San Antonio, Bandera & Fredericksburg, Texas – Travel Review
By Richard Jones
My heart started pounding as Breaker and I prepared to negotiate another precarious rocky descent. But the energetic pinto gelding had no respect for my nerves as he trotted nonchalantly down the ridge before leaping across the dry creek and back onto the path.
I was halfway through a trail ride at Rancho Cortez in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. With rugged mountain ranges, picture-perfect prairies and far-reaching forests, it’s easy to see why adventurers have long flocked to the Lone Star State.
In the past, a trip to Texas for British holidaymakers has usually meant an expensive flight to a big city like Dallas or Houston. But thanks to Norwegian’s new route from Gatwick to Austin with fares as low as £315 return, travelling to America’s second largest state is now affordable.
“Superb Western-style breakfast”
My wife Rachel and I arrived in the ‘Weird City’ on a steamy Saturday afternoon, before picking up our car from Hertz and setting off south to San Antonio. Our base for the weekend was the Crockett Hotel named after the legendary Tennesseean frontiersman, memorably played on screen by John Wayne.
With an outdoor pool, bar and a superb Western-style breakfast, that’s up there with my favourite Seattle best breakfasts and includes pancakes, waffles and freshly ground coffee, the Crockett is ideally located just a stone’s throw from the city’s top attraction – the Alamo.
This small compound was the site of 200 settlers’ 13-day losing battle with Mexican Generalissimo Santa Anna’s troops in 1836 and is now a symbol of American and Texan defiance.
For all the history here – San Antonio is currently celebrating its 300th anniversary – what Rachel and I were really looking forward to was the food. We are both massive fans of Tex-Mex cuisine and the city is home to some of America’s best spicy, meaty and crispy dishes. Our favourites were the fajitas at the mariachi-soundtracked La Margarita on the vibrant Market Square, along with tacos at Cafe Ole and enchiladas at Iron Cactus on the River Walk.
“Finest Southwestern-style steaks”
Although much of the food is Mexican-inspired, there are also a few upscale restaurants with a global flavour. At Biga On The Banks, we had a memorable meal of chicken fried oysters, 11-spiced hill country venison and sticky toffee pudding courtesy of English-born chef Bruce Auden
Meanwhile, further up the Rio San Antonio, at the Pearl Brewery area, we stopped off at The Granary, a rustic-style restaurant which serves up some of the finest Southwestern-style steaks and salads in the state.
Although San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the US, the Downtown area never feels overcrowded and the lack of skyscrapers make it ideal for sightseeing. Rachel and I hopped on a City Sightseeing Bus which took us to some of the main tourist spots, including the Tower of the Americas, the Museum of Art and the Spanish Governor’s Palace.
When you mention Texas to most people, the first thing that springs to mind is cowboys and cowgirls. So fittingly, our next destination was the Cowboy Capital of the World, Bandera, where we picked out a couple of Stetsons, before driving up to Rancho Cortez.
After checking into Geronimo – our room for the next two nights – wrangler Desree introduced us to our first trail horses. I was paired with the laid-back palomino Rascal, while Rachel got to know the energetic chestnut Playboy.
During an exhilarating trail ride, we saw deer, jack rabbits and turkeys (thankfully no rattlesnakes!), before returning to the ranch where owner Larry Cortez gave us lessons on how to saddle a horse and rope a calf. He even convinced Rachel to get on a horse – but standing rather than sitting.
Temperatures in Texas often get above 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, so it was a godsend to able to jump in the pool prior to a singsong while toasting s’mores around the campfire.
During our second night in Bandera, Rachel and I picked up two slabs of rib-eye from the town’s Meat Market and headed up to 11th Street Cowboy Bar. We found it all a bit surreal, as cowboys and cowgirls from all over the county threw meat on the fire-pit barbecues, danced along to live country and honky tonk music, and downed the local Lone Star beer.
Our final destination during the week was the beautiful Fredericksburg. As its name suggests, the town has held onto its German influence since it was founded by Baron Otfried Hans von Meusebach in the mid 19th century. But despite its rich history, Fredericksburg is a forward-looking place and you can’t help but notice the growing number of vineyards in the area.
We stopped off at Four Point for a wine-and-cheese tasting session with their jovial sommelier Jimmy, before getting a sneak peek into the brand-new Alstadt Brewery.
However, for an authentic Texan experience, it doesn’t get much better than enjoying a cold beer under the oak trees while listening to music in the pickers circle at the legendary Luckenbach, made famous by the Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson song.
And it’s not just fine beers and wines that tickle the tastebuds in Fredericksburg. We had lunches at Vaudeville Bistro and Woerner Warehouse Country Market & Café a couple of blocks from our hotel (Fredericksburg Inn & Suites), as well as a Bavarian-inspired dinner at Otto’s German Bistro.
Then, on our final night in Fredericksburg, Rachel and I were treated to a cookery class with Houston-based chef Jon Buchanan at Das Peach Haus.
Before leaving for Austin airport, we took advice from the locals and visited the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. After a hot and sweaty climb to the summit of the pink granite dome, we were rewarded with amazing views of Texas.
From here, it was easy to see why settlers such as Meusebach wanted to make this place their home, and why the soldiers at the Alamo put their lives on the line to defend it.
The Lone Star State’s motto is ‘Friendship’, and when you travel around Texas you will often see the cheeky slogan ‘Come and Take It’, a throwback to the revolutionists’ taunt during the battle of the Alamo.
And my advice to anyone who wants fine food and drink, history and adventure from a US holiday, would be for y’all to saddle up, mosey on over to Texas, and Go and Take It.
Norwegian operates three weekly flights from London Gatwick to Austin International Airport. All flights are operated by a fleet of brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft with two cabins – Premium and Economy. Fares start from £185 one-way and £315 return in LowFare economy and £515 one-way and £945 return in Premium including all taxes and charges and subject to availability. To book visit norwegian.com/uk or call 0330 828 0854
For car hire and inspiration on road trips check out the Hertz Road Planner destination guide at: hertz.co.uk
For information on holidays in Texas, visit traveltexas.com.