessive thought at this point was my impending departure, but no amount of tapping could make it go away. By far my favorite activity was a discussion called “Taking Fitness On The Go” in which I and three other women sat on couches in our workout clothes drinking fresh lemonade in a beautiful lakeside room and discussed the concept of exercising while traveling. I found this to be a much more civilized alternative to actually exercising.
Packages at Lake Austin Spa range from three to seven nights, and the prices are certainly as high-end as the experience. Fortunately, the spa offers frequent specials and seasonal events that cater to first timers and regular guests alike. When all is said and done and you’re lying in an oversized hammock by the water, listening to whatever the heck kind of music you want only minutes from downtown Austin…it’s totally worth it.