What can you say about a resort that is elegant, artsy, relaxed, family friendly and posh? Get thee as quickly as possible to the hills of San Antonio and stay at La Cantera!
We enjoyed a three-day weekend in the hills of San Antonio and at La Cantera recently fi lled with spa treatments, golf, exquisite dining, divine margaritas and a view to fill a Texan’s soul.
La Cantera is north of San Antonio, on I-10 near Fiesta Texas – for those of you with children – and also near the La Cantera Mall – for those of you with shopping tendencies.
We left Houston at 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon and arrived at 5:30 p.m.. The long driveway into the property is scenic. Greeted by enthusiastic doormen, we entered the spacious lobby and checked in. A cooler filled with mint iced tea waited to quench our thirst and we passed Tio’s Lobby Lounge where cactus margaritas were being prepared for a group of men just coming in from around of golf. Our corner room had windows facing two directions, where we could see the hills and downtown. We found Starbucks coffee in the room, a nice touch! The resort just completed a $13 million renovation where all guest rooms had hand tooled leather headboards, new wall coverings, carpet, paint and furniture installed.
La Cantera is just 20 minutes from the airport for those who wish to get started quickly on their vacation. Situated 600 feet above sea level, the 12-year-old property is on the edge of the famed Texas Hill Country. It is a testament to the ‘culture’ that of the 600 employees, nearly a third are what general manager Tony Cherone calls ‘pioneers,’ or original employees. People like working here and it shows in every instance. Guests would be hard pressed to find a better example of guest services. Everyone makes an effort to remember names and preferences. Designed after the famed King Ranch, history is found everywhere. Architects visited the Ranch and incorporated materials and design into the hotel. All art in the hotel is by Texas artists.
Guests may choose to stay in one of the 470 rooms spread along the acreage or in the Casita Village, where 38 rooms offer a bit more privacy. Families especially appreciate the Village, where rooms begin at $350. Guests are given the use of a golf cart during their stay.
A great deal of time and resources have gone into creating a perfect play place. Inside the hotel, guests may enjoy several restaurants. Brannon’s Cafe offers a full menu for every meal. The split level space has floor to ceiling glass to admire the Live Oak trees. Francesca’s at Sunset is a dinner-only option. John Armstrong, the executive chef, focuses on a ‘farm to table’ approach, which is seen in nearly every menu choice – buffalo, quail, antelope and beef are exquisitely prepared along with indigenous local products.
Everything is as fresh as possible. For example,. All juice in the hotel is freshly squeezed each day. Steven Krueger, sommelier, has chosen the wine selection, featuring nearly 200 vintages with a careful focus on Texas wines. Just steps beyond its doors are the Lost Quarry Pools, an elegant array of water and stone. An adults only jacuzzi and pool (staffers entertain and keep guests engaged) is tucked away from the main pool (heated to 76 degrees year round) where a slide and waterfall calls for a cool and refreshing swim. Coming soon is an outdoor bar – The Gantry. Steinheimer’s Lounge offers a pool view and some great beers on tap – more than 15. Plus a ‘flight’ of Texas wines is served three times a week for just $10. Eight local Texas beers are on draft with 20+ Germanstyle beers in bottles. Inside Steinheimer’s is The Cigar Lounge, the only place where smoking is allowed on property. Robert Millican, the bar manager, is introducing the Westin Blend of beer this summer. Working in concert with Woodford Reserve in Kentucky, guests can enjoy this unique flavor in a few months. Barbecue is served every day at the Resort Grill.
Spa – Remember this name: Bonnie. The Castle Rock Health Club and Spa is a full range experience with signatures treatments, a nail and beauty salon, and fi tness club. My awesome therapist, Bonnie, has been doing refl exology since “I was a little girl.” She has an amazing ability to read pressure points. I had a full day of fun with the Journey to Renewal: a pedicure, a massage and a Radiance facial, I came back the next day for refl exology. Make reservations early as bookings fill up quickly.
