As the rasul steam sauna melted the Éilan Spa’s custom blended Lemoncello exfoliating body scrub of sugar and coconut oils on our skin, we talked about the painting still to be done.
Feeling the softening effects of round one in the rasul sauna, we stepped out of the steam room to slather a generous dollop of Dead Sea mud mask and a rich moisturizer on each other with a paintbrush.
“This is the best part,” said my “Picasso,” as we took turns painting. Soon we were covered and ready for the finale — another spell in the steamy two-person sauna to let the product do its magic, detoxifying and softening our skin.
As our 30-minute relaxing rasul treatment ended with a shower, our attendant, Daniel, knocked on the door to let us know that time was up. So we retired to the couples relaxation room to sip fruit-infused water. Images of flowers, butterflies and honey bees played on the flat-screen TVs that lined the wall in front of a row of soft chaise lounge chairs while peaceful piano music could be heard in the background.
If it were true that we could stay there as long as we wanted, we might still be there. But I had another appointment and Daniel came calling again in a few minutes. It was time for my Deep Lavender Cocoon — a soothing and relaxing way to spend part of my Sunday morning, or at least 45 minutes of it.
While my hubby relaxed and caught up with a golf tournament on TV in our Éilan Hotel room in northwest San Antonio, Daniel started with a dry-brush exfoliating treatment before a massage with lavender essential oil and menthol. Then he wrapped me in plastic like a mummy. There’s nothing to do in this position but breathe deeply and enjoy the bliss of my favorite scent.
And I don’t call lavender my favorite casually. I’m a lavender freak. I’ve been to most of the lavender festivals in the Hill Country for the past 10 years. I’ve been to most of the lavender farms around Blanco and Wimberley — picnicking at one, cutting stems of fresh lavender at several and shopping at all of them. My vacation of a lifetime was to Paris and Provence, where we toured lavender fields at their peak in the Luberon. My lavender freakishness is a vice that I own up to proudly.
So, before that tangent, I was wrapped like a mummy, slathered in lavender essential oil, left to relax and quiet my mind. Pure bliss. Then Daniel said it was time for me to jump in the shower and wash off the lavender oil so he could finish the treatment with lavender lotion. All too soon, we were done and I slowly wandered back to real life — life outside the lavender cocoon.
That was my third spa treatment during an overnight getaway to the Éilan Hotel & Spa, a grand Autograph Collection hotel owned by Marriott that also features vistas of the Hill Country, luxurious guest rooms, a top-rated pool and a high-end restaurant.
My first treatment was the Éilan Signature 60-minute massage, one of the spa’s most popular offerings. Hubby and I booked massages at the same time — 4 p.m. on a Saturday. No, we didn’t want a couples massage, I said quickly to the question. (We did that once in Napa Valley and both thought it was weird.)
Our massages were perfectly timed. At 5:30 p.m., we hit the room for a nap. Or I napped and hubby watched golf on TV (same thing). I love hotel room naps. You don’t feel guilty about the laundry that could be done, the bills that could be paid, the house that could be cleaned or the homework that could be dragged out of the briefcase. Guiltless sleep in a big, soft bed with great linens is the best.
Especially when you wake up in time for 7:30 dinner reservations at Sustenio.
Executive Chef John Herdman’s tasting menu was delicious, interesting, entertaining, satisfying. Herdman and celebrity chef Stephan Pyles of Dallas produced a modern Texas menu that is exotic, ambitious and fun.
Take the pimento cheese with housemade chicharrónes, for example. It’s on the bar menu for $8. But on our tasting menu, Herdman served it with a couple of slices of pork belly for one of the many courses. Playful and yummy.
We started with charcuterie and a couple of Texas cheeses. The crab salad with Wateroak goat cheese and bourbon remoulade was light and fresh. But the green garlic soup might have been my favorite — or at least one of them. The presentation was impressive — a crescent of roasted corn, salted peanuts and pickled onions in the bowl with the green garlic soup poured at the table. What an amazing mix of flavors and textures.
