A vacation can be as much about the accommodations as the destination. Sometimes all that’s required is a comfy spot to rest a weary head, but more often we require something exceptional that we can’t get at home — whether in the form of ambience, amenities or service.
Our list comprises properties big and small, brand names and boutiques. But each delivers something distinctive to earn the title best in Texas.
Hotel Granduca, Houston
Inspired by a sumptuous 16th century Italian palace known as much for its hospitality as for its opulence, Hotel Granduca excels in European design and service. Are you getting too hot as you lounge around the swimming pool? Iced towels coming up. Need the perfect cappuccino delivered to your suite or tickets for an evening at the ballet? Consider it done. Created by Giorgio Borlenghi, this luxury boutique hotel is a sublime sanctuary where self-indulgence is de rigueur. Also noteworthy is the tiny and romantic Ristorante Cavour featuring standout Tuscan cuisine.
Hotel Havana, San Antonio
West Texas-born hotelier Liz Lambert has a knack for transforming properties into something remarkable. Case in point: funky Hotel Havana, on a quiet stretch of the north River Walk, which was originally built in 1914 by a successful local grocer as a residence hotel for his buyers. The hotel’s pan-Latin influence pays homage to its Cuban city namesake as well as San Antonio’s Mexican roots — especially in restaurant-lounge Ocho, which is also a hot spot with the locals. The 27 guest rooms are an exercise in understated elegance, with antique furnishings, Turkish rugs and Cuban artwork.
Hotel Saint Cecilia, Austin
Also the brainchild of hotelier Liz Lambert, Saint Cecilia honors the patron saint of music and poetry for which it’s named. Each of the 14 rooms — five suites, six poolside bungalows and three studios — inspire the artist within, with eclectic decor combining antiques, pop modern furnishings and original artwork, as well as vintage turntables. Luxury is not lost here, however; handmade Hastens mattresses from Sweden ensure a proper night’s rest. Fun touches include mini-bars stocked with local goods and a gift shop featuring irresistible accessories from local artisans. Although the property is just off the main drag of South Congress Avenue, this secluded retreat feels like a world away.
Hotel ZaZa, Dallas and Houston
Hotel ZaZa has a rep in Texas for its sexy themed decor — namely in the form of its over-the-top concept suites — and the scene surrounding the swimming pools. When you need to escape that see-and-be-seen thing, you can hide away in ZaSpa, where signature treatments like the Morning After scrub and wrap help purge any signs of partying from the night before. The Dallas property now has bungalows in nearby historic homes, which have a more private, residential feel, and guests have access to all of ZaZa’s swanky amenities.
The Houstonian Club, Hotel & Spa, Houston
Located on an 18-acre wooded sanctuary near Memorial Park, this 289-room hotel offers plenty of opportunities to sweat, stretch and self-indulge. Rooms have floor-to-ceiling views of the lush grounds, premium bedding and all the latest high-tech gadgets. Guests have access to one of the nation’s top 10 fitness centers — which boasts a 20-foot rock climbing wall, full-size basketball court, eight outdoor tennis courts, three swimming pools, and squash and racquetball courts — and a posh spa with indoor float pool and more than 100 decadent treatments from which to choose. In addition to the gigantic wood-burning fireplace in the lobby, which gives The Houstonian an exclusive hunting-lodge feel, we love the Manor House, an elegant old home-turned-restaurant for hotel guests and health club members only.
Inn at Dos Brisas, Washington
About an hour outside of Houston sits this tiny — only nine Spanish-style haciendas and casitas — Relais & Chateaux property, where 1,200-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, stone fireplaces, private patios and plunge pools, and tranquil views of the surrounding meadows and ponds await. Plus guests have access to one of the largest equestrian facilities in Texas. But it’s the restaurant here that is truly special: It’s the only Forbes Travel Guide five-star restaurant in Texas, and it has also been recognized as one of the 10 best farm-to-table restaurants in the world. The culinary team plucks ingredients from the 24-acre USDA-certified organic farm and high-tech 7,000-square-foot greenhouse — think herbs and heirloom varietals of figs, persimmons, peaches and tomatoes — to create dishes that blend French techniques and Texas flavors.
Mokara Hotel & Spa, San Antonio
You could stay here without visiting the spa, but that would just be silly, wouldn’t it? This property, with a prime location on the River Walk, sells serenity from the onset. The 17,000-square-foot spa is the ultimate sanctuary within the city, with 18 treatment rooms and a staff dedicated to your every need. Guest rooms are not an afterthought, however, as they boast high ceilings, wood and marble finishes, fine linens, and Jacuzzi tubs. Ostra provides romantic riverfront dining, so fine food — in this case, sustainable seafood and raw bar — is never very far away. The heated rooftop pool affords the best views in the city.
The Joule, Dallas
With all of the recent additions to the Adam Tihany-designed Joule complex in downtown Dallas — ESPA, Vital fitness studio, TenOverSix and Traffic LA, Weekend coffee shop, and CBD Provisions — one could argue there is no reason to leave the property at all, despite its proximity to the original Neiman Marcus and burgeoning Dallas Arts District. Sultry guestrooms also got a facelift during the transformation; if you have the means to splurge, do it on the two-bed, two-bath Joule penthouse with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking downtown Dallas. Weather permitting, take a dip in the spectacular pool that cantilevers eight feet beyond the hotel’s structure.
When it comes to luxury, the little things matter, and the Ritz knows it. So guests are treated to complimentary mini-margaritas and freshly made guacamole every evening. But of course the big things matter too: comfortably elegant rooms and suites with views of Uptown and downtown, a fabulous full-service spa, and chef Dean Fearing’s award-winning cuisine at the restaurant that bears his name. Other amenities include 24-hour room service, a chauffeured Bentley (available on a first-come, first-served basis), and excellent people watching at Rattlesnake Bar.
Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas
Whereas the Ritz sits in the middle of the action, the Mansion feels like a residential hideaway — not surprisingly, because it used to be the private residence of a wealthy cotton baron and his wife. Although hand-carved fireplaces and stained-glass windows evoke eras past, most features are totally of-the-moment, including the Tex-French cuisine of James Beard Award nominee Bruno Davaillon and the impeccable yet non-intrusive service for which Rosewood is known. Book a terrace suite on the top floor of the hotel, which has a luxurious terrace almost as big as the room itself. Need a nightcap? Curl up in the dark confines of the Mansion Bar, where you can rub shoulders with the locals or simply sit back and take in the scene.