May/June 2007  





“For the ultimate retreat, four private treatment suites are available on the spa level, with bamboo floors, private whirlpools and showers, floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies overlooking the Riverwalk.”

ocated on a quiet section of Paseo del Rio or Riverwalk in San Antonio, The Watermark Hotel and Spa opened on New Year’s Eve 2003, a few steps across a stone bridge from its sister property, La Mansión Del Rio. Both the hotel and spa quickly earned the Mobil Travel Guide Four-Star rating, while the Travel and Leisure includes the Watermark on its annual list of the Top 500 Best Hotels in the World and Condé Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards 2006 lists the Watermark Hotel as No. 2 in the Mainland United States and No. 23 in the world.

The Watermark occupies the historic L. Frank Saddlery Company, supplier to many historic figures, including Pancho Villa. Arriving guests are welcomed to the building’s lobby by a limestone fireplace and elegant, comfortable furnishings including leather chairs and a display of artifacts from the building’s saddle-making past. Original artworks by Texas artists, artifacts manufactured at the L. Frank Saddlery and a collection of historic maps are found throughout the property.

The lower level, below the busy streets of downtown San Antonio, opens onto the popular Riverwalk. Cobblestone walkways follow the narrow and winding San Antonio River past shops, cafes, and nightlife spots. Guests can take a boat tour to see the sights or enjoy a romantic evening cruise. The Watermark is also within easy walking distance of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and other downtown attractions including the Alamo, home to the most famous battle of the Texas Revolution.

The 99 spacious guest rooms and suites of this boutique hotel range in size from 425 to 600 square feet. With soaring, 12-foot ceilings and expansive windows, they feel open, light, and bright.

The accommodations combine elegance and hominess with a warm, relaxing color palette of soft earth tones, combined with a variety of textures to create an inviting and relaxing atmosphere.

A hand-forged iron four-poster bed with upholstered headboard and textured drapery wall backdrop, dressed in the finest Egyptian Cotton, invited deep slumber. Chenille upholstered chair and ottoman provided a comfy reading nook, and the Texas-sized leather-topped desk and High-speed Internet access in the room made it easy to keep up with business while away from the office.

The bath featured a marble topped vanity console table, separate shower and Jacuzzi bath, plush terry robes, and an abundance of thick, soft towels.

watermark-3The 17,000 square foot Watermark Spa has19 treatment rooms, hydrotherapy tubs, Vichy showerheads, his and hers changing areas, locker rooms, sauna and steam rooms and Sanctuary Lounges, and it offers a fabulous menu of services including massages, facials, body wraps and scrubs, manicures and pedicures. There is emphasis on healing water cures, befitting a spa located on the banks of the "Yanaguana," meaning "place of refreshing waters, “ as the San Antonio River was called by its first settlers, the Payaya Indians.

When I entered the spa lobby with its large expanse of warm woods, the friendly and efficient reception staff greeted me and introduced me to a spa concierge assigned to ease my entry into the spa environment and to answer any questions I had.

As it turned out, I had no questions since even such amenities as sterilized hairbrush, cleansers, moisturizers and cotton balls seemed to magically appear in the most convenient location possible. Plush towels were easily found and attractively presented in every imaginable place they could be needed: grooming areas, showers, locker rooms, and whirlpool area.

My concierge showed me to the Sanctuary Lounge, a calming space where I awaited my first treatment. The walls of the beautifully designed and appointed oval shaped room were covered with soft fabric drapes, drawing the eye upward to the coved ceiling which repeated the oval shape. The room in fact, is designed as a series of concentric ovals and circles and literally “takes the edge off.” Chenille chaise lounges and chairs with sensually curved arms are cleverly arranged with conversation areas for groups and several more private spots for those seeking solitude. Infused waters, aromatic, therapeutic teas and fruit on etched glass plates are offered to guests between treatments.

watermark-8My first treatment was a hot stone massage. My therapist, Kim, skillfully melted away my travel weariness. I noticed each rock seemed to have a personality and Kim agreed, telling me she uses particular rocks on each area of the body and sometimes customizes rock choices for use on a guest. She said the rocks are left out in the full moonlight each month to restore their energy, adding that the fresh air must do them good because they hold heat much longer after their monthly outing.

