Remember The Alamo? I’d wanted to visit San Antonio ever since watching the John Wayne movie as a kid. It may have been historically inaccurate – so much so that two of the historical advisers asked for their names to be removed from the credits – but there was lots of shooting and whooping and John Wayne being the brave hero, so what’s not to like when you’re ten years old?
The Alamo is the most visited tourist attraction in Texas, and in reality surprisingly small, which makes the thought of it being besieged and defended more remarkable than any Hollywood film. It’s also less than a 10-minute walk from our hotel, the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk, which stands looking down on one of Texas’s other top ten attractions, the San Antonio River Walk.
The city has a Spanish name, named after St Anthony, and walking into the hotel you think of Spain immediately. A tiled fountain greets you, as if you were entering a private courtyard in a Spanish house, and the whole feel of the place is open and meandering. There always seems to be at least two ways to get to anywhere in the hotel.
The entrance and fountain may be graciously old-fashioned but the reception upstairs is shiny and modern, and the rest of the public spaces an eclectic mix of the old and the new. There are wrought-iron staircases, chandeliers, and a lounge which feels like being in the 18th-century library of an English country house hotel, while the long marble-topped bar is back to the future. Quirky decorations fill niches, strikingly lit like in a museum, ranging from bulls’ heads to a striking display case of glass oranges created by a local artist and signed by guests who have stayed at the hotel, including Ashley Judd, Carrie Underwood, ZZ Top, Jennifer Lopez, Charlize Theron, Johnny Mathis and Alice Cooper.
While some rooms are modern, ours is one of the traditional ones, which reminds us of hotels we’ve stayed in around Spain. A dark wooden bed has carved headboards, a long wooden desk fills one wall, and the Texas sunshine pours in through slatted blinds on the window. Like much of Texas, it’s not what I expected – in a positive way.
Beyond the bar the Spanish colonial-style restaurant, Dorregos, has the only Argentinian menu in the city, inspired by the chef’s travels there, though there are items familiar to anyone who enjoys Mexican, Spanish and Mediterranean food generally. A tapas plate is served, in the Argentinian tradition of always offering Un Poco Más, or ‘A Little More’. It’s piled high with hams, fruit, salamis, chorizo and cheeses.
Grilled asparagus is served with a tangy lime chili olive oil, while fried Idaho potatoes come with a house chimichurri ketchup. Mains range from duck empanadas and an Angus rib-eye, again with that tasty chimichurri sauce, through to Gulf prawns from the coast two hours away, and grilled octopus. When I’d mentioned to a friend that I was about to go to Texas she joked about getting an endless diet of steaks. She couldn’t have been more wrong, as it was several days into the trip before I even ate a steak, such was the diversity and invention of the cuisines on offer.
Dorregos was no exception, as was the restaurant below the hotel, Acenar, serving modern Tex-Mex cuisine. The following night we ate outdoors and joined in two of the fun options they offer to diners. We learned to make guacamole, and how to make a margarita – and Acenar’s margaritas have been voted the best in San Antonio. You could have steak if you wanted to, but far more interesting are temptations like fried oysters with pineapple coated in spiced flour, pickled mushroom tacos, cheese enchilada with a chili con carne sauce, hickama shrimp tacos sautéed in a chipotle butter, and finally a spiced Mexican chocolate mousse. It was just as well the hotel was right by the River Walk. You needed a post-dinner stroll to work it all off.
Tell me more about Hotel Valencia Riverwalk in San Antonio
Standard rooms start from about $126 using the Special Offers booking option on the website
150 East Houston Street, San Antonio, TX 78205
The hotel is owned by the Houston-based Valencia Group, which has stylishly-designed hotels throughout the state. Read our review of their Lone Star Court in Austin.
Getting to San Antonio
San Antonio is about 180 miles due east of Houston, an easy 3-hour drive along I-10. There are numerous connecting flights daily with Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, which has direct flights from Heathrow on British Airways. Fly-drive holidays in Texas are available through Trailfinders.