Retreat to Texas Hill Country, where wildflowers, wineries and small towns brimming with German influences offer an oasis to travelers.
By Karen Gibson
Among the prairies, marshes and rugged landscape of the Lone Star State, Texas Hill Country has long served as a delightful oasis. It’s not just the rolling green hills covered in wildflowers that hold such great appeal, but also the blend of cultures that formed Hill Country’s early towns. Bordered by Austin to the east and San Antonio to the south, the 200-mile region of Texas Hill Country is certain to provide more than a few surprises.
Above: The Westin La Cantera Resort in San Antonio offers scenic views high in the Texas hills. Westin La Cantera Resort photo
Below: Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg is known for its seed collections and plants for sale. Karen Gibson photo
Traveling to the heart of Texas requires a home base, and you can’t go wrong with San Antonio. Among the many options for accommodations is The Westin La Cantera Resort in North San Antonio, a AAA Four Diamond resort that offers a scenic respite high in the Texas hills. A winding road delivers you to this gated paradise that has been recognized as one of the top golf resorts in the country by leading golf and travel publications.
Even for non-golfers, The Westin La Cantera Resort delivers with gorgeous views from every window. A cavernous lobby features a red barrel ceiling. Watch the sunset from an open patio off the lobby where guests meet for drinks and socializing. If you hear laughter and squeals of delight from the patio, it’s most likely coming from The Lost Quarry, which has swimming pools for kids, adults and lap swimmers. There’s also an inviting whirlpool to rejuvenate tired muscles after working out in the 7,600-square-foot workout facility. For the ultimate in pampering, try the Castle Rock Spa where treatments include massages, pedicures and aromatherapy.
You’ll feel just as pampered at Francesca’s at Sunset, one of the resort’s five restaurants. Specializing in Southwestern cuisine, this AAA Four Diamond restaurant’s changing menu is influenced by the seasonal availability of fresh, locally grown food. The specially prepared steak or lobster enchiladas are popular. Make an early reservation to watch the sunset from your table. With such superb ambience, you may not want to leave to explore the rest of Hill Country.
Boerne’s intriguing identity
But explore you should, and just a quick trip from San Antonio is a small town not to be missed. Boerne (pronounced “bernie”) was founded by German free thinkers in a valley in the Texas Hills. Cibolo Creek runs through town, creating enjoyable spots along River Road for resting in the shade and feeding the ducks. Chances are you’ll find at least one person with a fishing line in the creek. The Cibolo Nature Center was once part of the Herff Ranch that was established in 1852 by surgeon Dr. Ferdinand Herff. With 100 acres of wilderness and nature trails, the Cibolo Nature Center is nature’s classroom to Texas Hill Country.
Back in town, life centers on the Hauptstrasse (Main Street). Boutiques and bakeries, galleries and coffee shops line Boerne’s main drag. The visitors’ center resides in one of the older buildings, the Menger-Kingsbury-Shumard House (1407 S. Main).
Further north on Hauptstrasse is the Main Plaza, the site of a summer concert series with the Boerne Village Band, performing since 1860 as the oldest German band outside of Germany. The Main Plaza is also the site of various festivals, including the Berges Fest, held on Father’s Day weekend each year, this year June 17–19. Originally started as an ice cream social, the Berges Fest has evolved to a combination parade and county fair with music, great food and German heritage.
More German influences
If you dropped Germany into Texas, New Braunfels is what you would get. Downtown New Braunfels is the story of Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, who founded this German hamlet in the Texas Hills and named it after his home in Germany. Downtown murals tell the story and showcase the culture that continues strong today. Historic homes of the founding fathers line the main plaza, along with shops in 19th-century buildings.
A fun place to stop is Henne Hardware (246 West San Antonio St.). Texas’ oldest hardware store still has original wood floors and pressed tin ceilings.
New Braunfels has another, decidedly wet side. It’s home to the Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort, plus two rivers, the Guadalupe and Comal. The Guadalupe River winds through much of Hill Country and is a top tubing destination. Area outfitters can set up visitors for rafting or tubing.
Nearby is the Gruene Historic District, a turn-of-the-century experience in a small cotton community on the outskirts of New Braunfels. The original homes and stores now house a variety of shops and restaurants. Take a break at the Gruene Coffee Haus or stop by the Gruene General Store for salsas, jellies and a bit of Texas culture. Gruene Market Days arrives on the third weekend of every month from February to November and brings the lovely and artsy to weekend shoppers.
If you hear music, it just might be coming from Gruene Hall. The oldest dance hall in Texas has hosted the greatest in gospel, country music and rock and roll. And it’s still rocking the rafters.
Wine, Willie and wildflowers
New Braunfels isn’t the only place where German culture beats strong. Founded in 1846, Fredericksburg has an active Main Street where art galleries sit alongside knickknack shops. More than 70 restaurants and bistros offer a wide choice of dining and more than a few biergartens. Weekends are made for music. While Bavarian music is common (it is a German town, after all), you also can find any other kind of music that appeals to you, even blues or Zydeco. Waylon and Willie fans can stop by Luckenbach Texas at 412 Luckenbach Town Loop, where music is the name of the game.
What lies outside Fredericksburg is just as fascinating as the town itself. Dozens and dozens of farms surround Fredericksburg, with peach farms and wineries dominating the landscape. Texas is a leading peach producer, and the area around Fredericksburg is responsible for approximately 40 percent of Texas peaches.
Dozens of wineries populate Hill Country. Highway 290 is known as the Wine Road. Check with the visitors’ center about a wine tasting tour. Roadside stands are prolific, and several peach orchards offer pick-your-own peaches. Herb and other specialty farms such as Wildseed Farms are open to the public. Wildseed Farms is known for its wildflowers, seed collections and its butterfly garden.
From butterflies to bratwurst, Texas Hill Country offers a respite with its natural wonders and cultural experiences. Nestled in its rolling hills are quaint main streets, cool rivers, German heritage and abundant wildflowers. Now you just need to stop and smell them.
Karen Gibson is a contributor from Norman, Okla.
|May/Jun 2011 Issue
|BEFORE YOU GO
For more information, contact:
Boerne Convention and Visitors Bureau, (888) 842-8080 or www.visitboerne.org;
Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, (888) 997-3600 or www.VisitFredericksburgTX.org;
Gruene Historic District, (830) 629-5077 or www.gruenetexas.com;
New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, (800) 572-2626 or www.nbcham.org.
To visit Texas Hill Country or make reservations at Westin La Cantera, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. View a list of offices to serve you
Order free information about Texas through the Reader Service Card, found online at http://southern.ai-dsg.com.