Later in my stay I experienced the Summer Rain Massage preceded by a body scrub. The large, completely tiled treatment room was candlelit and had a massage table with air cushion pillow and drains for the 80-minute water treatment. My therapist, Letty, chose the purple sage scrub for my winter-depleted dry skin. Mineral-rich salts blended with sage, rosemary and citrus essential oils removed the scales of winter and invigorated my senses, After Letty’s masterful treatment, my skin felt clean and as soft as a child’s skin.

The Summer Rain massage combines constant gentle, warm showers from seven Vichy showerheads on a large wand over the table. Massage from a handheld wand for varied pressure is combined with various hands-on techniques and lavender oil for deep, penetrating relaxation, followed by an application of Watermark lemon verbena moisturizer. Towels are constantly changed and rearranged to help control the body temperature, creating a cocoon of warm water. Modesty issues were appropriately addressed throughout the treatment. Outstanding!

Another signature treatment is the Solus per Aqua performed in a hydrotherapy tub with 70 high-pressure jets and an additional handheld jet; it provides a deep, yet relaxing, massage without discomfort. The specially designed tub also allows for gentle manipulation of the body to improve circulation and flexibility. The guest’s choice of aromatic salts completes the experience.

After a day of sightseeing and walking on the cobblestone sidewalks of the River Walk, the Signature Blue Mint Foot Repair Treatment is restorative. A stimulating foot soak boosts circulation, followed by massage with a cooling foot balm, and, lastly, a soothing foot gel.

watermark-6Spa facilities also include a top floor 24-hour fitness center, adjacent Mind Body Room and heated rooftop pool and whirlpool The fitness center features Life Fitness cardiovascular equipment including treadmills, stair climbers and Lifecycles, each with private flat screen television. Headphones are supplied to each guest upon arrival. Free weights are also available for a complete workout.

In the morning, orange juice and fresh fruit are provided and knowledgeable fitness center staff members are available to assist guests with their workouts during regular hours. When the Mind Body Room is not in use for a class or other function, it is available for guests to use for stretching, movement, and fitness ball use. The rooftop pool area sports excellent views of the San Antonio skyline and easy access to The Rooftop Café and Fitness Center.

For the ultimate retreat, four private treatment suites are available on the spa level, with bamboo floors, private whirlpools and showers, floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies overlooking the Riverwalk.

During my interview with Spa Director Elizabeth B. “Liz” Hutto a meeting was taking place at a nearby table; the Sensory Advisory Committee of volunteer associates were contributing their ideas and energies to elevate the guest experience at the Watermark to an even higher level.

watermark-7The philosophy of the Watermark Spa is simply to provide a truly memorable experience for each guest. Attention to details of the guests’ experience is evident everywhere, from two perfect lines of stacked fragrant, green apples in the Sanctuary Lounge to the soft, shifting light patterns created by candles in the treatment rooms.

Hutto attributes much of the spa’s success to her dedicated team of 25 therapists and aestheticians who bring their advanced training, many years of combined experience and their intent that each guest take home special memories. She is equally committed to making sure that each member of her team feels that the services they perform remain the career they always wanted.

There are several spa package offerings for hotel guests, including popular options for couples. My visit was during Valentine’s week and pairs of lovebirds were in evidence, appearing very relaxed and pampered.

According to Hutto, 62% of the Spa’s clientele are hotel guests and 75% are women.

Of the six day packages, she said he Girls’ Day Out is by far the most requested on the spa menu. This three- hour package includes a Classic European Facial and your choice of: a signature body scrub, an Aloe Skin Quencher Wrap, or a 50-minute massage. The package includes lunch at the Rooftop Café. $185/guest.

Hutto identified her future target markets, including more men and more corporate and multi-generational groups. Another of her goals is for groups to visit the spa together, taking the serenity of the shared spa experience back with them into their normal context, creating possibilities for transformation and change in the workplace or at home.