Golf – Check into the Westin La Cantera and you have two outstanding choices, both of which feature scenic vistas of San Antonio and manicured fairways all set in the dramatic Texas Hill Country. The Resort Course, the former home of the PGA Tour’s Valero Texas Open for 15 consecutive years, is a 7,001-yard, par- 72 course is consistently ranked by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine as one of the country’s top courses. While it is a championship course, it is still forgiving to the vacationers and weekenders. It does require some shot making and correct club choice; it is challenging although it is not unmanageable. Designed by architect by Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf. The Resort Course: 210-558-4653.
When you mention La Cantera to your friends, they all ask, ‘Have you played The Palmer Course?’ Designed by Arnold Palmer, this 6926-yard, par-71 course, will challenge your skills from tee to green. Hole #4 features the striking Winnie Palmer Memorial Bridge, dedicated to his late wife, Winifred. A good tip is to find the course marshall and get the latest scoop from him on the demanding par 5s. The Palmer Course:210-558-2365.
The Golf Academy at La Cantera – Academy Director Mike Vardeman about the latest programs geared toward all age and skill levels, including the latest in video technology with three dimensional motion analysis. Also, experience three-dimensional motion analysis firsthand.
Mike is the guy to go see – in 15 minutes, he can do more for your game than all the TV channels and golf magazines put together. Mike is a golf enthusiast and his greatest moment, he says, is the ability to teach someone who is having great difficulty to overcome that and really enjoy the game, The Academy has the latest technology to evaluate your swing and all aspects of the swing. They can put you on a TV screen and evaluate everything you are doing wrong from posture to club head swing, grip and stance. This picture gives you an immediate visual feedback. Golfers are put before a set of cameras: in front, behind and above which creates a three-dimensional motion analysis. In 15 minutes, after making the recommended changes, a second taping offers a before and after comparison. In a one-hour session, you have the feel and fi t. Then you want to go grip it and rip it and enjoy it. The Academy at La Cantera: 1-888-603-4653.
Steve Shields, director of golf, is a total professional and hugely popular fixture on the courses. Everyone at the club – from the marshalls to the superintendent - are crazy about this guy. Everything seems to fl ow like silk under his direction, Aaron Green, the head golf pro, is a great addition to the experience too. These two, along with Mike Vardeman, are definitely on a mission to make your experience at either golf course one you will remember. Daily rates at La Cantera are $49-$140; for all information, call 210-558-4653.
Kids – The resort runs an outstanding kids program for children 4 to 12 for $35 per 4 hours. Parents’ Night Out is $40 but half price if dining in the hotel. There
are rooms filled with games, arts and crafts and professionally trained hosts – but no TVs. The teen lounge, Club Rock, is free where Wii and video games keep that age group happily occupied. CJ Goodwyn, the lead activity supervisor, showed me a backpack fi lled with goodies each kid receives who is in the program. “We have a 4 to 1 ratio during sessions,” he said, adding that all his staff have backgrounds working with children. They are also all CPR and first aid certified.
“We listen to the kids and offer all sorts of activities: swimming, a nature trail, and Discovery Junction – a fenced in area fi lled with inflatables, an obstacle course and a water slide.” The kids love checking out the s’mores pit each night – a free activity for all guests. In good weather, movies are shown outdoors at night on the lawn. From March to Labor Day, Brannon’s Restaurant features their Looney Tunes Breakfast where Bugs Bunny and Daffy are in the restaurant, enjoying the families. The Zoomagination program brings in wildlife for shows for families. Check the resort website for up to date listings. Kids can also take tennis and golf lessons at the resort.
Other Activities – The resort publishes a booklet filled with the resort offerings. Hill Country Holidays is a annual event from November to January. Some of the daily events: scavenger hunt, movies, Texas wine tastings and yoga. The resort provides a shuttle to the front door of the gorgeous nearby mall, The Shops at La Cantera. Nordstorms, Dillards and Neimans should keep shoppers happy. The resort also shuttles guests to the entrance of Fiesta Texas. During the long hot Texas summers, and the endless and hot cement parking lots this is a God send. The resorts returns to retrieve package-laden or amusement-weary guests at regular intervals.
Room rates are $ to $. There is a resort charge of $15 per room per day. This includes local and domestic long distance phone calls, basic Internet in the rooms, use of the workout facility and tennis court, self parking and the resort-provided shuttle to the golf course, Six Flags Fiesta Texas theme park and to The Shops at La Cantera.