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Though I like a 90-minute massage as much as the next girl, it took me years to come around to the idea of burning my hard-earned vacation days at a destination spa. Why would I choose to spend time at a wellness-focused resort, hiking and practicing yoga and eating bird food from calorie-controlled menus, when I could be living it up on butter and cheese and fries in a place like Paris? Working out was something I did at home—not when I traveled. It also didn’t help matters that many destination spas forbid (or at least discourage) drinking alcohol. Talk about a non-starter.
Oh, how times change. Three years into motherhood, with routine gym visits and a good night’s sleep long since vanished into thin air, my exhaustion levels were at an all-time high. So were my husband’s. Where once we thought nothing of flying to London or Los Angeles for a quick romantic weekend, and indulging in bottomless cocktails and of-the-moment museum exhibitions, now, the idea held little appeal. What we really needed was a place to slow down, put away our phones, and talk to one another, like we used to four years ago. And those conversations would not revolve around children, work, or politics.
Enter Lake Austin Spa Resort, a popular destination spa that ticked off all the requirements for a quick getaway. Burnt out from the grind, we booked a three-night trip that we took to calling our “quickie path to fitness.” Here’s what the resort delivered on: an easy-to-reach location, just 40 minutes from downtown Austin. We would land after our three-and-a-half hour flight from New York, and be there in time for lunch. Fitness classes galore? Yes, indeed: everything from yoga to TRX to tai chi was all included in the rate, and you could do as much (or as little) as you liked. Alcohol was extra—but at least the wine was free-flowing.
Upon arrival, Lake Austin Spa guests can opt for a leisurely boat ride to the resort. Soon, we were speeding past Texas-sized McMansions and wooden docks to the hotel, a collection of low-lying buildings along the emerald green (and very clean) waters of the lake. To my surprise, the spa actually felt less like a spa, and more like a chic summer camp. Its 40 comfortable suites, which have amenities like deep soaking tubs and private, outdoor gardens, attract plenty of couples, friends, and mother-daughter getaways. But most guests spend little time in their rooms. They get outdoors and stay outdoors. You can lounge on hammocks down by the shoreline, sit by one of two outdoor pools, or wander the rosemary-scented garden, where the chefs pick herbs for dinner.
Our routine quickly developed into something like this: wake up at 7 am, grab an egg-white-and-mushroom scramble for breakfast in the intimate dining room, which has a handful of tables overlooking the lake. Then it was off for a workout in one of the many classrooms: TRX and Bootcamp for my husband, dance and yoga for me, followed by grilled salmon with a couple of glasses of wine for lunch, and an afternoon of stand-up paddle-boarding or kayaking right from the resort dock. At home, we now have to take turns going to the gym, while the other watches our son. Here, we could choose the classes we wanted to, then come back and meet for a drink. Everyone wins.
The Lakehouse Spa—a sprawling, 25,000-square-foot facility, with no less than 30 treatment rooms, offering everything from Manaka tapping to facials and deep tissue massages—stays open until 10 p.m. So we threw caution to the wind, and decided to do massages and facials after dinner—because why not? (Treatments here cost extra, but the resort has various packages including spa credits for guests.) The only rule that applies at a wellness resort, I learned, is pretty simple: you do you.
We fell into easy conversation with the other guests, about plenty of things that had nothing to do with work or children. We spoke about beloved travel destinations with a mother and her two daughters lounging by the pool, a trio we had just seen in workout gear a few hours before in a hard-core bootcamp class. We talked about southern beaches, the Mets, and Houston’s up-and-coming dining scene with a man on holiday with his wife.
Over steak and scallop dinners that somehow felt way more filling than the as-advertised 400 calories an entree, we put down our phones and surrendered to a slower pace. After dinner, we would head outside, the air cool and the cicadas humming after sundown, and sit in Adirondack chairs, staring at the water in silence. Were we comfortable doing nothing? At first, no. In today’s digital-crazed world, doing nothing—and by that, I mean not reaching for your phone every five minutes, and actually choosing to talk to your partner—has become hard work, a form of reflection and contemplation that many of us find too strenuous. Far easier to log into Instagram and see what your 3,567 best friends are doing, when you could engage with your real best friend, sitting right in front of you.
Indeed, several friends and acquaintances of mine texted, beckoning us to come into Austin proper for barbecue and drinks. The old me would have rushed to leave. The new me—the destination spa convert me—decided there was nothing wrong with simply staying put. From $595 per person, per night, all-inclusive.