Giveable City

The treat of Austin eats

Take Them Away

If gift giving is about extravagance, you'd be hard pressed to top a visit to Lake Austin Spa Resort for sheer indulgence. If shopping locally is your priority, the same gift fits the bill nicely, too. If your gift recipient is fitness conscious or a foodie, you're spot on with this present as well. Actually, you'd be hard-pressed to identify someone who wouldn't be flat-out wowed by a day at the spectacular spa. This is the voice of experience vouching for the gift.

Rated the No. 5 spa in the country by the Zagat survey, Lake Austin Spa Resort (1705 S. Quinlan Park Rd., 372-7300, www.lakeaustin.com) sits on the banks of the Colorado and the site of a former fishing camp. All signs of its former rustic hut days are gone amid the herb gardens, lushly landscaped walking trails, yoga decks, and splendid accommodations. Decades ago, the site was a considerable distance from town, but as Austin has grown, and sprawling ranches are converted into developments with hundreds of homes, the location is no longer remote. Still, upon arrival there is a sense of leaving the city behind.

On a quiet February day, I cashed in my Half Day Away gift certificate with my sister in tow. We were a motley crew: My hot-water heater was on the fritz, and we were unable to shower prior to our arrival. With greasy, lank hair, we stopped for coffee, which I promptly spilled all over my sisters' pants. We must be among the least glamorous guests they've hosted, dirty and stained as we were, but the staff politely ignored our appearance and warmly welcomed us with sumptuous thirsty robes and complimentary spa slippers. First off, we indulged in the novelty of a hot shower and took advantage of the fragrant soaps, shampoos, and conditioners provided.

Suitably clean, we padded up to the Blue Room to await the first of our two treatments included in the Half Day package. The spacious living room, part of the LakeHouse Spa building, is outfitted with Hill Country-elegant furnishings, textiles, and limestone walls. We had selected our treatments prior to our arrival from the dozens of options. Who knew there were so many options in the world of spas? What possible difference could there be between, say, a Rosemary Sea Salt Scrub and a Citrus Dream treatment? I'm not sure I know even now, so we basically threw darts on a board and selected. We were ushered into immaculate treatment rooms with private showers, where skilled technicians deftly managed our disrobing with modesty, and we submitted ourselves into their capable hands. I don't know what technique they employed or the benefits of the products they used. I do know it was heaven! I was massaged, scrubbed, enrobed, heated, showered, oiled, and wrapped back into my Turkish robe. Next was some face thing: Pores were "evacuated," scrubs were employed, lotions and potions applied, all amid scrupulously chosen relaxation music in a serene room.

Topping off the package is lunch in the Aster Cafe, where chef Terry Conlan's considerable culinary skill is interpreted to suit the spa setting. As a result, you can enjoy a fabulous pecan-crusted chicken-breast salad or a prosciutto-and-provolone panini with basil-and-fig vinaigrette without exceeding the caloric and fat intake of spa proportions. Take home his cookbook, Fresh, while you're there; it's chock-full of sophisticated recipes tweaked to minimize the fat and maximize the flavor.

Day visitors to the spa aren't given the bum's rush; you're welcome to stroll the grounds, swim in the pools, stew in a hot tub, or generally lounge around and read that book that has languished on your bedside table. It was with reluctance that my sister and I looked up from our books, abandoned our robes, and padded back to our cars in our new spa slippers, our souvenir of our day of indulgence.

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