Downward facing dogs and giraffes up close: New at Texas Hill Country hotels


Driving west from Austin toward Fredericksburg, the highway narrows to single-lane asphalt, and the edges of the city's suburbs gradually give way to a different kind of Texas, one of ranches, old wooden churches, agricultural stands and wineries.

This is the Texas Hill Country, a 31,000-square-mile area of ​​rocky karst hills considered the threshold between the Southeast and Southwest. As the center of wine tourism in the state, and with a milder climate than nearby cities, the region has attracted visitors for generations, whether to hike, drink Tempranillo wine, or simply to get away from it all.

Figuring out where exactly the Texas Hill Country begins and ends is a task best left to local songwriting legends like Willie Nelson and Lucinda Williams, but on a recent weekend, with Ms. Williams' gruff tone in the car speaker, I traveled the secondary roads of the region. to see what was new, especially in terms of accommodation.

To meet growing demand over the past 30 years, megaresorts, such as the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa, have opened and now dominate the area's hotel market. These properties, along with La Cantera Resort & Spa, JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country, Hilton San Antonio Hill Country and Hyatt Regency Lost Pines, are sprawling resorts with multiple pools, some with kids' areas and lazy rivers, and cost from around $200. for weekdays and $450 for weekends.

But in recent years, a different type of hotel has emerged in the Hill Country. I found a variety of surprising options, from an opulent wellness center where you can learn country dancing to a boutique hotel with grazing giraffes and rhinos.

Located 40 minutes from downtown Austin in Dripping Springs, Camp Lucy is a popular wedding venue, with sculptural oak trees framing wedding photos. But in 2014, the owners also started adding hotel rooms, and in 2020, even better rooms: “treetop” rooms, with balconies overlooking the hills. The hotel's restaurant, Tillie's, features elaborate tile work and teal leather bar seating, and the pool is large with comfortable lounge spaces. But it's the details of the countryside that make a visit memorable: a community bonfire is a fun outdoor space to spend the evening, and the front desk offers kibble you can hand-feed to the property's alpacas. (Nightly rates are around $300.)

Further west, just outside the city of Fredericksburg, I stopped by Longneck Manor, a small hotel that opened in 2021 with a unique offering: African wildlife roaming the grounds outside your room. Developed by the former director of the Houston Zoo, the hotel offers wildlife tours, including giraffes and white rhinos, and a handful of overnight rooms (nightly rates start at $1,000). The Giraffe Suite, which went viral on TikTok thanks to the large glass window in the room that the giraffes approach, sleeps four people and starts at $1,600 per night. It is reserved months in advance.

Also in Fredericksburg: Contigo Ranch, which opened in 2017 with cabins and cabins showcasing a minimalist style. The property is a family-owned cattle ranch and you can also see a variety of wildlife such as white-tailed deer, rabbits, and armadillos. Cabins vary in size and how many people they can fit, and start at around $230 a night.

A number of glamping options have also emerged across the region. In Fredericksburg, Firefly Resort offers glamping in the form of an RV (and tiny house) resort that opened this year and centers around a clubhouse and resort-style pool. Fifteen minutes away in the town of Wimberley, Collective Retreats has expanded its portfolio with a new site in the Hill Country. The sturdy tents feature a king-size bed and a patio with Adirondack chairs and cost about $250 a night. An hour south of Austin, there are also tent camps set up at Wahwahtaysee Resort, near the banks of the emerald San Marcos River. Safari tents cost around $350 and usually include a living room.

Back in Austin, I also visited Miraval Austin Resort and Spa, which opened in 2019 as a sister property to the popular Miraval Tucson. Located on a bluff outside Austin, with Lake Travis in the distance, the adults-only Hyatt hotel caters to those in need of some serious rejuvenation. A resort representative listed to me some of the common motivations for guests to come to Miraval, including career change, divorce, death in the family, and detox. But people also come to enjoy a spa retreat experience or to celebrate birthdays and other life moments.

I purchased a day pass for $560, which was the “cheap” way to experience Miraval, compared to the $1,100 per night lodging packages. I soon had an itinerary planned for me that included sound therapy classes, line dancing, and intense breathing exercises in the “yoga barn.” Miraval also features an infinity pool overlooking the Hill Country, a bit of a white whale for those looking for resorts in Central Texas.

Plan Ahead: Word has spread among Texans and those from further afield about these charming new places, so it's wise to book early (and don't underestimate the popularity of weekdays; resorts also attract people during off-peak hours). Plus, if you want to alternate between destinations, you can count on spending several hours in the car on country roads, as the resorts are spaced far apart in true Texas style. But driving those roads is an essential part of the Hill Country experience, passing ranches and farms, letting the Texas troubadours on the car radio show you the way.

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