Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Weekend Gourmet Hits the Road: Travaasa Experiential Resort and Texas Monthly BBQ Fest

Michael and I recently enjoyed a quick overnight trip to Austin for an evening of relaxation, followed by an afternoon spent tasting some of the best BBQ Texas has to offer. We love going to Austin throughout the year; it's a short 1.5-hour drive up I-35 from San Antonio, but the entire vibe is totally different from San Antonio. We enjoy Austin's vibrant food scene, Texas historical locations...and just getting away from our everyday routine for a day or two! Our visit this past trip started with a visit to Uncle Julio's, this month's The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out featured restaurant. From there, we drove 30 minutes...where the city meets the Hill Country...for a relaxing overnight stay at Travaasa Experiential Resort. Travaasa is located in the Balcones Canyonland Preserve, overlooking beautiful Lake Austin. We loved the resort's gorgeous natural setting. Everywhere you look, you're greeted with stunning vistas like this!!
Travaasa Austin is located in the hills, amid lush folliage. With just 70 rooms spread throughout the 210-acre property, each guest enjoys a peaceful visit allowing for lots of individualized attention. Forget about hustle and bustle...from the moment you enter the property, you know you're here to relax and recharge! Our room was located on the second floor of one of the lodges near the Agave Fitness Center. Our spacious room featured a comfy bed, huge marble bathroom, and a balcony with a stunning view of the Hill Country below. We loved sitting on the balcony enjoying some cocoa and watching the Sun set. It was the perfect antidote to our hectic daily lives! All rooms feature great amenities, including: organic cotton comforters and linens, complimentary Wi-Fi, coffee and tea-makers, branded Travaasa® robes and complimentary light refreshments. Guests can choose between Hacienda rooms with flat-screen TVs or spa Casita rooms that are ideal for unplugging from the outside world. All guest rooms at this eco-friendly, green resort also offer a deck or patio.
Guests are free to do as much or as little as they want during their stay -- they literally have something for everyone. All Travaasa guests enjoy access to:
  • Casual gourmet meals at Jean’s Kitchen
  • The Spa at Travaasa Austin
  • Agave Fitness Center and a yoga facility
  • Pool, whirlpool hot tub, sundeck and sauna
  • On-property stables
  • The Prickly Pear Challenge Course
Travaasa also offers guests activities centered on five different "experiences":

  • Adventure: Travaasa® Austin celebrates the outdoors with stables, hiking trails, a challenge course, geocaching, equine experiences, archery lessons and more.
  • Culinary: Travaasa® Austin’s culinary team provides hands-on programs that include boutique chef’s dinners, nutrition and tasting series, and courses on culinary skills and techniques.
  • Culture: Travaasa® Austin immerses guests in the local culture of Texas, Austin and Hill Country. Guests participate in programs that enhance creativity, educate about local ecology, showcase area artists, and provide an opportunity for storytelling and fireside chats.
  • Fitness: Travaasa® Austin promotes strengthening of the body while having fun. Classes focus on balance, posture, core work and flexibility. This includes yoga, Zumba, Barre and simplified fitness.
  • Spa/Wellness: The Spa at Travaasa® Austin offers massages, healing rituals, body treatments and personalized services. They use only organic, bioenergetic products. The Spa also offers meditation and breath work courses.
We had a fabulous stay at Travaasa! Our room was large, the bed was comfy,and the staff was warm and welcoming. Shortly after we arrived, we heard a knock at the door and were greeted by a staff member handing out homemade cookies to guests from a large basket. Little touches like are what I love in a resort property. That...and great food! We enjoyed a leisurely Sunday brunch at Jean's Kitchen. The restaurant is in a beautiful lodge-style setting. Travaasa's food philosophy is farm-to-table, focusing on local organic ingredients where possible. Our brunch included a visit to a buffet that features a wide range of hot and cold foods. You then order your main dish from a menu at the table, and it comes out piping-hot from the kitchen. We enjoyed sweet potato hash browns, bacon and house-made sausage, homemade muffins, and an oatmeal bar. That was just for starters...our tasty custom omelettes  arrived a few minutes later! All meals can be enjoyed inside the indoor lodge-type setting...or on outdoor tables overlooking the Texas Hill Country scenery below. 
Bottom line: Travaasa Austin offers its guests lots of little touches to make their stay extra special: stunning natural vistas, complimentary flavored spa water in the Welcome Center...and even a working mechanical bull in the fitness center! Whether you're looking for a romantic getaway for two, a spa weekend with the girls, or even some peaceful solitude for one -- Travaasa is the perfect location for it!
We so enjoyed our peaceful getaway, but we had a party to attend before heading back to San Antonio! Texas Monthly magazine was hosting its 4th annual Texas Monthly BBQ Fest in Downtown Austin, so we headed over to check it out. Texans take their BBQ seriously, and this is one place to try the "best of the best" for one price. Every few years, the magazine has a special edition naming the Top 50 BBQ Joints in the state of Texas -- and therefore, the entire world. Being named to this list is a prestigious honor for the state's multitude of BBQ Joints. To take part in this fest, a BBQ joint has to be on this highly-coveted list. We joined a few hundred other BBQ lovers and headed out to sample as much smoked brisket, ribs, and sausage as we could in one Texas afternoon. We had a chance to visit a few of our favorites, including Black's BBQ in Lockhart. As you can see, lines can get quite long for some of the most popular BBQ joints! It passes quickly, though...Texans seem to have a natural gift for gab, and we LOVE talk about BBQ!!
Austin's Franklin BBQ was named #1 BBQ in Texas for this edition of the Texas Monthly list. Aaron Franklin's namesake is hugely popular, with 2-hour waits in line everyday. We knew this would be our best chance to finally see what the buzz was about. The line of Franklin devotees at the BBQ Fest was long -- as you can see -- but the payoff was definitely worth it! The brisket is smoky, fall-apart tender...succulent is a pretty good description. We can't wait to visit Franklin's this Spring and do a feature article on them!
We also had a great time visiting booths and sampling BBQ from joints we hadn't heard of...discovering new places to try for upcoming weekend road trips. A couple we're especially looking forward to visiting in the months ahead include la Barbecue in Austin and Pecan Lodge in Dallas. After spending the afternoon stuffing ourselves full of the best BBQ Texas has to offer, we slowly walked back to our car. Along the way, we debated who had the best brisket...whose sausage was good without being too greasy...etc. We agreed that this was one heck of an overnight visit to Austin. The Texas Monthly BBQ Fest is a very popular annual event, and tickets sell out quickly. Keep an eye on their go on sale in October, and the event is in November. 

Disclosure: We received a complimentary overnight stay at Travaasa Austin, as well as complimentary media passes to the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival. We received no further compensation, and all opinions are my own. All photographs are copyright Michael K. Garcia and may not be copied or otherwise used without permission.

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