Wondering where to go on your next Spring or Fall vacation? Here is an off-the-wall suggestion for sophisticated East Coast travelers. How about Central Texas? Or more particularly, Washington County, halfway between Houston and Austin. Never heard of it? I hadn’t either.
Lush, undulating green meadows — dotted with grazing cattle and horses — roll out along ribbons of highway edged with white fences and meadows of wildflowers. Washington County, halfway between Houston and Austin is the heart of wildflower country, the place to be, especially in the Spring, when Bluebonnets are at their peak. (April 12 & 13 is the 50th Anniversary of the Bluebonnet Festival and attracts hordes of Bluebonnet crazed Texans.)
This is not hardscrabble Texas. It’s more like the Berkshires, upscale second-home ranch-country for wealthy Texans, where many ultimately retire to launch their second careers, like running a winery (there are three in the area), opening a B&B, or a restaurant.
I went to Washington County for the Bluebonnets (the state flower of Texas), and even though, due to a cold Spring, they were not at their peak, I fell in love with the region’s landscape, history, and charm. Most visitors do.
If you’re planning to go, there’s a wonderful diversity of choice and style when it comes to places to stay. Village or Country? Ranch or B&B? Family vacation or Couples Getaway? Modest or Lavish? Not a problem. Washington County has it all.
Families will especially love John and Taunia Elick’s stylish Texas Ranch Life, a working farm and dude ranch which offers guests grass-fed beef barbecue (their brisket is fabulous), vegetables from an organic garden, and a delicate Buttermilk Pie, made by one of the Elick’s daughters. Nine renovated historic houses – each saved from demolition and refurbished by Taunia – are situated on different parts of the property. Some houses would work for a large family reunion, some for families with kids, and others for couples and girlfriend weekends. Each has its own kitchen.
“Real Texas ranches are a dying breed,” says John Elick, who is proud of his cowboy skills and waxes eloquent about the men and women he’s introduced to horseback riding, including many high-powered executives from Houston. “When visitors ride my horses and learn how to relate to them, they learn a lot about themselves.” The Elicks raised their own family in “a ranching lifestyle,” and they personally run and manage the ranch.
Texas Ranch Life is the real deal. It offers everything from range horseback riding and Bass Fishing to Chuckwagon Dinners and Skeetshooting. And for those who just want to relax, there are trails to wander down and porches from which to observe sunsets in a totally tranquil setting.
Lillian Farms Bed and Breakfast is a country estate that, from certain angles, looks like something out of a movie set. Perched on the top of a hill overlooking acres of rolling green fenced farmland, its main house, a Victorian-style mansion, was designed and built by Barbara Segal to her exacting specifications. It’s got a wraparound porch, high ceilings, five luxurious guestrooms, and five cottages, including “Secretariat,” tucked away in a former horse barn. Often reserved for weddings and receptions, it’s an elegant retreat. At sunset, the views are spectacular.
The pampering and personal hospitality of Donna and Steve Cummins, owners of Southern Rose Ranch B&B, with just two private suites, are what makes this place special. Foodies love the fresh gourmet breakfasts served in their room (or a few steps away at the Outdoor Kitchen), not to mention the Blue Bell ice cream in their refrigerator. Quiet and relaxing, it is tucked away overlooking thirty-three acres of landscaped farmland — a perfect spot for star-gazing, especially near the outdoor fireplace.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag