On one hand, you want a quiet getaway. But aren't vacations meant to be riveting, at least worthy of a Snapchat story or two? It's the quintessential hotel booking question. Especially when expectations of experimental dining figure into the equation.
I'm happy to report that, in San Antonio at least, I've found the perfect solution. Hotel Valencia is smack dab on the world famous River Walk. You can see the boats, the ducks and the happy wanderers from your beautiful tiled Spanish veranda. But because it's at the intersection of the River Walk's later-added 1.3-mile Museum Reach, it feels private, luxurious and oh-so-relaxing.
Most of the rowdiest partiers never get past the cypress-lined walkways and bridges near the Main Plaza which leaves the murals, the outdoor public art, the museums and the CIA cooking school for you.
And as for experimental dining, you don't even have to leave the boutique hotel's premises. Dorrego's, named after the lively Plaza Dorrego in the historic San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, offers such Argentine-influenced dishes as smoked short rib ravioli, quail meatballs, duck confit empanadas and proveleta flamado, a tequila flamed Argentine provolone.
Here are four other reasons Hotel Valencia is the perfect choice:
1. It's the little things. Chef Anthony Mesa, who designed the innovative menu at Dorrego's, (Did I mention the charred corn, cilantro and signature red chimichurri sauce in the duck empanadas or that the beef raviolis take four and a half hours to make?), has become a bona fide Argentine evangelist. After a stint in Buenos Aires, he brought back the Argentinean tradition of Un Poco Mas. It means "one more thing"and this something extra is incorporated into the entire guest experience. The morning coffee comes with a fresh-baked cookie or biscotti. Cocktails are accompanied by candied pepitas or house-made potato chips. Tea comes with a choice of flavored syrups.
2. Breakfast is included. Although customary in Europe, most American hotels try to gouge guests with every meal they can. At Hotel Valencia, guests get a full line-up of homemade breads, granola, yogurts, fruits and more. The breakfast "un poco mas"was "un grande mas,"at least in my book, because all-you-can-drink, fresh-squeezed orange juice could easily set you back $30 or more.
3. You get a fast track to two former Texas breweries who have been given hip new lives. Remember that Museum Reach I mentioned earlier? Because of Hotel Valencia's perfect location, you can easily walk from Hotel Valencia to these two San Antonio icons.
Lone Star Brewery, built in 1884 by beer baron Adolphus Busch, left a big gap along the San Antonio River when it fell victim to an unfortunate corporate merger. But rather than raze it or allow it to crumble into a hazardous eyesore, the city turned the historic brewery into the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Just a few steps further is Pearl Brewery, Lone Star's competitor that, in 2001, was also shuttered after more than 100 years of beer-making. Thanks to the far-sightedness of Kit Goldsbury, the Pace Salsa billionaire, the 22-acre complex roared back to life as an edgy foodie destination.
The post-industrial riverfront complex hosts several of San Antonio's best restaurants (La Gloria which riffs on the Mexican street vendor scene and Il Sogno Osteria, an always crowded Italian restaurant with an open kitchen and a wood-burning oven, to name a couple), a twice-weekly farmer's market (featuring everything from lavender soap, watercress and free range eggs to heritage pork, grass-fed bison and sour cream pecan muffins), a kitchenware store owned by famed cookbook author, Melissa Guerra (look for such hard-to-find items as authentic Mexican molcajetes, hand-embroidered dish towels and mesquite rolling pins) and a 30,000-square foot Culinary Institute of America cooking school.
4. Hotel Valencia just had a $10 million, top to bottom facelift. I wasn't privy to its first incarnation, but I certainly dig what acclaimed architect Lauren Rottet did with the place. Plus I have abiding respect for any place that refuses to rest on its laurels and believe me, Hotel Valencia has many from USA Today's Most Romantic to Conde Nast Reader's Choice to AAA's four-diamonds.
All images courtesy of Pam Grout.