Travaasa Austin is a gorgeous destination spa and experiential resort that seeks to immerse you in local flavor. In Texas that means hanging with cowboys and horses, eating locally sourced Black Angus short ribs, visiting the farm and riding a mechanical bull.
It is set on 210 acres in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, and occupies the lovely campus that used to be The Crossings. With a hilltop location it has truly stunning views, particularly from the infinity pool at the spa. Guest rooms are located in seven Texas farmhouse style buildings throughout the property, all of which have balconies and views of Texas Hill Country.
Do you take food seriously? Good! So does Travaasa Austin. Most dishes at The Preserve, are sourced from within 200 miles, like the Texas Wagyu Top Sirloin from cattle raised on Strube Ranch. The sourdough bread has a starter that dates all the way back to 1841. And the specialty produce comes from Travaasa's own farm -- three cultivated acres of heirloom tomatoes, red burgundy okra, gold-fleshed melons (some 80 varieties of produce), alongside fruit trees, honeybees, and five breeds of chickens!
The Preserve has become a dining destination for locals. Travaasa guests not only eat and drink here (the cocktails are fantastic) but take culinary classes to deepen their knowledge of food. Five days a week, you can attend a free demo like Vitamix juicing, working with chocolate, or making infused waters. Or you can sign up for a 1 1/2-hour hands-on cooking class , where you learn to build your own smoker or create perfect Texas quail with barbecue sauce, then eat what you've helped make.
The Equine Encounter
Another very Texan thing you must not miss is the Equine Encounter with Travassa's own horses, which is a little different from Miraval's Equine Experience. A couple of cowboys talk a lot about "energy," which turns out to be the secret to communicating with horses. The horse "reads" whatever you are putting out, energy-wise, and reacts to it. Ultimately, the goal of the Equine Encounter is to get the horse to do what you want in an open pen -- go in a circle, reverse direction, and so on -- with some coaching from the cowboys.
One at a time we go in with our horse, which is "at liberty" (not on a longe line.) One woman seems to get off on cracking the whip, which sends the horse careening around the pen. The whip is really just to help us indicate to the horse what we want, so Cowboy Keith asks her to dial it back, and the horse calms down.
Next I'm up. Jodie sees I'm comfortable with horses and asks if I want to be in the ring alone, but I ask him to stay. I'm glad I did, because it's harder than it looks. I need correction on my position, which sometimes gets too far in front and and turns Annie in the opposite direction from what I intend.
At the end of the exercise, I drop the whip and stand in the center of the ring, waiting to see what the horse does when I'm not asking anything of her. "Horses are hard-wired to follow someone who will keep them safe," says Keith. Annie walks right over to me, gives me a nuzzle. Then she follows as I turn my back on her and walk around the ring. That means she trusts me, and accepts me as a leader. It's a wonderful feeling.
The Mechanical Bull
Mechanical bulls were originally designed as a training tool for real-life bull riders to hone their skills -- so they are no joke. In the seventies they started showing up in bars and were made famous in the movie Urban Cowboy. Travassa's bull is a permanent fixture in the Agave Fitness Studio, along with weight machines and treadmills, but he's only available for rides during scheduled "Bull Fitness" classes.
If you can actually ride the bull, it's an excellent workout for your core and inner thighs. I tried, but it was a lot harder than it looked! The instructor said that most people have the same outcome as me. They just don't last longer than a few seconds. In all her years, the only person who couldn't be thrown was a highly experienced equestrian with highly developed thighs. The cowboys who lead the trail rides say that the faster the bull goes, the easier it is to stay on. It seems counter-intuitive, but the slower it goes, the harder it is to stay centered.
More Adventure: Trail Rides and Ziplines
What's else? A "Prickly Pear Challenge Course" that includes climbing walls and a 250-foot zipline that sends you soaring over the tree-tops. Meandering hikes through the preserve lead guests to reflection sites such as the property’s Solidago Sanctuary, where there are some great yoga classes. Learn about local flora and fauna on guided hikes, and the art of concentration through archery.
The spa is Texas farmhouse meets Zen retreat, with 11 treatment rooms (including one the feels like you're looking at the western sky) It uses only organic, bioenergetic products, including the Primavera and Anakiri organic skin care lines. I had some great treatments there.
For cultural and self-exploration, there's a little Texas two-step, journaling, vision boards, star-gazing, and evenings around the campfire. And at the end, hopefully, you'll know where you've been. Tel. 855-868-7282 or 512-258-7243.