Featured Post

Sunday, September 30, 2018

In Austin, Wellness is Fast Becoming the New Weird

For many years, the tourism slogan of the capital of Texas has been “Keep Austin Weird.”But given recent developments, that slogan could easily be “Keep Austin Well,” and no one would bat an eye.
One of the city’s main luxury spa resorts is undergoing a $150 million facelift, while another continues to get regular shots of Botox. Furthermore, the first Miraval spa resort to open outside of the Tucson, Arizona, flagship comes to Austin at the end of this year.
And one more thing – this year, South by Southwest added a Wellness Expo to its agenda for the first time. Brittani Mathis, Senior Exhibitions Manager said that as SXSW transforms along with society, the Wellness Expo is a response to the public’s growing attention to health.
Image result for lake austin spa
Lake Austin Spa Resort
Courtesy rviplanning.com
So, what’s in the water in Austin? According to Hyatt’s Marc Ellin, global head of Miraval Group and Exhale Enterprises, “Austin is becoming a mecca for everything. Music, high tech, hospitality. Wellness is just another deliverable.”
Janis Clapoff, managing director of Lake Austin Spa Resort, shares that view.
“More types of people are seeking out Austin because it’s Austin. It’s grown into a mega-city known for arts, music and food. So it follows that in a city that is so very current… it makes perfect sense for wellness to follow along with everything else that’s happening,” she said
One more advantage, given the massive growth in spa resort culture, is the fact that, according to Ellin, “Austin is one of the fittest cities in the country, and very health-conscious,”
That’s a large part of why human resource departments won’t have to be on pins and needles as they seek out the holistic specialists, ranging from acupuncturists to yogis to reiki masters, needed to staff their facilities. They are already in abundance in the area.


Miraval began life in 1995 as a facility dedicated to helping guests live life in balance. Around the beginning of 2017, when Hyatt was purchasing Miraval’s intellectual and physical assets, it was also purchasing Travassa, a mindfulness resort located 40 minutes outside of Austin in an area called Hill Country.
This property, after a significant renovation, will have a soft opening in November, followed by a full-on opening in December. The existing guest room inventory is being renovated and 50 more rooms are getting added, bringing the total to 117. Other new facilities include a 21,000 square foot spa and Body Mindfulness Center. There will also be an expansive farm, complete with chicken coops, beehives and event spaces, as well as a ranch for equine programming.
Ellin distinguishes Miraval from its local competition in several areas. “Most notably,” he said, “we are an inclusive pricing structure. Also, the experiential nature of what we offer is a totally different deliverable from start to finish. There will be 100 well-being programming elements.”
Food and beverage will also be a big part of the menu, with a Life in Balance culinary program developed in partnership with Williams-Sonoma.
Image result for lake austin spa
Lake Austin Spa Resort Indoor Pool
Courtesy: tripadvisor.com
Lake Austin Spa Resort offers a counterpoint. The rustic luxury property, located on the shores of Lake Austin, dates back to the 1940s.  During its first 50 years, the property  welcomed everyone from nudists to cowboys to extreme weight loss devotees. However, in 1997, best friends Michael McAdams (who was once president of Trammell Crow Design Centers) and William Rucks purchased the property and decided to transform it into an all-inclusive luxury destination spa. They added and updated guest cabins, and by 2004, had built a 25,000 square-foot LakeHouse Spa.
“We are in the process of putting a big property plan together for a wider renovation,” said Clapoff. “Architects are drawing up plans, still under wraps. that will encompass significant changes to our rooms, public spaces and spa.”
So, for the next few years, the competition may have newer, shinier facilities, but Clapoff said Lake Austin Spa Resort plans to “capitalize on other people marketing the area,” while at the same time promoting the property’s unique selling proposition – its waterside location.
Image result for lake austin spa
Courtesy: FathomAway.com
“Not only can guests take a water taxi to get here,” she said, “but fifty percent of what you can do is on the water: We have hammocks over the water… yoga and meditation on the shore.”
While Lake Austin promotes the water, the Omni Barton Creek Spa and Resort focuses on its views. The current $150-million transformation will add spaces designed to take full advantage of the panoramic Texas Hill Country landscape. The updated 493-room resort will reopen on May 1, 2019.
The property opened in 1986 as a golf club. It added a hotel in 1987, and the spa component was added in the early 1990s. The renovation/transformation beefs up the wellness component, adding a 13,000 square feet spa to the mix.
Image result for omni barton creek
Omni Barton Creek Spa and Resort
Courtesy cvent.com
Still, the property will promote itself as an overall resort rather than a wellness destination per se. According to Dan Surette, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Omni, “This is a group and leisure destination, with four golf courses, an events pavilion, tennis and a spa. So, we are marketing it more as an overall resort. Wellness is a big part of the entire resort, but we won’t be selling just wellness.”
Even though the renovation was in the cards before Miraval came on the scene, Surette is not worried.
“The other resorts [Miraval and Lake Austin] are running with one real strength. For us, we have a lot of strengths.”
He also gives a nod to the theory of critical mass. “The more quality there is in this market, it heightens the awareness and draws attention to all of us.”
Clapoff agrees. “We love that we have competition from a wellness standpoint – it’s so healthy. It will bring more people to the area by building awareness of Austin as a wellness destination.”

