Close your eyes and imagine Texas. Think about everything you have ever heard, read or seen about Texas. Do you have that image in your mind? Great. Now throw that all in the trash. The city of Austin, whilst being the capital of Texas, is as far away from those stereotypes as you can possibly imagine. Lively, liberal and with lashings of culture, Austin is a delight to explore, says Amy Smithers
Lead image: Fairmont Austin
My base for exploring the quirky state capital was the Fairmont Austin. Easily spotted on the approach to the city from Austin Bergstrom Airport, the towering Fairmont hotel dominates the ever-growing Austin skyline. The newly built luxury hotel can be spotted from most locations around the city, standing tall and glistening under the fiery Texas sun.
The room options at the Fairmont are plentiful, with 37 stories and 1048 guest rooms and suites, there’s a perfect space inside for everyone. All rooms are all fitted with floor to ceiling windows. Giving the impression of looking out from an extravagant dolls house.
Inside the Fairmont Austin
Designed with the highest standard of comfort and style in mind, the luxurious rooms are filled with everything you could possibly need from a hotel room. Including a bed so exquisitely enormous that you’ll be contemplating trying out for a high jump team by the end of your stay.
It would be easy to stay inside the air-conditioned haven of the Fairmont all day, as there is plenty to do. Wake up early and watch the sun rising across Lady Bird Lake and the Colorado River from your lofty windows, before heading down to the sixth-floor fitness centre to revitalise you for the day ahead.
The state-of-the-art gym has curved treadmills and Peloton Bikes, as well as the same floor-to-ceiling windows that grace the whole building so you can gaze out over the greenery of the neighbouring Palm Park as you work out.
To refuel after your workout, visit the Gold Lounge on the 35th floor, for a delicious breakfast with spectacular views of Downtown Austin, the State Capital Building and the University of Texas.
For the rest of your morning, take a dip in the rooftop pool, a playful, surfboard-esque shaped pool and Jacuzzi area on the seventh-floor terrace with plenty of sun loungers, 13 exclusive cabanas and a grand cabana for a truly luxurious experience.
‘Take a dip in the rooftop pool, a playful, surfboard-esque shaped pool and Jacuzzi area on the seventh-floor terrace’
Next stop – lunch. Revue is a brilliant communal restaurant area with dedicated Italian, Asian, Seafood and Artisanal Pastry kitchens, allowing even the fussiest guests to order exceptional meals made by specialist chefs.
What afternoon is complete without a visit to the spa? The Fairmont Austin Spa is the ultimate indulgence for anyone in the downtown area. The spa features nine invigorating treatment rooms, a sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, relaxation area and a salon.
Sample a signature treatment, like the Texas Hill Country Awakening – two hours of relaxation inspired by the local Texas countryside with a foot soak, full body scrub to stimulate circulation, full body massage with fragrant herbs from the Texas Hill Country, and finally a comforting scalp massage with rosemary and lavender infused oils.
For dinner, it has to be The Garrison. The flagship restaurant at Fairmont Austin is a unique take on the traditional American grill house. Every dish on the menu has been touched by their signature open flame or smoke, creating complex and pronounced flavours.
Do sample the house-baked sourdough bread with avocado butter – it’s to die for! Recently awarded the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Award – a title held by only four restaurants in Austin – and a nomination for the best steak in Austin 2018 by the Austin Chronicle, The Garrison is a must-visit restaurant in Texas.
‘The striking Fulton bar in the lobby is the place to be in the evenings. The huge oak tree that dominates the centre of the room is a tribute to the bar’s namesake – the famous ‘grand old oak’ in Fulton Texas’
After dinner, head up to the Rules and Regs bar on the seventh-floor. The bar is chic and fun, with classy décor and a decadent drinks menu. Enjoy the warm evenings on the terrace with uninterrupted views of Downtown Austin and the illuminated swimming pool.
Austin: The Music Capital of the World
The Austin area has a lot to offer visitors too, with endless quirky shops and quaint eateries. But it is mainly the music that Austin is known for. Austin is known as the Music Capital of the World, and it is clear to see why. Wandering along 6th Street – one of the most vibrant streets in the city – it is bar after bar, all offering a different style of music, from duelling piano bars, to rock clubs or jazz bars.
The Continental Club, one of Austin’s longest running music venues offers visitors a glimpse into the heart of some true blues and jazz greats.
‘If you want a real glimpse of Texas, however, visit The White Horse’
If you want a real glimpse of Texas, however, visit The White Horse. A real traditional American Bar, with live country music and dancing. It’s an essential place for people watching, completely fascinating and totally alien to anywhere in London.
If you want to learn the two-step there are classes at both The White Horse and Broken Spoke. Broken Spoke is a traditional Texas dancehall, packed to the rafters with Austinites of all ages strutting their stuff to the best in live Honky-Tonk music around. However, don’t be alarmed if somebody asks you to dance, take their hand and learn the art of how to be a true Texan – when only a real Texas ‘Yee Haw’ will do.
It’s practically illegal to visit Texas and not eat your bodyweight in BBQ, which Austin and its neighbouring Texas Hill Country have down to a fine art. If you mention good BBQ to anyone who has been to Austin, ‘You HAVE to go to Salt Lick!’ will be his or her reply.
The Salt Lick is a pleasant assault to the senses before you even arrive, as the scent of rich smoky flavour fills the air as you drive through the small town of Driftwood where this huge smoke pit is located.
‘You HAVE to go to Salt Lick!’
The pit itself is a thing of beauty, piled high with enough meat to give even the most seasoned carnivore the meat-sweats. All lathered in their signature BBQ sauce that is literally painted on using a mop head. How very Texan. But you can enjoy an all you can eat ‘family style’ banquet of Beef Brisket, Sausage, Pork Ribs, Beans, Potato Salad and Coleslaw for less than £20.
The Garrison Brothers Bourbon distillery is a real highlight if you are looking to venture slightly further afield. Touring the stunning countryside ranch, learning about the making process and more importantly tasting the bourbon and roasting marshmallows sitting around a campfire. Bliss.
If you’re after exploring the delights of downtown Austin, you can’t beat viewing it from the saddle of an E-Bike. Electric bicycle tours from Rocket Electrics can take you around all the sights, sounds, smells and more importantly – tastes of the central Austin area.
Austin is famous for its food trucks, and the tour takes you to all of the best ones. Including the insane, but wonderful Gordough’s Donuts. Piled high with the most outlandish toppings, it really is a sight to behold.
Austin is also home to a lot of large-scale events from Music festival – Austin City Limits (ACL), South By Southwest film festival and the US Grand Prix F1 race in the Circuit of the Americas. So whatever brings you to Austin, Texas, you will find it infectious and exuberant. You’ll never want to leave.