At a new wellness hideaway in Texas, the USA, a stressed-out novelist and her spa-sceptic husband rekindle their connection—astrology readings and poolside cocktails included. Text by Amanda Eyre Ward; photographs by Wyn Myers
My husband, Tip, is wary of wellness vacations. He’s a geologist who carries a magnifying glass for examining rocks; he tries not to cringe when someone talks about the healing properties of quartz crystals. Tip’s perfect getaway is a dinner of ramen noodles on a camp stove followed by a night spent sleeping outdoors in a bag. To alleviate stress, he grabs an ice pick and affixes himself to the side of a deadly mountain crevasse.
I, on the other hand, am a firm believer in the powers of aromatherapy, astrology, and tarot cards. I have celestine minerals on my bedside table to help me sleep. As an overscheduled working mom, I dream of an escape where I can enjoy yoga, massage, and decadent dinners prepared by someone who is not me. After months at home in South Austin with our three children—a pandemic spring and summer filled with “discussments” about whose turn it was to use the home office we’d constructed amid the deflated kayaks in the garage—I convinced Tip to try what I vowed would be a restorative weekend at Miraval Austin Resort & Spa, just a 30-minute drive away.
Located on 220 acres of wildflower-blanketed hills in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, the Texan outpost of Miraval resorts is a wonderland of rare songbirds and live oak and juniper trees, set against the deep blue backdrop of Lake Travis. The property is made up of 13 lodges, each of which houses eight to 10 luxurious rooms or suites; elsewhere you’ll find a spa, two infinity pools, an organic farm and ranch, and a restaurant with room for gourmet cooking classes.
Tip and I arrived in our calming sanctuary of a room, where we were instructed to nestle our cell phones inside tiny muslin sleeping bags to ensure we were unplugged and present. I did so nervously, then dove into our queen-size bed, a dreamy refuge of 366-thread-count Swiss cotton sheets, overstuffed pillows, a plush feather bed, and a comforter of “650 fill power Hungarian down.” I’m not sure what power Hungarian down is, but I can tell you I loved it and was immediately calmed by our room’s colour palette of pale blues, greys, and whites.
Over ‘Immune Boosting’ smoothies in the restaurant, I explained to Tip that our first activity, ‘Common Ground,’ involved communicating with horses. Paraphrasing the resort brochure, I said, “Apparently, horses can help us learn to connect. It’s about living mindfully. Like a horse. And we can heal trauma, too, I think. I’m not really sure.”
Tip raised his eyebrows. I could almost see his data-driven brain whirring. “I’m going to connect mindfully with a horse… or like a horse?” he asked.
“Maybe both?” I answered.
Equine interactions are one of Miraval’s signature experiences. Guests can paint on the side of a horse (“An Unforgettable Canvas”)—an activity inspired by the pre-battle traditions of Native Americans, designed to promote creativity and mindfulness—or learn new ways of communicating with the animals. I thought it sounded fascinating. Tip admitted, at least, that communing with horses was something he’d never done on a Friday before.
We met up with Paula Basden, the Miraval equine specialist. Basden invited Tip to join her and a beautiful brown horse named Abby in the ring. “Now, without words, make her walk around the ring,” Basden said.
Tip danced from side to side, whooped and waved his arms. Abby was unimpressed. Basden explained that Tip wasn’t being clear in his instructions. She showed him how to angle his hips and stride towards the horse and described how the lesson can be applied to human interactions. If you’re not direct in the way you ask for what you want, she said, you don’t stand much of a chance of getting it.
“What did you think?” I asked Tip when he’d finished in the ring.
“I could do with a bit less woo-woo, to be honest,” Tip said.
“Oh dear,” I said because our next activity was the definition of woo-woo: a ‘Venus & Mars: Love & the Stars’ consultation with the resort astrologer, Lynn Carroll-Rivera. When we arrived at one of the spa’s stately modern farmhouses, which double as yoga and meditation studios, she gave us each intricate astrological charts. The other couple in the class was newly engaged and intent on making sure their signs were aligned.
Carroll-Rivera’s insights were alarmingly spot-on: Tip, a Virgo, liked to “step back and analyse things,” she said, “making sure every emotion was put away in its bin.” My Mars and Venus were in Gemini, however, and Carroll-Rivera noted that I’m more of a “Coyote trickster” who “thinks out of the box.” Despite these opposing stances, Tip took my hand and said, “We’ve been married for 20 years. If our stars aren’t compatible, it’s too late now.” I laughed and had to agree.
The food at Miraval is uniformly fantastic. We enjoyed three-course meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, supplementing with snacks, smoothies, and chocolate avocado cookies from the Nest cafe. On our first evening, I exclaimed over my delicious lentil Bolognese while Tip devoured an ancho-glazed Angus steak with pimento-cheese mashed potatoes.
The next day, we joined a farm tour with our outdoor guide, Sunshine Beaumont, marvelling at the lemon-basil plants (used in the kitchen), loofah pods (used in the spa), lion’s mane and chestnut mushrooms (featured on the dinner menu), and flock of buff Orpington hens.
“When they have eggs in their nests,” Beaumont explained, “some mother hens won’t eat or drink; they will remain on the nests.” I watched the birds as they picked their way around the garden, missing my own nest but knowing a weekend away was doing me a world of good.
In aerial yoga, we swung in enormous hammocks, and when Tip got tangled up, he laughed so deeply, he sounded like a happy kid. My favourite experience was the ‘Healing Splendour of Sound,’ during which the resort’s sound healer, Kimberly Humphrey, played Himalayan singing bowls and a gong to create an immersive symphony. The room was dim and smelled of incense. Light shot through the room from low windows, adding to the mood.
Afterwards, Tip and I strolled slowly along Miraval’s shady paths. “I feel like my brain has finally slowed down,” I said.
“Me too,” Tip said. “That usually only happens to me at the top of a mountain.”
On our last morning, we brought books to the infinity pool, where we ordered fresh chips and guacamole and icy Palomas garnished with rosemary. “You know,” I said, taking in the view, “I always thought I was the queen of lazy vacations, but you’re even better at this than I am.”
Tip didn’t answer. His eyes were closed. He was likely dreaming of rafting dangerous rapids or summiting snowy peaks. I watched my husband, whose nose was turning a bit pink in the sun. Tip and I had a few more hours of doing absolutely nothing at the same time, plus guacamole—the definition of marital bliss. Doubles from INR 74,396 per person, all-inclusive; miravalaustin.com