This article originally appeared in Skift, for which I am the luxury correspondent.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

48 Hours in Adelaide

Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, often gets overshadowed by its big city cousins, including Sydney and Melbourne. But lately, Adelaide has been quietly coming into its own, with a flourishing dining scene, and the addition of new sports and entertainment venues. And with only an 8-hour drive separating it from Melbourne, it makes for a worthy side trip for travelers looking for an off-the-beaten path city break.

Image result for adelaide
Courtesy Australia.com
Perhaps best-known for its Fringe Festival (the second largest in the world, after Edinburgh), the city is undergoing a revival, with its added cultural attractions and the transformation of a central business  district that, in parts, is still a bit rough around the edges. The bit of grit, along with the melding of Anglo and Asian cultures, is why Adelaide seems so real and approachable.


Start your visit to Adelaide with a stroll, as the city is eminently walkable. The three top routes are North TerraceRundle Street and the mysterious and action-packed laneways.
Image result for adelaide rundle street
Rundle Street Mall
Courtesy cityofadelaide.com.au
Most of the city’s cultural attractions are lined up along or near North Terrace. You can pop in and out of institutions like the South Australian Museum, the Art Gallery of South Australia, and the Migration Museum, or wander around the stately campus of the University of Adelaide, established in 1874. Nearby is the Adelaide Botanic Garden, where you can take in some fresh air among the exotic plants before heading to the National Wine Centre to taste some of that famous South Australian grape.
After a post-wine nap, enjoy the nightlife packed into Adelaide’s revitalized laneways, located in the central business district. These intimate and once-forgotten back alleys are now brimming with quirky shops, restaurants, bars and local trendsetters. Check out the scene at CasablablaUdaberri Pintxos Y Vino or Peel St.
When it’s time to turn in for the night, the city offers no shortage of great places to stay. For something charming and arty, check in at the Majestic Minima Hotel, complete with rooftop terrace. Or, for something more historic, look to the Mayfair Hotel, opened in 2015 in a stately 1930s building.


