Holiday rentals don’t suit everyone – people who want to arrive at an airport and see their names on a hotel card, those can’t do without a mini-bar, people who depend upon the hotel concierge. That’s what we thought until a week before we arrived at our holiday rental in Austin and we received this email:
Dear Lara and Terence,
We are on the countdown until you arrive! I will be greeting you upon arrival. But first I have a few questions…
In addition to a stocked pantry of local foods, sauces, spices and more we provide a fridge with goodies customized to your desire. Complimentary of course – no mini-bar here! Please tell me your preferences for types of milk, cream, coffee, tea, juice and whether or not you have any dietary preferences.
What is your estimated time of arrival? Would you like for me to meet you at the airport? Will you be hiring a car? Would you like for me to make any plans or restaurant reservations for you? After all, I am your Personal Concierge and I am here to make sure your wants, needs and desires are met.
Have you even had the time to think about what you would like to do in Austin? I am more than happy to take you on a bit of a tour so you may get the lay of the land. I look forward to hearing from you.
Rusty Irons (Yes, it’s real!)
As it’s our job to test out the amenities and services offered by properties and report back to you, naturally we accepted Rusty’s kind offer to collect us from the airport, we let her know that we eat anything and everything (travel and food writers with allergies? Surely not possible?), and once we arrived, we allowed her to drive us around Austin so we could get our bearings. And, yes, we tried a few of those salsas in the ‘pantry’ that is an impressive museum to local produce.
We also tested out the homemade garlic soup from Artz Rib House in our fridge – along with the organic lettuce and tomatoes, homous, goats cheese, marinated capsicums and peppers, Sisters Sass Classic Caeser Salad dressing from Austin, and the free-range eggs, butter, yoghurt, milk, local iced teas, and brownies. Not to mention the Texas wine and the tequila. Rusty was right. This was no ‘mini’-bar. It was a maxi-bar!
And not only was the gigantic fridge full, so were the cupboards. There were a dozen organic teas (from green tea to Turkish mint tea), plenty of coffees for the Nespresso machine, Texas wildflower honey, sugar and syrups, and several varieties of sea salt. Above the kitchen sink were pots of basil, thyme, rosemary, and sage. There was an artichoke in a glass, cherry tomatoes, mini-eggplants and garlic prettily arranged in ceramic bowls, a watermelon artfully-displayed on a wooden bench, and plenty of limes to go with the tequila.
When Rusty appeared at our door with a plate of local cookies (and they were delicious, and we don’t even eat cookies), we asked ourselves if this was what was meant by Southern hospitality? When she invited us over for a bottle of Prosecco (she doesn’t drink the stuff, she’s a beer and tequila girl), we knew this was Rusty Irons’ idea of hospitality*.
That care, thoughtfulness, and attention to detail extends right through the property, a striking, contemporary, cement and iron house in Austin’s hip SoCo (South of Congress) neighbourhood, between cool South Congress Avenue and South Lamar Boulevard. It’s a short stroll to restaurants and food trailers on South Lamar, though it’s a bit of a hike to South Congress; taxis can be called easily and are affordable, though a rental car would be a good idea if you want to explore further afield.
Situated on a leafy street in a quiet suburban cul-de-sac where neighbours mow their lawns and barbecue in their backyards, and people greet each other, our house is surrounded by spacious lawns and gardens, and dotted with wrought iron furniture. We overlook a creek, shaded by a forest of colossal trees that are home to an abundance of birds and the cutest squirrels we’ve ever seen.
The house is actually one of two properties, separated by two carports. Rusty lives in the house next door, and the swimming pool is in her backyard, accessed by a path that wends through the back garden, that is shaded by big beautiful trees. While Rusty is a master at adapting to guests’ needs, and can be as attentive or as absent as guests want, it’s an arrangement that suited us just fine but might not appeal to those who want complete privacy.
Our home is just as striking inside as it is out, with the neutral tones of the furniture enlivened by bold splashes of colour on the walls, carpets and cushions. There is art on the walls, shelves crammed with coffee table books on all kinds of subjects – art, food, photography, feng shui – and plenty of novels and stacks of books and magazines on Austin, DVDs and CDs. And everywhere you look there are fresh flowers.
There is a light-filled, open plan, living, kitchen and dining room downstairs, along with a lovely Asian-inspired bedroom, a good-sized bathroom, and a laundry. Upstairs is another comfortable living area-cum-TV room with a DVD player, a large desk that could be used as an office, and sofas that can be made into beds. Adjoining it is the enormous master bedroom and a huge bathroom and walk-in wardrobe.
Throughout the house the bed linen is beautiful, the bath towels big, and there are nice touches such as local handmade soaps, natural shampoo, conditioner and body wash, a hairdryer, and even a can of hairspray in the bathroom cupboard. Snoop around other cupboards and you’ll find an assortment of board games, yoga mats, beach towels, and a picnic basket, among other thoughtful touches.
The place is perfect for families and friends who like entertaining with plenty of plates and all manner of glassware, and enough pots and pans, and kitchen equipment to satisfy even someone as demanding as Terence. There wasn’t a single moment during the course of our weeklong stay** that we ever really wanted for anything.
As we were to discover, it is possible to have the best of both worlds – the freedom, flexibility and space of a holiday rental and the luxuries, amenities and services (including that of a concierge!) of a five-star hotel.
At Rusty’s there is the added bonus of something you’d never experience at a hotel – the warmth, hospitality and generosity of someone who sincerely cares about her guests, so much so that by the time we left it was like saying goodbye to an old friend.
*Of course Terence cooked dinner that night; we had to repay Rusty somehow, right?
**In Austin we broke our rule of two weeks per property, partly because Austin is parent company HomeAway’s headquarters, and partly because Austin just has so many gorgeous properties, it would have been a shame to limit ourselves to one.
***Rusty actually drove us to our next property, and collected our friend who was arriving at the airport that day for the weekend and delivered her to us at property #2! How’s that for service?!