Forget the Alamo. Even if you think you know San Antonio there’s a brand new reason to visit and it combines a boutique resort experience, some of the best shopping in Texas, and inventive offerings from a homegrown celebrity chef. Eilan Hotel & Spa, which opened in June, is located about 20 minutes away from downtown attractions, including The Alamo, the Riverwalk, and the lovely San Antonio Museum of Art.

However, the resort’s immediate neighbors offer many days worth of diversions.Six Flags Fiesta Texas amusement park  is just a few minutes away from the resort as is The Shops at La Cantera making Eilan the closest accommodations to this mega shopping Mecca which features  more than 100 stores including all the usual suspects plus chic surprises like Tiffany & Co., Apple, BCBG/Max Azria, Coach, Burberry, Lacoste and a massive Neiman Marcus.

Eilan Hotel guests can also enjoy car service from the hotel to The Shops at La Cantera and personal shopping perks.

The resort’s 139 rooms and 26 suites are decked out in a range of different color palettes and moods from airy “spa suites” that incorporate the dusky blues and grays used in the on-site spa (more on that in a minute) to masculine décor featuring substantial furniture and deep tones. All rooms have a whiff of Italy, by way of Texas hill country.

Bathrooms sport jetted tubs and in-mirror TV screens plus Philosophy amenities, though the lighting in my bathroom was dim and unflattering and the sink took up the entire counter area leaving very little room to lay out my own beauty tools.

In a world where hotels regularly obsess over where you lay your head, Eilan’s owner took things one luxe step further: she bought all of the bedding for the resort at Bergdorf-Goodman. More than $100,000 was spent just to dress the beds in the resort’s 26 suites. You will sleep well, nestled amidst buttery sheets, downy top layers and pillows for every predilection.

Keurig coffee machines and pods are provided free in each room (a nice touch) but you’ll want to do your dining in Sustenio, the resort’s restaurant which is helmed by chef Stephen Pyles. A Texas native, Chef Pyles is credited with shaping and promoting “New American Cuisine” through his 16 restaurants in four cities. Sustenio is his first restaurant in San Antonio and he brought his inimitable style with him including his signature blue corn bread (made with blue corn from Mexico and baked in a different shape at each of his restaurants) and his locavore ethos.

Chef Pyles’ desire to buy local drives Sustenio’s menu which includes locally raised pork which is finished on a diet made up exclusively of avocados. They make their own butter. A kitchen garden at the resort is in the planning stages. Chef Pyles, and his talented team, handle these artesanal ingredients in a thoroughly modern way. Molecular cuisine, for example, is featured extensively. Particularly successful is the “compressed watermelon” salad featuring wedges of melon that have been put in a cryovac machine to push the water out, concentrating the flavors and turning the fruit into something very close to a cold gummy candy.

The open kitchen turns remarkably fresh seafood into a range of ceviches that are all winners. Sustenio even makes gazpacho surprising, serving a rich, sophisticated version made from almonds. This, I learned, is how the Spanish made this iconic cold soup before tomatoes arrived from what is now Latin America.  The addition of guinea eggs on top of arugula and slab bacon turns a pizza into an elegant “carbonara” sandwich.

A tightly edited wine list includes extremely pleasant surprises from Texas winemakers (drink anything from Becker winery) and inventive cocktails are chock full of so many ingredients and layers of flavor that they’re nearly meals in themselves.

But there’s another reason to visit Sustenio: Philippe Place, the general manager/master of ceremonies who puts his years of experience in the hospitality industry (and his French accent and signature bow tie) to good use elegantly ensuring that all patrons feel special and, of course, sated. I defy you to resist when he sidles up to you, looks at his watch and declares that it’s 2:00 am in Paris and high time for some champagne. You have been warned.

Indulgences of another kind await at the Eilan Spa, the only place in San Antonio where you’ll fine ESPA beauty products. It’s also the only spa in the region to offer a rasul. Based on a traditional Arabic treatment, this 20 minute treatment is self serve. First you paint your body with three different types of soothing and healing mud. Then you enter a private steam room where the heat and moisture supercharge the mud.

A shower inside the steam room washes the mud away and you emerge relaxed and ready for your facial, massage, wrap or scrub in one of the 10 spacious treatment rooms, most with natural light. An indoor lap pool, golf simulation room and a 10,000 square foot, light-filled fitness facility equipped with Precor machines (opening at the end of 2012) round out the indoor activities.

A meandering outdoor pool helps guests beat the famous Texas heat. Be sure to reserve one of the pool cabanas equipped with loungers, overhead fans and flat screen TVs which, for the moment, are offered free of charge. Eilan Resort & Spa, which is about to receive LEED Silver status, offers the amenities and service of the big-boy chains with locally-owned Texas polish and hospitality. With rooms starting at $199 introductory rates, it’s a bargain to boot.

Our review of this hotel was originally published by iTraveliShop

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