Start your second day early with a visit to Adelaide’s Central Market. If you get there at 7 AM, you can see  fishmongers mongering and  farmers setting up their produce stalls. Come a bit later and join in a market tour, which lets you meet the producers, sample the goodies and learn about the history of South Australian food.
Adelaide Central Market
Adelaide Centrail Market
Courtesy South Australian Tourism
With your blood sugar levels up, head over for a shop along Rundle Street. Keep walking past touristy Rundle Mall, a pedestrian shopway filled with chain stores and hordes of browsers. When you pass Pulteney Street, the vibe totally changes. On Rundle Street East, the crowds dissipate and the retail spaces fill up with funky gift stores, hipster cafes, an arthouse cinema and fashion houses (top shops include Gorman, M.J. Bale and Sass & Bide).
These blocks are also choc-a-block with chocolate outlets. Grab a sweet at Max Brenner or The Chocolate Bar, or better yet, indulge your sweet tooth at San Churro Chocolateria. They’ve got everything from handmade, chocolate-dipped churros to a dozen choices of Spanish hot chocolate to shakes, fondues and chocolate-inspired tapas. Yum.
One block over, Ebenezer Place feels like a little piece of France plunked down in the middle of Adelaide.  After dropping some Australian dollars at Leonard St. AdelaideUggs and Kisses, and Relove SA, a gallery featuring the works of more than 50 South Australian creatives, get your French fix at Hey Jupiter. The brasserie has all of your Parisian cravings covered.
Adelaide Oval Roof Climb
Courtesy South Australia Tourism
Finally, even if you aren’t a fan of cricket (and let’s face it, few outside the British Empire are), you’ll enjoy a literal round at the Adelaide Oval, said to be the most picturesque test cricket ground in the world. Walk around the edge of the stadium’s expansive canopy during a two-hour guided Roof Climb. It’s the best way to experience an Adelaide adrenaline rush.
This article originally appeared here.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Affordable Design Hotels

I have been traveling extensively recently, to the point where I have stayed at dozens
of hotels already this year. During the course of these travels, I have discovered several
really great properties, which I will share from time to time here.

But lest you get the idea that a travel journalist’s life is all heavenly beds and
five-star hotels, let me first off assure you that I have stayed in several fleabags along the
way. To that end, I can’t advise you enough against staying at New York’s Riverside Tower
Hotel and Boise’s Best Value Inn and Suites. They are so bad that I won’t even grace them
with a link.

But let’s get back to the good stuff.

In May, I traveled to Austin to be a judge in the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships
(yes, that’s a thing).

During my stay in the capital of Texas, my home was Hotel Eleven, located in Austin’s
funkadelic East End. The 14-room property is owned by a wife and husband team.
He’s the architect; she’s the hand-son general manager.

Credit: Paul Bardagy

Rooms are located on three stories, each floor with its own outside lounge/balcony.
The rooftop sports a for-guests-only lounge with spectacular 360-degree views of the city.

The Crash Pad
Credit: Paul Bardagy
The interiors are modern, popping with orange and blue accents. Guest rooms
(from a Crash Pad to the junior suites) feature wallpaper of varying color and design,
along with cool lighting fixtures and contemporary artwork from local artists.
Some rooms have freestanding bathtubs that are just inviting guests in for a soak.

This month, I decided to spend a couple of days in “my happy place.”
That place is Sun Valley/Ketchum, Idaho. I discovered that the previously-rundown
Clarion Hotel in downtown Ketchum had been refurbished into the Hotel Ketchum.
While the general manager refers to it as a three-star hotel, and the rates are among
the cheapest in the area, I was impressed, and I don’t feel sheepish in saying so.

A mural by a local artist graces the exterior of Hotel Ketchum
In fact, the hotel mascot is the sheep--which is appropriate given that this area is known for sheep farming. (Ketchum and neighboring Hailey host The Trailing of the Sheep every October, which is one of the best festivals I have ever attended.)

Trailing of the Sheep Festival
But I digress. While looking around the 58-room property can be an exercise in counting sheep (there’s the sheep mural, and the sheep salt and pepper shakers, and the sheep doorstops, and the “thank ewe” messages on your receipts),  the decor doesn’t cross the line into kitschy. Rather, the Idaho-inspired interior design, from the potato sack collage scaling the lobby walls to the local wood used in the furnishings and accessories, give the hotel a modern, cool ambiance.

Guests can also hang out at the Hangout. The onsite cafe is open in the morning for breakfast (free to guests) and again after 4 PM. That’s when the space converts into a cocktail lounge featuring beers and wines made in Idaho, along with craft cocktails and a light menu.