Travaasa Austin is more than your typical luxury resort, with trendy eats, a world-class spa and activities to keep you busy in the quiet. Oh, and did we mention the infinity pool just 2.5 hours away?
by Nicholas Nguyen
As a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, I love heading to the capital for quick weekend trips throughout the year. Once I visit familiar haunts that hold fond memories, I’m always on the lookout for new things to try. Usually, that means food, outdoor activities and simply hanging out, enjoying the sights with good company.
So when Jen and Angela, a couple of old college friends, recommended I check out Travaasa Austin, an acclaimed resort set in the backdrop of the gorgeous Balcones Canyonlands of Texas Hill Country, I was a little bit hesitant. I wasn’t exactly the type to go to resorts—they certainly seemed relaxing, but what about food and adventure? Despite my misgivings, my friends convinced me that the Travaasa experience was more than it seemed.
After the easy drive on I-10 to TX 71, a scenic route around the bends and hills of Lake Travis put me in the mood to arrive at the luxurious resort in the late afternoon, nestled among trees, hills and trails. The helpful and friendly staff expanded on what my friends had told me, exceeding my expectations with a meticulous schedule of events and activities offered both onsite and nearby.
The rooms are designed in an upscale cabin-style, grouped across seven lodges that wind around the property and its amenities. I highly recommend snagging a Canyon Room to get a balcony with an unforgettable view of the lush hill country. Settling in was a breeze, with snacks, local coffee and tea waiting in the room. The bathroom was earthy in tone and quite large, a welcome change from city hotels. With a dinner reservation at The Preserve (formally Jean’s Kitchen), I relaxed on the balcony with the reading material from check-in.
The Preserve is open to the public, so, even if you aren’t staying at the resort, make a reservation for a great dining experience. I was lucky enough to snag a spot at the chef’s table and watch the charismatic executive chef, Benjamin Baker, and his sous chefs work. The ingredients are locally produced and organic, and the menu changes seasonally, fusing Spanish, Asian and American flavors. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available.
For dinner the first night, I savored an heirloom tomato tart as an appetizer along with a shot of tomato gazpacho (compliments of the chef) that was incredibly refreshing. My partner started with soft-shelled crab that was cooked to perfection. Beginning at such a high note, the meal progressed into a crescendo of flavors and kudos to the chef. I had seared tuna with roasted veggies and a beet puree, the latter being one of my favorite things of the night. I also had a bite of my partner’s flavorful chicken in an achiote-orange reduction that was served with polenta and grilled green beans.
Dinner’s not complete without cocktails and dessert, though! I ordered a cucumber gimlet that was light and citrusy with a burst of lime. For spicy food lovers, try the Texas Heat, made of rum and lime juice infused with jalapeños. Somehow we still had room for dessert—an apple tart with pink peppercorn ice cream and a classic molten chocolate cake.
While the breakfast menu is generally smaller than the dinner menu, the options pack a punch and are a great way to kick-start your morning before you embark on the activities at Travaasa. The kale smoothie with notes of ginger woke me up, and I enjoyed the steel-cut oats served with fresh berries. The polenta French toast was a surprising twist on a classic brunch item.
If available, the Tex-Mex options rule the lunch menu. My friend Angela suggested the fish tacos as a light meal, but I was unable to resist the tamales with braised pork shoulder.
When booking your stay, you can opt for packages, which include special programs and activities for that month.
Morning Pilates or yoga by the infinity pool seemed to be a popular choice, and even if you’re not a devoted student, the view is just so incredible. Stay fit on the trails—one for beginners and one for more advanced hikers—which loop around the resort grounds and take you past the Prickly Pear Challenge Course. The obstacle course is grueling, but it’s worth it when you sail over treetops at the end. If I had the time, I would have loved trying the mechanical bull workout, which puts your core to the test!
Along with horseback riding, visitors can mountain bike, go on trail rides and go geocaching, which is real-world treasure hunting using GPS devices. Travaasa also offers tango, salsa and more. For calmer practices, try a guided meditation course or a drawing class out on the grounds. Along the paths, the zen garden and stone labyrinth make for a nice, mellow stop.
For the ultimate foodie adventure, don’t miss The Farm at Travaasa. The farm produces vegetables, fruits and herbs that are used at The Preserve and in treatments at The Spa. Courses on growing and planting your own garden as well as culinary demonstrations and wine tastings are available.
The Spa at Travaasa focuses on the wellness of the mind, body and spirit. From scalp massages and facials to exfoliating treatments and massages to manicures and pedicures, the services offered cover you from head to toe.
The massages are top-notch—Jen raved about her deep-tissue massage while Angela had the Swedish massage. My partner and I walked away with an invigorating peppermint footbath and neat manicures that really left my nails looking shiny and buffed for weeks (and I cook and wash dishes all of the time at home)!
Travaasa also features a variety of spa packages, ranging from a half-day of treatments to a full day, along with singles and couples treatments. Travaasa’s spa is also open to off-property guests—it’s worth it to make even just a day trip. The treatments utilize natural and organic products, which are for sale at the boutique.
The crown jewel of Travaasa is probably the magnificent infinity pool (which once graced a cover of Texas Monthly) that offers a spectacular view at sunset with a drink in hand. The view of the Balcones Canyonlands is unsurpassable. The pool area also includes a bar that sometimes hosts a happy hour event for guests, dozens of chairs and a handful of cabanas.
Travaasa Austin expanded my view of what a resort could offer—the food was excellent, the activities were varied and fun, and the spa service went above and beyond. Whether you have a special occasion to celebrate or just want to treat yourself, Travaasa Austin is proof that you don’t have to go far to get an unforgettable experience. H