It’s no secret that Lake Austin Spa is one of the city’s most luxurious hidden getaways. Having garnered myriad awards including a recent nod from Conde Nast Traveler as the #1 destination spa for the year (not too shabby.), this place is still wooing spa enthusiasts near and far.
And how can you blame them? The spa alone is a relaxation Mecca—even if you’re just there for a day rather than for a stay. Add to it the lush native landscaping, the cozy cottage-style rooms and meeting areas, and its unrivaled location right on the shores of a quiet strip of Lake Austin.
Plus, you know you’re going to love a place when they first thing they offer you after a brief tour of the property is a tall personalized sports bottle filled with ice cold water and your very own pair of slippers.
I never would have guessed that my Lake Austin Spa experience was going to be more than an emotional and recreational rejuvenation, but a physical one as well.
A recent visit had me hypnotized by visions of the early morning fog that kisses the scenic lake water (before the damn water skiers get there); a late night bamboo bliss massage intended to send you off to a dreamy night time rest; and a dip in the expansive lap pool barn — I’m a sucker for a good spot to get some laps in and the late night swim I took during a winter stay still remains as one of my best vacation memories. (Sun goddesses will also enjoy the two outdoor pools on site.) I also found a refreshing workout atop a paddle board, the latest craze to hit the Austin lake scene; and the best homemade coconut frozen yogurt I’ve ever put in my mouth. (The Aster Café serves a delicious lunch menu including a daily selection of frozen yogurts — the coconut yogurt is pure bliss!)
Of course everyone has their favorite little thing about this place, whether new to the experience, or a regular customer. You can’t beat the homey cottage feel the property offers with a rich blend of southern-country décor mixed with a pleasant array of colors, fabrics, and textures. I’m particularly a fan of the Treehouse Lake Room accented in blues, a gallery of framed artwork featuring native Texas birds and comfy window side chairs overlooking the lake. I’ve often heard remarks the décor is a bit too homey and lacks an updated contemporary feel. But as they say, “to each his own…”
True, the décor is a bit more country chic than urban sexy, but it’s anything but shabby, and there’s no comparison for the heavenly comfort of the beds, which is the only reason you should spend time in the room anyway.
Upon check-in, I claimed my little blue slippers, settled in to my yummy quaint little room and organized my time around spa appointments, dining, and a few restorative workouts including yoga, swimming, and paddle boarding.
After a much needed summer refuge pedicure, I overheard one of the salon technicians discussing something called Yamaguchi Beauty. She was talking about how she was “water” and “metal” and that Yamaguchi really transformed her overall look.
Water and metal? I’m not so sure I’d find it a compliment if someone said I had a metallic personality. Come to find out, Yamaguchi Beauty is a Feng Shui approach to hair and beauty founded by celebrity stylist to the stars, Billy Yamaguchi. Based in Southern California with a handful of salons to his name, Yamaguchi treks to Lake Austin Spa every 6-8 weeks to perform his magic on feng shui beauty loyalists.
The lady at the spa turned to me and asked, “Would you like to have your hair feng shui-ed?”
“Why the heck not?,” I replied reviewing my aging 10-week old coif and frightfully visible root line. At worst, I could pull it back in a ponytail for a month or so.
So I signed up with Billy and I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for the exhilarating experience. Usually when you go to get your hair colored, highlighted, cut, or trimmed, you have an idea of what you want the end result to be. With Billy, you’re entirely in his hands. He greets you with his warm and fiery personality, long jet black hair, a fit physique clad all in black and, at least on this occasion, a well manicured fu man chu.
The feng shui portion of the experience commences immediately with a brief but decisive interview on your personality. What three words would you use to describe your personality and what color would you use to define those words? What word would you use to define your lifestyle and what color would you use to define that word? From there, Yamaguchi prescribes an element from the Wu Xing, or the ancient Chinese concept of the five phases creation.
Turns out I was fire and wood. (You’ll have to look up what that means exactly as I’m still attempting to figure it out.)
Based on these attributes, Yamaguchi launched into a riveting explanation of how fire and wood should be used as guides to help define my greatest features. He began showing me a flurry of colors and magazine clippings making different suggestions that ultimately ended up with a lengthy coloring process transforming my once dish-pan brown with summery highlights into a blazingly rich brunette with radiant red and copper accents. Is it a direction I would have every chosen? God no! You have to be pretty bold to think you can live up to the allure of being a red head. But hey, since Billy chose it, I have to say, I was pretty amazed at how much I loved the final result. (See “before” and “after” shots in the slideshow that I begrudgingly submitted for this article.)
I never would have guessed that my Lake Austin Spa experience was going to be more than an emotional and recreational rejuvenation, but a physical one as well. Granted the price for getting a feng shui consultation from Billy Yamaguchi isn’t exactly chump change, but it certainly is worth the ego boost you have at the end. (A makeup consultation is also included.)
The bamboo bliss massage, the paddle boarding and the feng shui makeover were among the many items in the “pro” category for the resort. Among the “cons?” Only a couple, namely a slightly dull and inconsistent breakfast and dinner menu (soon to be remedied by new executive chef Stephane Beaucamp this fall), and a lackluster wine list, particularly with the wines by the glass. I hate to pull the “wine snob” card, but for the price you pay to stay at this glorious little place, I would expect a little more creativity with wine offerings.
When sommelier Mark Sayre the Four Seasons Austin is pulling out all the stops to offer a by-the-glass wine program chock full of Spanish Albarinos, Portuguese Duoros, hard-to-find Italian varietals, and French Sancerres so crisp and enticing you can’t help but order a whole bottle, I expect that a place as lauded as Lake Austin Spa would aspire to follow suit instead of offering a banal selection of very well known, large production wines I can easily find on the shelves of HEB. It sort of takes the allure out of luxury dining. But maybe that’s just me.
Do the pros outweigh the cons? Absolutely. Especially considering new Executive Chef Beacamp has taken the helm and will be launching an entirely new menu this fall. After sitting through one of his delightful culinary demonstrations featuring, a curried coconut shrimp and cilantro rice I’m inclined to think his French background will certainly rev up the cuisine here. Until then, I’ll gladly enjoy my feng shui hair look forward to my next visit.