Although hot-air balloons remain Austin's most popular commuter vehicles, they're highly vulnerable to dastardly villains with handlebar moustaches who ply the sky in battle zeppelins. Tour the town from a safer vantage with today's Groupon: for $10, you get a one-hour kayak OR two-hour bike rental from Gliding Revolution (a $25 value after tax). Reservations are required and subject to availability.
Regardless of your choice of conveyance, you'll shove off from Gliding Revolution's shop located at the Austin Town Lake Holiday Inn. Upon request, cyclists receive a complimentary helmet and lock, and kayakers receive a dry bag. If you vote for the velocipede, dig your wheels deep into the crushed gravel and pedal your way around the scenic Lady Bird Lake Trails, free of the hassles of smelly car traffic and ambushes by herds of feral Segways. Otherwise, open up the whole expanse of Lady Bird Lake for exploration with some patiently paced paddle-pushing in one of Gliding Revolution's kayaks. If the spring heat has already got you beat, kayakers can take refuge under the Congress Street Bridge and commune with Austin's community of bat-themed vigilantes and riddle-dispensing trolls.
Escorting visiting out-of-towners via bike or kayak is a brilliant way to show off the city. It's also an excellent way for jaded locals to re-experience everything about Austin that seduced them in the first place, from the civic center that's dressed as a French maid to the champagne lake to the rose-petal-strewn forest trails. If you can't decide which mode of transportation you like best, buy two Groupons and try both at the same time.
Tour guides Stacy and Taylor Smith— along with their intrepid dog Thor—teach students to glide with grace as they lead standup paddle boarding tours over the placid waters of Lady Bird Lake. Sunset tours cross under the Congress Avenue Bridge during its renowned nightly bat exodus when the sky is streaked with shades of melty sorbets. The Barge tour ropes together paddleboards as groups of paddlers drift over waters, pausing to play on rope swings, and sipping on BYOB libations bolstered by complimentary mojito or margarita mix on the tour’s escort barge. Alternatively, the Basics tour proffers a two- to three-hour lesson in the fundamentals of paddleboarding, including kneeling, standing, paddling, and using paddles to stroke the whiskers of passing catfish. Depending on the body's position, core and arm muscles can feel a workout burn or jellyfish-like state of relaxation.
After 22 years in the air force, Water 2 Wine–founder John McFadden established his first custom winery in San Antonio seven years ago. Already the business has spread as far as Milwaukee to the north and Denver to the west, bringing the country's vinophiles more than 100 wines, each of which are fermented on site and available for tastings every day. Those who want to get more involved in the crafting process may sign up to make their own wine and steep themselves in each step of the operation, from selecting the grape varieties, beginning the fermentation process, withstanding a wait of about 45 days, and finally christening their creation by smashing a tiny boat against the bottle. All custom-made wines are plastered with personalized labels made from one of Water 2 Wine’s templates or images that customers design from the ground up.
For more than 18 years, Thao Tran has treated clients to nail services, skincare, and massages that address issues from stress and chronic pain to weak nails and congested skin. Seven days a week, Tran and the staff at Nail and Skin Day Spa knead away tension, remove unwanted hair, and make lashes stand out with tinting, perm, and extension services. Using products from OPI and CND, nail technicians keep nails strong, shiny, and meticulously groomed. Dermalogica products cleanse skin of all types without artificial colors or fragrance. Permanent-makeup services enhance features without constant makeup reapplication through long days, water activities, and sudden liquid-eyeliner storms.
Weddings at The Vineyard at Florence hark back to an unhurried age, when horse-drawn carriages ferried couples to the ceremony, guests stayed in villas overlooking verdant rows of grapes, and the next morning began with a dip in the infinity pool. The sprawling venue embraces this mix of old-world Italy and modern luxury. Intricate stonework on the Tuscan inns contrasts with the sleek lines of its gym equipment, and the murmurs of a spring-fed creek accompany live musical performances in the amphitheater.
Guests needn't be getting married to explore the setting—there are single-day excursions such as the Sunday yoga class. Of course, estate wines remain a prime focus for the staff and the vineyard's visitors, with tastings held most Thursdays and weekends inside the Villa Firenze, where contemporary culture mingles with antiquated charm. Italian decor and architecture typify the rustic interior, though its main hallways give way to galleries where local artists can exhibit their work. Gigantic wooden barn beams grace the ceiling in the traditional wine shop, and the outer decks afford views of the polo field alongside the arbors and herb gardens.
Rather than preserve their slice of countryside with uninterrupted quiet or a colossal snow-globe dome, the vineyard's tenants strive to fill the hills with life. They host classes on topics from pairing wines to organic farming, and welcome diners to sample handcrafted confections at Bissinger's Chocolate Experience and Café. Bands fill the wine-tasting room with new rhythms each week, and festivals such as the Harvest Celebration Weekend—where attendees can glimpse stone carvers at work and dine on homegrown cuisine—imbue the rural expanse with a close sense of community.
In 2006, Craig Pinkley traveled to Napa Valley. It started as a business trip, but after a VIP tour of an established winery and a symphony of glass clinks, Pinkley's adventure ended with a career wakeup call. Grapes were his passion, so he set out to make them his coworkers.
Pinkley studied every aspect of wine—"from land, to vine, to vinification"—before deciding on Pilot Knob Vineyard's locale, where rainfall drains ideally and soil presents a balanced mix of nutrients. Spanning 112 acres and perched on a ridge overlooking Texas hill country, Pilot Knob takes its name from an extinct volcano nearby and serves as a romantic location for weddings and events. At Pilot Knob's tasting room, guests can sample the vineyard's wines amid stone fireplaces, high ceilings, and ample windows or step outside to the wraparound porch for far-reaching vistas of the surrounding countryside.