Shopping, eating and amusement in and around San Antonio (36557)

I read the list of awards and accolades after my visit. They include “500 World’s Best Hotels” and “Top 30 World’s Best Family Hotels and Cruises” (Travel + Leisure), “Platinum Choice Award” (Smart Meetings) and “Top 75 Golf Resorts in America” (Golf Digest), just to name a few. But all of it was just the icing on the cake after a magical stay at the Westin La Cantera Resort.

Nestled atop one of San Antonio’s highest points in the northwest part of the city approximately 15 miles from downtown, the Westin La Cantera Resort is an extraordinary experience. A AAA Four-Diamond property, La Cantera’s landmark design is reflective of the traditions, cultures and legends of Texas, encompassing expansive South Texas Ranch, European and Spanish Mission influences throughout.

Built in 1999, the resort, which completed a $12 million renovation two years ago, possesses 508 luxurious guest rooms, including more than 25 spacious suites in the main building, and an exclusive Casita Village.

The Casita Village, located on the secluded, tree-shaded hillside south of the main hotel, features 11 casitas, each with its own separate entry with a private patio, including those with multiple guestrooms. Amenities encompass beautiful walnut and mahogany hardwoods, polished tiles, crown molding and gracefully curved wrought iron. The exquisite bathrooms are highlighted by European oversized bathtubs, large showers and marble flooring. The village also features its own private pool and hot tub.

Luxurious amenities throughout the entire La Cantera property-including upscale carpet and furnishings, tooled leather headboards and 42-inch flat-paneled HDTVs-are just the beginning of what you’ll find in your home away from home. The resort also offers guests the choice to upgrade to one of its 27 PURE allergy-friendly rooms. Certified 99 percent allergen free, these rooms offer a unique clean air environment for those sensitive to airborne particles or with asthma and/or allergy issues. Part of the cutting-edge process used to clean the air and surfaces includes an intensive air circulation system, among other strict protocols for cleanliness.

Close but a World Away

One of the things you notice about La Cantera is that although it’s just a stone’s throw “from humanity” (San Antonio neighborhoods, shopping, attractions, the highways and so forth), its location-which is surrounded by verdant trees and picturesque panoramic views of the surrounding hillsides, natural landscape and miles beyond in all directions-really lends to the secluded, relaxing ambiance. And the resort is the only entity along the meandering, upward winding avenue that leads to the awe-inspiring main entrance porte cochere.

Quite frankly, once you arrive at La Cantera, you won’t want-or need-to leave. The resort’s amenities include two championship 18-hole golf courses, six pools, tennis courts, a teen center, kids club, full-service spa, health club and the most expansive resort activity program I have ever seen in the United States. The amount of activities offered was akin to what you’d expect to find in an upscale resort in Mexico, the Caribbean, South Pacific or other exotic locations (sans the ocean, of course).

The Pavilion

After arriving at the resort and enjoying a little free time to unpack and freshen up, my fellow travel writers and I boarded the resort van for a two-minute ride down to the Pavilion.

The Pavilion is part of the La Cantera clubhouse, which also houses a golf pro shop and La Cantera Grille. Offering gorgeous views with the Casita Village in the foreground, the Pavilion is used for large meetings and private and special events. It was here that we enjoyed a sumptuous “Welcome to La Cantera” feast that truly tantalized all five senses.

Seated at a magnificently set, stately rectangular table for 15-20 guests with plush, regal high-backed chairs in the center of the room, we were surrounded by beautiful stone floors with luxurious area rugs, voluminous windows along both the north and south walls detailed with elegant drapery and a crystal chandelier overhead. Our surroundings aptly set the stage for the evening’s gastronomic adventure.

There is a palpable difference between “putting a good foot forward” for special guests and radiating seemingly natural gracious mannerisms to provide the ultimate in warmth and customer service. These qualities were so wonderfully obvious and a testament to the family environment among the resort associates, about 150 of whom have been with the resort since it opened 12 years ago.

The fabulous service and great care we received was only slightly upstaged by the evening’s culinary fare.

We started with an artistic salad of fresh mixed field greens and local peaches lightly drizzled with a savory vinaigrette dressing. The expert wait staff then delighted us by circling the table with plates brimming with bite-size morsels of pan-seared redfish, roasted poblano potato cakes, stuffed quail wrapped in bacon, fresh grilled veggies and a mushroom melange of criminis, shitakes and white button, each one more and odiferous than the last.

Using ingredients and products garnered via their farm-to-table program focusing on South Texas ranchers and farmers who practice sustainable agriculture, the culinary creations were gently rested on our plates to form a geometric fusion of color and flavor. All the while, the resort sommelier followed quietly behind, proudly pouring a variety of excellent vintages-Haras Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Cold Creek Vineyard Merlot and Chateau Ste. Michele-hand-selected from their wine program featuring an extensive list of wines, including choices from 14 Texas wineries. Wine aficionados might be surprised to learn that Texas boasts more than 220 family-owned vineyards and a position as America’s fifth or sixth-depending on whom you talk to-grape and wine producers.

I thought it would be really hard to top the evening meal, that is, until the chef and his expert culinary team presented us with an extravagant marble slab dessert buffet table with a chocolate fountain, handmade ice creams, fresh berries, chocolate pearls, handcrafted waffle cone pieces, liquor flambeed fruit and more that would make any sweets fan green with envy!

Fully sated and with a pleasant “deer in the headlights” look on our faces (I know that’s probably an oxymoron) from this remarkable La Cantera introduction, we boarded the van and headed back to our little slice of heaven in the Texas Hill Country.

There’s much more to come at the Westin La Cantera Resort.

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