Naturopathica, a grassroots company based in East Hampton, NY, is the featured product line and is available only at a few select spas in the United States. The products contain no petroleum-based ingredients, artificial dyes or fragrances and are fortified with therapeutic essential oils and herbs.

Hutto told me that in May and June the spa will once again feature the popular summer Ice Cream Pedicure with a scoop of flavored foot soak a, sherbet scrub, foot mask topping and cherry toenail polish on “top off” the treatment. Clients are sent home with an ice cream sandwich-shaped pumice stone to keep their feet soft throughout the summer.

Other plans for the Watermark Spa include the addition of locker room safes and a new (therapist and client generated) treatment offering to be determined in 2007.

watermark-5I lunched in the Rooftop Café following my morning treatment. The Café features a short menu of paninis and salads with both indoor and outdoor dining options. Inside there are several round teak bistro tables and chairs, and outside, large square tables and well-cushioned chairs on the stone terrace by the pool. Spa guests are encouraged to dine in the Rooftop Café in their robes.

At the suggestion of my friendly server, Travon, I selected the Jumbo Lump Crab and Roasted Wild Mushroom Salad and Citrus Garlic Aioli. It was served on a large square green glass plate with an adornment of plantain chips.

When I regretfully told Travon that none of the desserts were possible on my diet, he created a lovely custom one off the menu of fresh berries drizzled with the delicious berry compote usually served with the cheesecake, and an indulgent dollop of whipped cream on the side. Delicious!

The Watermark’s hotel restaurant, Pesca on the River, with both indoor and terrace dining, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 24-hour room service is available to hotel guests. This energetic, stylish bistro is located on the River Walk level of the hotel.

watermark-4Attentive service and “smart casual” attire are the norm, and the menu features fresh seafood flown in daily from all around the world. Cobalt blue glasses and table linens and artistic blue lighting effects reinforce the meaning of the word Pesca (fishing). The centerpiece of the restaurant is the large stone and glass signature Oyster Bar that presents a daily global sampling of the freshest oysters, clams, crab, shrimp and cerviche served with a variety of original sauces.

I especially enjoyed the perfectly prepared and quickly served breakfast omelets and richly flavored French press coffee at Pesca on the River; with perfectly sautéed vegetables and a generous portion of in-house cold-smoked salmon (the best I have ever tasted).

An equally wonderful but very different dining experience awaits just a few steps across the stone bridge to The Watermark’s sister hotel, Omni La Mansión del Rio, whose guests also have access to the spa. The soft lighting and Spanish colonial ambiance of the La Mansion’s Las Canarias restaurant sets the stage for a romantic epicurean evening. Here Executive Chef Scott Cohen shows his penchant for fine French cuisine and love of fresh local ingredients. Restaurant general manager Philippe Placé carefully attended to details as diners were serenaded with Spanish guitar music.

I savored the Roasted Rack of Organic Lamb (from San Angelo, TX) with Organic Potato and Mustard Green Dauphnoise with Lemon Thyme Natural Jus and Mint Marmalade and a side of Sautéed French Green Beans with Shallots and Brown Butter.

The Omni La Mansión del Rio property site has evolved through various stages and purposes from its original building (built in 1852 as a private boys’ school) into today’s elegant 338 room hotel which will undergo a renovation this year in carefully controlled stages to assure ongoing hotel stay quality during the process.

In March 2006, Patrick J. Kennedy sold his Watermark Hotel and La Mansión del Rio Hotel to Omni Hotels while retaining the trademark rights to the Watermark name and the name of its restaurant, Pesca on the River. He plans to develop Watermark into a national brand. In November 2008, the 34-story, 604-room Omni Fort Worth Hotel will open, together with a Watermark inspired spa, across from the recently expanded convention center. Another new spa will be built adjacent to the Omni Houston Hotel in the city’s Uptown Park/Galleria area.

Watermark Hotel
210-396-5800 or 800-830-1500

Watermark Spa Reservations

210-518-1000 or 800-292-7300




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