When Hotel Valencia Riverwalk opened in San Antonio in 2003, the Texan city was abuzz about its first boutique hotel, but after 14 years it was getting a little frayed around the edges. After a $US10 million top-to-bottom renovation in mid-2017, however, it has reclaimed its title as one of the city's hottest properties. Set on a quiet bend of San Antonio's River Walk, a 24-kilometre urban waterway that weaves through the city centre, Hotel Valencia Riverwalk has heightened its Spanish flavour. A nod to the city's Spanish colonial heritage, dating back to the 1700s when the city's Spanish missions were built, while maintaining a sense of modern luxury.
It doesn't get much more convenient than this central downtown locale, in the historic East Houston Street entertainment district. Guests can walk to the UNESCO-listed Alamo Mission (the most popular tourist attraction in Texas) in 10 minutes, discover the city's burgeoning arts and culture scene at the nearby Majestic Theatre (for touring Broadway musicals), the Tobin Centre (for classical music, ballet and opera) and other theatres and museums in the neighbourhood.
One of the first things you notice upon entering this 213-room, 12-floor hotel, is a wall lined with over 100 glass oranges near reception, hand-blown by local artist Gini Garcia and each signed by celebrity guests including JLo, ZZ Top and Alice Cooper. The Valencia oranges (get it?) are just one of the Spanish touches woven into the revamped hotel. Others include the collection of books in the wood-panelled library with their spines painted with an early map of San Antonio, and the wrought iron chandelier and dramatic bull painting above the open fireplace in the guest lounge. They pair nicely with the hotel's earthy terracotta, brown and tan palette, which also features lots of dark wood, black wrought-iron accents and raked concrete ceilings. Hotel Valencia markets itself strongly towards business people, so there's plenty of meeting space, too.
I'm on the fourth floor, in a Courtyard Balcony room that, as the name suggests, opens onto a balcony overlooking a central courtyard with a rather loud fountain, which rooms on the floor below walk directly out to. My room is decorated in Spanish colonial style, featuring wooden plantation shutters, an oversized leather armchair and a supremely comfortable custom-made dark wood bed clad in Egyptian cotton sheets. There's a small bath in the Italian white marble bathroom, and some lovely amenities from California-based natural skincare brand Lather.
The main restaurant Dorregos is San Antonio's only Argentinian-inspired restaurant, serving tasty empanadas and meat-focused mains, like grilled Morcilla sausage and roast chicken with chorizo stuffing, in an elegant space decorated with Argentinian-style tilework and wood with dark metal accents. There are some nice restaurants lining the River Walk right downstairs, including Ácenar with its casual, festive atmosphere and Tex-Mex menu. But Pearl, a reimagined 1800s brewery 10 minutes' drive away, is San Antonio's new culinary hub. The home of excellent new eateries including those inside the gorgeous Hotel Emma, meat-focused Cured set in the original administration building of the brewery dating back to 1904, and chic Peruvian Japanese restaurant Botika.
An enlightening morning can be spent exploring the Alamo Mission, considered the shrine of Texan independence, followed by an electric boat ride along the River Walk with local company Go Rio, passing the landmarks and 1800s facades lining the river. An afternoon Texan beer tasting at the nearby 138-year-old Buckhorn Saloon shouldn't be missed – for the original interiors and their (sometimes confronting) taxidermy museum, displaying 520 species from around the world. For active travellers there's great kayaking along the San Antonio River, and shoppers should leave time for 102-year-old Paris Hatters where everyone from Bob Dylan to Pope John Paul II have purchased cowboy hats, a five-minute walk from the hotel.
An overhauled San Antonio stalwart in the centre of the action, with a Spanish colonial feel that ties in nicely with the state's history. Overall, an excellent choice.
Rooms from $US190 ($A280) a night for two guests, including taxes. 150 East Houston Street, San Antonio, Texas, US. See hotelvalencia-riverwalk.com
The location, within walking distance to all of San Antonio's highlights, and right on the River Walk.
The low light, literally, in the courtyard rooms, enhanced by the heavy furniture and black carpet. Rooms overlooking the river have more natural light.
4 out of 5
Nina Karnikowski stayed as a guest of Travel Texas, see traveltexas.com