Welcoming hospitality, great food (not limited to delicious bar-b-que), a bounty of live music, rolling countryside and yes, longhorns, characterize Texas’ Hill Country.
Who could say no to the invitation to visit for a few days? Not me. Here’s what I found, and why I loved it.
An hour west of San Anton lies the essence of pragmatic determination in Hill Country and the Lone Star State’s reputation for rugged independence.
Just squint across the hills and envision cattle drives, European settlers negotiating the unyielding terrain and ever-changing weather. Not to mention a checkered past co-existing with Native American tribes.
Today, the authenticity rings true, its spirit and soul distilled from the past.
Most noteworthy, here are four towns you don’t want to miss.
Comfort, Luckenbach, Fredericksburg, and Kerrville. Each one embodies the Hill Country ethos. In truth, Luckenbach is no longer an official “town” but it is very much a destination.
Comfort, west of San Antonio, should be your first stop, especially if it’s lunchtime. I found it to be a full immersion into the uniquely Texas cuisine of Hill Country. Find a place to park (it won’t be hard) and order up.
Try Fritzes, a re-purposed caboose serves up the local fare of Barb-b-Que, pickles, slaw, and beans – a Texas tradition with gourmet street cred.
Okay, it’s more a state of mind than a town. But unlike Margaritaville, it was a real town for over a hundred years, from 1849-1971. Luckenbach has a proud history as one of the few trading posts to continuously honor the peace treaty with the Comanche Indians, with whom they exchanged goods.
By 1970 Luckenbach, nearly abandoned with a population of 3, was bought for $30,000 by rancher and local folklorist Hondo Crouch and two partners. The U.S. Post Office officially closed the existing post office; it’s now a general store. The dance hall still operates as a music center.
On Sundays, visitors bring instruments and take turns performing informally with others in what is known as the pickin’ circle.
The circle is serious; it adheres to a long-standing convention wherein only participating musicians are allowed to join in under the live oak. Everyone is welcome, just have a guitar and be ready to use it.
As a result, the rest of us are consigned (happily) to stand around as listen as we can, with roosters patrolling overhead.
Luckenbach’s claim as a country music beacon is a bit tenuous, tied to the eponymous country song with the most high-profile performance as part of Waylon Jennings’ repertoire in the mid-1970s and on.
The big kahuna of Hill Country is Fredericksburg, the ‘must go’ tourist destination. Settled by German immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century, that heritage is evident today as a running theme throughout the town.
As a departure from its Teutonic past, Fredericksburg also offers a more contemporary TexMex venue, Il Milagro, with casual Sunday afternoon live music, just the thing to accompany some of their superlative sangria. Ah, a trip down memory lane.
Kerrville is the little town that wants to be big. Try as it will, it still retains the down-home vibe. There is a very lovely river walk the Guadalupe River, and the shops reflect the longstanding retail influence of the Schreiner family, whose business brought the town to prominence after the Civil War, and then contributed generously to education and the arts in Kerrville.
A stop in Kerrville must include Grape Juice, an unpretentious restaurant I highly recommend.
And if you visit Hill Country over Labor Day….
Neither Doss nor Harper Texas would merit a stop other than during Labor Day Weekend. They are plunked in the Hill Country like dice on a game board; tiny communities But at the end of the summer, these two towns summon an almost mystical local presence. The Doss’ Volunteer Fire Department raises the bulk of its annual budget with free beer at the annual catfish fry with approximately 3000 in attendance. (Donation, please)
Over Labor Day weekend Harper hosts its annual rodeo.
You just can’t beat fun like this. Two rodeo high points at the rodeo: calf roping (men and women) and 6-9-year-olds riding sheep in the “Mutton Chops” competition. Rodeo champs of tomorrow.
So, hang your hat in Hill Country for a few days….and enjoy!
Please share your favorite Hill Country spot – or book – in the comments below.
See you down the trail,
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