After the pork belly, the tasting menu said “milk & honey.” That sounded odd. But the chef hit the milk and honey with some liquid nitrogen in the kitchen and served up a soft, sweet snowball with an awesome honey from Austin beekeepers. It was a very nice palate cleanser because there was lots more ahead. Swordfish with a Medjool date, cracked hazelnuts, jamon serrano and passion fruit. You get the impression that the chef is working hard and playing hard in the kitchen. He admitted as much.
“This is what’s fun,” he told us about preparing a tasting menu for us and a few more people who were seated at the bar by the open kitchen. It was one of several times he stopped by the table to check our reaction to dishes.
And there’s more: sous vide lamb loin, celeriac puree, mint granola, sun chote and tobacco cream. I was sure I wasn’t going to like anything called tobacco cream, made from a cigar. But it was subtle and a perfect sauce for the lamb.
Early into dinner, we noticed that Sustenio’s music was quite an eclectic mix: George Strait, Janis Joplin, Roy Orbison, Christopher Cross and T-Bone Walker. Our server said the sommelier put together the evening’s soundtrack — all music by Texas artists. Just right for our Texas-centric menu.
Finally, after a flight of white wines and more courses than I could have kept track of without a copy of the chef’s tasting menu, it’s dessert time. Poppy seed cake, grilled, with peach ice cream and bourbon gelee. A perfect ending.
Between three Éilan spa treatments and an impeccable dinner by Herdman, our getaway was heavenly. We had all the fun we could have had on a driving vacation in any direction, including our frequent choice to get away to B&Bs in the Hill Country.
For many people, a vacation in San Antonio isn’t complete without a trip down to the River Walk. People who haven’t ventured to the new Museum Reach on barges that go through a lock and dam to get to a relatively new, peaceful stretch of river, should make that trip.
This getaway was just in one corner of San Antonio — on the northwest side, just north of the Loop 1604 and Interstate 10 interchange, off La Cantera Parkway (and near Fiesta Texas). From the Éilan, you could see some of the fabulous shopping across the way: Bass Pro Shops, Nordstrom Rack and dozens of other shops that included some national chains and local stops.
One of the city’s newest and most popular attractions is Top Golf, with 102 hitting bays, a restaurant with an extensive menu, three bars, private event space and more. Top Golf made headlines in San Antonio for being one of the top alcohol sales venues in the state the first full month it was open. I hadn’t been to a driving range in years, but the size and popularity of Top Golf made me want to check it out.
We bought the mandatory $5 membership cards each and requested a bay (available for $40 an hour during the busiest times — evenings and weekends — or $20 an hour Monday through Thursday before 6 p.m. and Friday through Sunday until noon). We competed in the signature game called Top Golf, going for targets and distance. The first couple of swings reminded me why I don’t play golf. My husband said it’s not called an air ball, it’s a whiff (no contact between big club and little ball). Then I smacked one long and straight. And another. And I was hooked, whacking golf balls and having a blast while our initial purchase of an hour in the bay wound down. We decided that was plenty.
We had things to do back home. Homework to drag out of the briefcase and laundry that wasn’t going to wash itself. But our little getaway (for us, a staycation just a few miles from home) was both fun and relaxing. We’d go there again.
Éilan Hotel Resort & Spa
17103 La Cantera Parkway
San Antonio 210-598-2900;
Rates for one room with a king bed start at $279.
Éilan Hotel Resort & Spa is located in the hills of northwest San Antonio, north of Loop 1604 and across Interstate 10 from the popular shopping area called The Rim. It is in the Tuscan-inspired urban village that includes office buildings, luxury apartments and retail.
At Sustenio restaurant and bar, Celebrity Chef Stephan Pyles of Dallas and Executive Chef John Herdman serve a modern Texas cuisine, sourced from Hill Country farmers and purveyors for Sustenio’s “wood-fired meets cast iron” menu. Hours are 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 6:30 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday; and 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday. Limited food menu available at the bar. 210-598-2950.
The Spa at Éilan services include an Éilan Signature Massage, $130 for 60 minutes, $170 for 90 minutes; Deep Lavender Cocoon, $150 for 45 minutes; Rasul Steam Experience, $55 for 30 minutes. Hours are 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday. 210-598-2991; www.thespaaeilan.com