Travaasa: Resort luxury, Tex-ified
"There's wisdom in every wrinkle."
No, this is not an ad for a dermatological product; it's a quote from the vibrant blue card left on the pillow of the hotel room I recently enjoyed. The card included a sketch of an elephant—notably a wrinkled sort of animal—and briefly explaining why the natural, chemical-free bed sheets might reveal a wrinkle or two to save on energy. Despite not being perfectly pressed as you might see in many five-star accommodations, these sheets were supremely comfortable, and after a weekend at Travsaasa, I'm inclined to agree that indeed there is wisdom in their wrinkles.
Though not a new resort property, Travaasa is unequivocally a new experience. You may remember it as The Crossings, the rather esoteric attempt at an extremely paired down relaxation getaway that left a little to be desired in the way of luxury. The revamped resort is now under new ownership through Amstar. The unique name, Travaasa, is part English, part Sanskrit meaning a memorable journey through travel. Whether you buy into the aura of the name or not, it's definitely a worthwhile getaway. Especially if life only let's you get so far as 20 miles outside of Austin. Nestled along a hilltop ridge, the resort has a fresh new image still artfully mingling the beauty of the raw hill country environment with rustic architecture and lush native landscaping. (And when we're not in a 50-year drought, you can also glimpse the cresting waters of Lake Travis, which currently more closely resembles the arid landscape of an abandoned limestone quarry.)
Having grown up frolicking in the hills at outdoor summer camps in the Hill Country, for me Travassa brought back a little bit of that camp feeling —in a good way. Caliche pathways that crunch beneath your flip flops; the peaceful sounds of nature—still and accented with the song of cicadas; primitive hiking trails that meander the hillside; and for the adventurer in us all, a challenge course with a climbing net to a raised timbered balance course (on belay, of course) that leads to a zip line. They even have a horse program. (More on that later.)
But I didn't go to Travaasa to relive my camp days. I went to unplug from daily life, soak in a negative-edge pool that overlooks the remnants of Lake Travis, and achieve a certain level of nirvana while prostrate on a massage table at the spa. I achieved all of these things... in spades. I even enjoyed a refreshing cocktail on the balcony of my third floor room situated right along the treetops with a lingering breeze.
(Note: if you want a fantastic massage, ask for Maren.)
I also really enjoyed the food. There was a time when all you could get here was a bland egg-white casserole from a buffet line or a bowl of dry haystack bran sticks with skim milk for breakfast. But things are different now. Breakfast is made-to-order and the menu includes everything from omelets with ham and cotija cheese to light puffy slices of French Toast bathed in warm syrup, and a la carte offerings including scrambled eggs, fresh fruit and turkey or pork bacon—extra crispy.
In fact, the entire menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner is quite good. Executive Chef Benjamin Baker has designed each menu not only to fit within the desires of the health-conscious spa go-er, but also to appeal to the foodie in everyone. Flavor, freshness and quality are all key in the food program here and it's driven by sourcing from local farmers and purveyors. In fact, Chef Baker was signing off on a delivery from Austin-based Farm to Table when I arrived to meet him for lunch. He brought a freshly carved melon fragrant with sun and sweet with summer.
Baker sources as much as he can from the Central Texas area, and his small, concise menus reflect a commitment to seasonality. I loved the greens salad accented with orange-lemon vinaigrette, roasted beets and colorful slices of watermelon radishes and a perfectly grilled buffalo loin topped with blue cheese and a balsamic reduction more than hit the spot. And for those that want to make sure they're erring on the healthy side of things, all menu items include a complete list of nutrition facts. (The buffalo had only 477 calories and 5.5 grams of fat, thank you very much!)
I also loved my room. There are a few different floor plans and sizes to choose from when you book, so be sure you reserve specifically what you're looking for... for example, the rooms in the haciendas are equipped with flat screen TVs while the rooms in the casitas are not. But overall, if comfort is what you're looking for, you'll find it. Plush pillows, firm beds, coziest of cozy throw blankets and big puffy down comforters to lose yourself in while you sleep... It takes a strong cup of joe to coax you out of bed in the morning.
I will say that Travaasa has made a deliberate effort to "Tex-ify" the experience. Perhaps in anticipation of out-of-staters paying a visit. Though you won't find belt buckle and cowboy boot décor—in fact, the decor is impeccably rustic and tasteful—you will find a diverse activity program to embellish the average yoga and Pilates classes you might typically find including harmonica lessons, two-stepping classes and mechanical bull riding. Yes, bull riding. For your core. And apparently it’s quite a popular activity.
There's also a horse program. Do you get to ride? No. For those that grew up around horses, it may be slightly disappointing, but the theory behind the equine program is indeed compelling. The idea is to develop your self-awareness through close interaction with horses and to learn to lead and project your intensions through respect, sensitivity and awareness.
Are bull riding and horsing around necessary? No, but it certainly adds an interesting touch. And though I didn't take a turn on Ole Mondo to get a core workout in, I did enjoy remembering my old wrangling days in Colorado by reconnecting with the horses for an hour or two.
Where the previous concept at this location imposed a forced expectation of wellness and finding your inner being; a feeling that leaves an incessant echo of "kum ba ya" in your head, Travaasa is not forced. Sure, they want you to feel relaxed, and there are yoga classes that can lead you to that inner peace, but you can also just be yourself. When you find a little bit of free time, visit Travaasa where you can lose yourself in luxury and still experience the powerful nature of the Texas Hill Country.