If you want the VIP treatment when traveling, the secret is choosing the right hotel. A great property not only can snag tickets to sold-out shows and tables at in-demand restaurants, it can give you experiences that no one else can offer.
We recently ventured to Austin to seek out ways big and small to upgrade our trip. Here are our tips to make the most of your next visit to Texas’ capital city.
Upgrade Your Stay
Check into Fairmont Austin, the city’s newest luxury hotel, and upgrade to a Fairmont Gold room (which comes with perks like larger bottles of Le Labo toiletries). You’ll avoid the lines in the lobby and check in at the Fairmont Gold Lounge, which is the best amenity of them all. Perched on the 35th floor, the spacious lounge gives you a glimpse at the surrounding downtown buildings while you work, hold a meeting or just relax (keep an eye out for celebrities; we spotted Supernatural star Jared Padalecki hanging out there).
Complimentary food and drink are available throughout the day. In the morning, a vast breakfast buffet includes French toast, cinnamon rolls and a chef on hand to create made-to-order fluffy French omelets. Later in the day, partake in canapés and a full honor bar. Mix your own cocktails with Aperol, Luxardo liqueur, Grand Marnier and syrups like passion fruit from Austin-based Liber & Co. Or pour yourself a tumbler of Jameson, Glenlivet or Maker’s Mark.
Another Fairmont Gold bonus is that you’ll have a dedicated concierge in the lounge who can arrange for some special outings.
Take a Tour
While electric scooters seem to be the choice of transportation in town, the concierge set us up with electronic bikes for a four-course food tour of the city with family-run Rocket Electrics, one of the first shops in the country to give e-bike tours.
Just as we started zipping along on our bicycles (which go up to 20 mph), it began drizzling. So our tour guide Donnalou Stevens brought us to the Central Library, an impressive Platinum LEED certified structure with an art gallery, a rooftop garden and a six-story atrium flooded with natural light. After admiring the 2017 building, we headed to Cookbook Bar & Café. Opened in 2018, the cheery onsite restaurant takes a novel approach to its menu, re-creating dishes from notable cookbooks. We dried off while eating a comforting chicken potpie from Five-Star chef Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home.
The rain subsided, so we pedaled off to explore more of the city, including Lady Bird Lake and the Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park. To get a taste of Austin’s more eccentric side, Stevens led us to JuiceLand to refuel with smoothies like the Rehydrator (watermelon, raspberry, mango, peach, beet, coconut oil, mint, lime and sea salt) amid eclectic rainbow-mural-covered walls.
Next, we rode over to the Kerlin BBQ food truck for an introduction to kolaches. Originally from the Czech Republic, kolaches are stuffed pillowy dough tubes. They became a popular treat in Texas, where locals upgraded them with meat and other savory ingredients. Kerlin packs its kolaches with a winning combination of smoked sausage, cheddar and jalapeño.
Our last stop was the family-run Tamale House, where we polished off chicken-tomatillo and traditional pork tamales along with refreshing chile-rimmed prickly pear margaritas.
Go on an Excursion
Have the concierge plan an excursion to Garrison Brothers, the first legal whiskey distillery in Texas. The hotel can arrange for a luxury vehicle to drive you to Hye, about an hour outside of Austin, for a private tour and tasting.
Upon arriving at the Hill Country distillery, you’ll encounter a charming wooden stand serving iced tea (we saw Arnold Palmer and peach varieties) with the option to add a shot. Bring your drink over to the nearby Adirondack rocking chairs, and sway under the shady oak while letting the breeze kiss your skin.
Then it’s off to get a peek at how the small-batch bourbon is made. Your guide will show you the entire process, from how the bourbon starts with Texas-grown corn and Hill Country rainwater to the bottling parties, where volunteers dip each bottle upside down into wax up through its neck.
Afterward, you’ll be led to a rustic cabin for a tasting. At the wood bar, the bartender will walk you through the proper way to taste the four pours (put the glass to your lips, inhale through your mouth, sip and swirl for six seconds on your tongue to soak up the bite so that you can savor the vanilla and caramel flavors).
If you taste something you like, pop over to the shop. Pick up the Estacado, a three-year-aged bourbon finished in port wine casks for six months, and Honeydew, a bourbon aged four years and infused with Texas wildflower honey. Both are only available at the distillery.
After all of the bourbon, you’ll need some sustenance. Fairmont Austin will set up lunch at Salt Lick BBQ, a local institution since 1967. When you walk into the Driftwood restaurant, you’re hit with the aroma from a circular grill so large that a mop is used to slather barbecue sauce on the sizzling mounds of meat.
But before you tear into a plate of ribs, walk next door to Salt Lick Cellars to sample wine, like the BBQ Red, a drinkable blend using Salt Lick’s own grapes that was made to pair with smoked meats, as well as some high-end picks, like the 2016 Exterra Syrah, whose grapes come from the Southeast.
Finally, you’ll be able to sit on the patio under massive oak and dig into bison ribs, brisket, sausage and more, all coated with the sweet house barbecue sauce.
Get a Spa Treatment
Nothing will take your trip to another level more than an indulgent spa service. Go early to Fairmont Spa to sweat in the eucalyptus steam grotto, sit in the dry sauna or take a dip in the saline whirlpool overlooking Palm Park and the skyline.
The Texas Hill Country Awakening is a must. Your 120 minutes of bliss start with soaking your feet in a copper bowl with water, Epsom salts and local honey. Then you’ll move onto the massage table for a body scrub to revive the skin and jump-start circulation. Afterward, you’ll slip into your treatment room’s own 10-headed shower to wash away the scrub and return to the table for a massage. The aesthetician will use mesquite wood to knead into you a mixture of Texas Hill Country herbs like lavender. It’s topped off with a heavenly scalp massage with lavender- and rosemary-infused oil. And you’re left with a sweet parting gift: two handcrafted chocolates from Austin’s own Delysia Chocolatier.
Don’t rush off after your treatment. Take a cue from the society ladies in the Slim Aarons Poolside Glamour print that covers the spa relaxation room’s wall and sprawl out on a chaise lounge.