San Antonio waterfront welcomes luxury hotel and spa


SAN ANTONIO -- The Watermark Hotel & Spa, a recently opened boutique hotel on the River Walk here, gives travelers a sophisticated and stylish new option when looking for a place to stay in the Alamo City.

The hotel is owned and operated by the same team that manages the venerable La Mansion del Rio Hotel (which is just steps away, directly across the River Walk), so guests can take advantage of amenities at both hotels.

"It's sort of like a little resort area," said Henry Feldman, president of the La Mansion Hospitality Management Group.

The Watermark was constructed on the site of the historical Karotkin Building. Built in 1900, the structure began life as the L. Frank Saddlery Co., where notables such as Pancho Villa and Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders bought saddles.

The original plans for the Watermark included restoring the building's four-story, Renaissance-revival facade, which had been covered up in the late 1960s, and incorporating it into the design of the new, seven-story hotel and spa.

Construction began in the spring of 2002, with a November 2003 opening anticipated. The unexpected collapse of the facade on Dec. 4, 2002 turned the renovation process into a reconstruction effort.

"The first four floors [of the facade] are a complete reproduction, down to the color of the bricks," Feldman said. "The owner, Patrick Kennedy, insisted on staying to the original design. We kept to the original architecture, so the guest rooms have very high ceilings, some with floor-to-ceiling windows."

The reconstruction delay proved minimal, and the hotel opened to guests on Dec. 31, 2003.

With a 17,000-square-foot spa on site, the 99-room hotel bills itself as "an oasis of calm," a claim I thought I'd investigate on a weekend visit in January.

After a drive on wet highways and a little trouble finding the place, I was eager to sample some of that calm.

While the lobby and elevator had been dominated by dark wood, the room was strikingly light, airy and modern. Huge arched windows looked out over the River Walk, La Mansion del Rio and a few less-picturesque buildings.

I took a hot, relaxing shower, then asked the concierge to recommend a restaurant on the River Walk. He steered me to Boudro's, which has great food and is just a short walk from the hotel. He suggested the duck-and-sausage gumbo, which turned out to be very good.

After dinner, I strolled back along the River Walk, appreciating the rain for keeping the usual weekend crowds home.

I ventured out on foot again on Saturday, heading first to the Alamo, just three blocks away. Although it is smaller than one might imagine, it certainly merits a visit and doesn't take long to see.

With a break in the wet weather, I took advantage of the gorgeous day and kept going. There are tons more to do within easy walking distance of the River Walk.

I chose to do a little exploring in the King William Historic District, some shopping at the Southwest School of Art and Craft, and some good Tex-Mex eating along the way.

Back at the hotel, I looked again around my room through the eyes of a much calmer guest than the one who had gotten lost the day before in a driving rain.

Done in creams and beiges with dark punctuation marks, such as a metal four-poster bed and a leather-topped writing desk, the room breathed comfort and calm.

The same can be said of the full-service spa, of course. With 19 treatment rooms, four spa suites and separate areas for men and women, it covers a lot of square footage in the hotel, yet still feels intimate.

The menu of services is extensive, offering up a number of enticing massages, body scrubs, wraps and treatments.

I had the whirlpool, dry sauna and steam room nearly all to myself, which was a treat, and delighted in a white lavender herbal massage.

Chef Jonathan Parker serves up seafood dishes at Pesca on the River, the hotel's restaurant. That night, I had dinner with a friend in the hotel's restaurant, Pesca on the River, where chef Jonathan Parker plates up some incredible seafood.

My black grouper was served over a scrumptious banana-curry sauce, and my friend's grilled salmon sat on a bed of braised red cabbage and apples.

We were a bit leery of the steamed cucumbers with aniseed oil and lemon, but we both loved it. In fact, we loved it all, from the bread at the start to the final citrus tart brulee.

Now, to be honest, there were some glitches. Service was slow, and the waiters had trouble answering questions about the menu. But that was to be expected, as the hotel and restaurant had been open only a matter of weeks.

And I have to add that we were having such a good time, we hardly noticed.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

Room key: Watermark Hotel & Spa
212 W. Crockett St., San Antonio, Texas
Phone: (210) 223-8500
Reservations: (866) 605-1212
Room Rates: $300 to $1,250 per night
Commission: 10% (on room reservations only, not spa services)
Noteworthy: Their chef-driven seafood restaurant, Pesca on the River, is a real find.
Not worthy: They were still working out some kinks when we visited.

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