One of my greatest luxuries in life is to go to a spa for a few days to immerse myself in a culture of body, mind, and spiritual wellness. Sure, there are magnificent resorts that include a spa as a guest amenity to enjoy while on vacation; but visiting a spa resort, an enveloping oasis of wellness, is a different experience.
For me, the difference is the intention with which I commit to the journey.
I visit a resort to relax, eat and drink whatever I want, decompress with a massage and, quite frankly, indulge. I visit a spa resort specifically for a wellness retreat; to decongest my skin, body, and mind.
New Year, New You?
A new year suggests the need for a new diet, new workout, and a new set of rules that demand accountability. I’ll be honest, I’m not great at any of those things when it comes to my wellbeing.
I’m a food writer, I eat and drink for a living(ish). I’ve always been naturally slim until an accident in 2015 left me unable for more than a year to walk using both feet. It happened right around the time I started transitioning, you know I’m talking about here, ladies? A few years later, I was in a car accident that caused a cervical spine injury. Major orthopedic injuries plus aging equal chronic pain and weight gain that I don’t want to address with packaged food programs or injections.
Rather, I do a biannual reset at a wellness retreat, frequently Lake Austin Spa Resort, with specific intentions to participate in its rich programming; take fitness classes where I get guidance for modifications to accommodate my injury-related limitations; connect with nature with morning kayaking, evening meditation under the stars, and lakeside yoga; participate in the creative and intellectual events offered by local experts; and, of course, take spa treatments and enjoy the excellent cuisine.
Not Your Mama’s Spa Cuisine
I don’t want to deprive myself of delicious, satisfying food and beverage, they give me joy. Neither do I want to invest a considerable amount of money for a wellness retreat to return home heavier than when I arrived. Fortunately, at Lake Austin Spa, that’s not an issue.
Under the leadership of long-time Lake Austin Spa chef Stephane Beauchamp, the cuisine is rich and flavorful, the dishes built using sophisticated techniques and ingredients rather than relying on fats or carbs. The food here is better than many top restaurants in town, and it’s good for you.
The menu is always seasonal, so my visit in November featured meals made with butternut and acorn squashes, dark, leafy greens, and grains. Previous summer visits showcased tomatoes, zucchini, melons, and lots of fresh herbs.
On my recent visit, the spa resort hosted a group from the Austin Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, so Chef Beauchamp created a spectacular paella in an extra-large paella pan filled with fresh mussels and shrimp that wowed the crowd. It was beautiful and delicious, not your typical spa cuisine.
Three daily meals are included in the daily rate for Lake Austin Spa, so you can eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you choose. Menus consider dietary restrictions, and the servers are well-versed on which menu items do or do not contain certain ingredients. There’s even a selection of desserts to choose from so I never felt like I was missing out on something.
I gravitate toward vegetarian dishes at Lake Austin Spa because Beauchamp and his culinary team seem to have magical powers that transform veggies like the plain, white cauliflower into rich and rewarding main dishes I can’t fathom replicating at home. I crave the lunch menu’s Mediterranean salad with quinoa and turmeric tahini and the glazed carrots on the dinner menu.
A friend who joined me on my November trip had previously visited Lake Austin Spa way back in the day when there was no alcohol served on premise. That’s no longer the case, and the spa has an excellent selection of wine, beer, cider, and cocktails.
It’s been a year since Lake Austin Spa was sold to DiamondRock Hospitality for $76 million. Founders Michael McAdams and William Rucks bought the resort in 1997 and transformed it from a rustic camp to the top spa resort in the United States. They created the soulful, Austin-hip vibe that remains in place today.
There have been a few noticeable changes in the past year. The cottages have been furnished with vastly improved mattresses and bedding, and the product lines used and sold at the spa are upgraded. Valmont, the gold-standard of skin care is used at the spa, and you can purchase their exquisite fragrances at the boutique. The previous owners’ parting gift to the resort is an impressive 61.5-foot-long mosaic mural by local artist J. Muzacz called Reflections that includes the names of people who’ve made meaningful contributions to Lake Austin Spa over the years. It’s really special.
Despite the cool rain that dripped on us during an entire day of our three-day stay, we enjoyed plenty of activities at Lake Austin Spa. Beauchamp and top local chefs lead cooking classes in the lakeside demonstration kitchen and Chef Beth Pav made a hearty butternut kale soup for us. Upstairs in the Treehouse, I enjoyed leaning about Tarot, the mid-15th century Italian card game; and downstairs, we had private instruction of Bokken-do, Japanese sword fighting. Later, we took a yogalates class that gently pushed and stretched my battered body.
The Results Are Clear
Spending three days to recharge and focus on my own wellness before the holidays ramped up paid off. For the first time in two years, I did not catch a virus — not a cold, not COVID, not RSV — this holiday season. My skin was peeled and primed and withstood holiday debauchery with no inflammations. When I felt stressed or overwhelmed, I tracked back to the breathing exercises I learned in yoga. When I ran out of small talk at parties, I asked people about what they knew about Tarot cards, which was little. And, when I had too many glasses of wine at the company party, I demonstrated my newfound skills of Japanese sword fighting. Just kidding on that last one.
Wellness comes in different forms for different people. For me, there is no better place to focus on my own wellbeing than Lake Austin Spa. It’s an investment, to be sure. Daily rates vary but start at around $775 per night which includes luxury accommodations, three meals, most programming and fitness classes, use of the property including pools, gym, and grounds, and water sports equipment such as kayaks and water bikes.
Since Lake Austin Spa Resort opened in 1997, Austin has seen significant change and growth, some of it has made Austin unrecognizable to those of us who remember the town before the tech boom. The 19-acre area alongside Lake Austin is irreplaceable real estate where an enchanting wellness retreat awaits. You’re worth it, don’t wait.