Five-star luxury and history in San Antonio

Story and photos by Patricia Alisau

Set on a hill overlooking once-prosperous quarry mines, the Westin La Cantera Resort flaunts the history of the Lone Star State like an “Everything’s Bigger in Texas” sign.

“Rurales” during the Mexican revolution spotted in San Antonio buying a cannon to take back home. Tio’s Lobby Lounge, for example, resembles the grand entrance of the fabled King Ranch, the reigning cattle ranch of its time in America. Francesca’s at Sunset restaurant is named after a beautiful senorita who fell in love with a young priest with disastrous results and Steinheimer’s Lounge features a map painted on its ceiling of a legendary cache of gold somewhere in West Texas, which was never recovered. The Esparza Library is named after the only defender of the Alamo given a Christian burial (the rest of the bodies were unceremoniously burned) by Mexican dictator Santa Ana. Even old photos from the Mexican Revolution fill the walls.

Under a blistering 100 plus-degree sun, our group was ushered  to an Iron Chef competition upon arrival, which was a fun way to break the ice. Wearing chef’s hats and  dashing between simmering sauces and flying knives, no one objected much to dropped pots and pans as each team’s four-course meal took shape in the cooled special events salon. This was one of many stops on a tour of meetings facilities at the five-star resort.

Whether it’s a corporate retreat, incentive group to honor high sales achievers or family reunion, the 508-room La Cantera spreads out the welcome mat with a large ballroom and series of salons such as San Gabriel, San Francisco and San Agustin commemorating the lost missions of Texas. A favorite among deer breeders, at one annual Westin convention a Whitetail called Bambi 727 was auctioned off for a half-million dollars to the delight of her owner.

The Westin's pools with the rolling hills of its golf course in the background. In all, there’s more than 39,000 square feet of meeting space, which was included in a recent $12 million hotel upgrade along with 36 holes of golf, the spa, fitness center and lagoon-shaped pools. A new nature trail has been added for those who like to walk or jog their way to health. 

Stepping into a shiny white, stretch limousine that rents for $100 an hour, one afternoon we were driven to Joshua Creek Ranch for more team building. The Beretta Two Trident Lodge, a coveted award in the hunting and fishing world, offered us clay shooting, archery or fly fishing although it’s better known for deer and quail hunting. Fishing guide Brad Wood patiently taught me the intricate and graceful art of fly fishing, which bagged me a tiny perch soon returned to the river. Meals at Joshua Creek are heavy on game worthy of gourmet status.

Fly fishing guide Brad Wood at Joshua Creek Ranch.The next day we were sampling Mexican street food at La Gloria Ice House, a popular casual restaurant at The Pearl, San Antonio’s pride and joy of historic renovation. While we munched on crispy, corn-tortilla chalupas and tlayudas, a Farmer’s Market was in full swing outside in the parking lot, a scheduled Saturday event. A former brewery founded in the 1880s, the sprawling The Pearl has been revitalized into a trendy live-work, cultural-entertainment and shopping complex featuring a branch of the well-respected Culinary Institute of America, other restaurants established by Andrew Weissman, a James Beard Fellow, and book and clothing boutiques. Set to open soon is a hotel in an old brewery building.

Hopping aboard a river taxi parked at the famous River Walk downtown, we cruised to The Pearl, a trip made possible only about a year ago when the River Walk was expanded 1.3 miles north with sidewalks and a lock/dam system. The promenade was first established in 1939 with funds from the WPA, which laid the groundwork for the lively dining, hotel and night spots found here today. The river renovation continues south for three miles now to eventually connect the Alamo to four more 18th  century mission churches, the only ones still left standing in Texas.

Water taxi on the River Walk.Million dollars more have been spent modernizing the Lila Cockeral Theater, building a new visitor’s center at the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau and for a soon-to-open Briscoe Museum displaying the Western art collection of a former Texas governor. Visitors can also take advantage of 50 golf courses, the biggest Sea World on the planet and the city’s own convention center, the only one located on a River Walk in the U.S.

Back at La Cantera, there was time for shopping at the upscale La Cantera mall, which was constructed where the quarry mines once stood. And much later, dinner at Francesca’s at Sunset was topped off by a stunning sunset and wine tasting with a sommelier, who poured vintages from several Texas vineyards already earning bragging rights with international honors.

Getting there: Fly to San Antonio International Airport (SAT); from there, it's about a half-hour’s drive northwest to the Westin La Cantera resort. 

More info:

About the resort and “green” meetings: www.westinlacantera.com

A look at what San Antonio offers: www.visitsanantonio.com

For facilities at Joshua Creek Ranch: www.joshuacreek.com

Facts on The Pearl: www.atpearl.com

For Texas wines: www.gotexanwine.org/winefacts

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