Ten Secret Texas Getaways

These fall getaways are just a scenic Texas drive away.

These fall getaways are just a scenic Texas drive away.

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This brilliant guide is a compilation of off-the-radar Texas getaways that feed the soul. All of these property owners built their dream homes, ranches, and resorts during a personal quest. And, each made sure the result enhanced his or her natural habitat whether it is a ranch, the West Texas desert and mountains, the bubbling creeks or lakes in the Hill Country, or a forest of trees. Some are quirky, some luxurious, and some are off-the-grid. But there is a little something for everyone.

Rachel Ashwell, founder of “The Prairie” B&B and the Shabby Chic brand, said it well—Texas is a place of storytellers that are tied closely to the land. Every getaway has its own story that it wants to share with its guests.

“I like the uncontrived coloring of Texas,” Ashwell said.

And uncontrived coloring is exactly what these getaways are about. These places are all far enough off the beaten path that you feel like you’re in a different world, yet close enough that you can make a weekend trip out of it and avoid airports.

The subjects of this story showcase the vastness of what Texas has to offer. We hope you enjoy what we pulled together. As a fifth generation Texan, I know my bucket list just grew.

Luxurious Escapes

Sinya on Lone Man Creek Sinya was born out of a need for one woman to live a more meaningful, peaceful life away from the city – a life like Lynn Gallimore had experienced in Africa a few years prior. Upon returning home from that life-changing safari, she started to build on a dream.

“When I got back to Texas, I wanted to change my life as much as I could. I was living in a high rise with 360 views in Houston and was just drifting. So, on a whim, I sold everything I owned and went on autopilot. I knew I needed something better and different,” Gallimore said.

She found a small 5-acre property with a little rock house and creek, six miles outside of Wimberley in the middle of the Texas Hill Country, and set about renovating her life.

“Sinya was born from my desire to bring a little piece of Africa to my land and as a reminder to live more simply, more closely with nature,” Gallimore said.

She designed the secluded getaway, and, while she used contractors for the major construction, she did a lot of the work herself. It was a long and grueling process, but when the project was finished, she spent two weeks there in total bliss. She then asked herself, “What am I doing? I need to share what I created here. So I started renting it out with no idea what to expect.”

The interior of the tent is 435 square feet of thoughtfully designed space. The main room has a king-size bed, a kitchenette, and a sofa with a view overlooking the creek and waterfall. The separate bath area has a century-old, refurbished claw-foot bathtub.

Outside, on the private back deck there is a shower and a “Hippie Hot Tub.” In order to highlight the natural habitat around Sinya, Gallimore says there are several outdoor spaces for guests including a covered patio at the front of the tent with a hammock, a rock patio with a gas grill, a fire pit and a dining table, and another creek-side deck.

Gallimore has noticed most of her guests don’t leave the property until it’s time to checkout, but there are dozens of vineyards, breweries, fine dining, and outdoor activities within a few miles of Sinya.

“An absolute must is to take a refreshing dip in one of the local swimming holes, such as The Blue Hole. And the shopping in downtown Wimberley provides plenty of local artisans’ work,” she said.

hillcountrysinya.com, $299/weeknight, $345/weekend night, 2 night minimum

The Inn at Dos Brisas A paradisiacal place with rolling green hills and the only Forbes five-star rated restaurant in Texas is three hours and 24 minutes from my driveway in Fort Worth. For Texans, that’s nothin’.

While there are dozens of activities ranging from horseback riding lessons and clay-target shooting, to yoga and wine classes, this place is renowned for its table-on-farm (yes, this table is pretty literally on the farm) and educational dining experiences. The 313-acre property has considerable organic gardens and a 7,000-square-foot greenhouse. Nestled in the eastern Texas Hill Country between Houston and Austin, the restaurant, headed up by Executive Chef Matt Padilla, formerly of The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado, accesses locally sourced fish and meat to complete the menu.

General Manager Ruben Cambero said that when you pull in the drive, “it feels like you are in another world” with 1.3 miles of manicured pastures complete with ponds and grazing horses.

The Spanish country-manor-style resort has nine private accommodations. Five of the accommodations are nearly 2,000-square-foot haciendas with heated, private pools and golf cart. The 750-square-feet casitas aren’t too shabby either and also come with a golf cart. Screened-in porches have swinging outdoor daybeds looking out at the undulating hills.

Guests may also take private cooking lessons with seasonal produce picked from the property’s USDA-certified organic garden, follow it up with a dressage class in the arena and head back to the room for a siesta, before attending dinner with a better understanding of how the food got on their plate.

dosbrisas.com, Including breakfast: casitas, $499-$639, haciendas $869-$1,149. Farm Dinner Package: includes dinner for two and breakfast, casitas, $689-$889, haciendas, $1,059-$1,349

Lajitas Golf Resort While the population is sparse and cities are few in far West Texas, driving through is never boring. Deserts give rise to tall mountains, mesas and plateaus. And then, burrowed in the foothills in the western edge of Big Bend National Park, you stumble upon an emerald green golf course amidst the naturally dusty backdrop. It is one of the most exhilarating and unusual sights.

Lajitas is Spanish for “little flat rocks,” which rise 2,200 feet above the Chihuahuan Desert. The emerald jewel tucked inside of them is the Lajitas Golf Resort. Intriguing, yeah?

“I think that the golf course itself [Black Jack’s Crossing] is not like any other golf course in the state. Not only is it built in the desert, but it is also in the mountains,” said resort manager Scott Beasley.

The Dallas Morning News called it the best golf course in Texas. If you’re not a golfer, Beasley said after 35 years managing golf resorts, this is the first place where he has seen countless people pay the $50 fee and just rent the golf cart to cruise around the course because of its rare beauty.

Or you can fly over 1,000-foot vertical drops through canyons on nine-station zip lines. The resort also offers horseback rides at sunrise and sunset complete with champagne, fruit, wine and cheese to be eaten at the top of the mountain. A hiking and yoga program, complete with healthy meals provided, is also available.

If you like guns, Lajitas provides a five-stand sporting clay station. Aoudad or dove hunting in the sunflower fields on another 1,000-acre property called Palo Amarillo is another option.

The restaurant, the Candelilla Café and Thirsty Goat Saloon, offers panoramic views of the mountains and unusual golf course.

The cherry on top — Lajitas has a private jet service that flies out of Meacham International Airport in Fort Worth and Love Field in Dallas. The jet seats up to 30 people and costs $599 for a round-trip flight. And it’s only a one-hour, 15-minute flight from your backyard to theirs, if you don’t feel like making the eight-hour trek.

And yes, this is the place that is also infamous for its mayor, which is a beer-drinking goat named Clay Henry. Only in West Texas…

lajitasgolfresort.com, Low season, $175-$465, High season, $232-$700

The Prairie by Rachel Ashwell B&B Five distinct and antiquated structures rest spread apart on 46 acres of rolling meadows near Round Top. The materials used to keep and restore the buildings all tell a story of the land they rest on, which dates back 150 years. They also tell the story of Rachel Ashwell, founder of the Shabby Chic brand and owner of “The Prairie” Bed and Breakfast.

“As crazy as this sounds, I don’t have a great imagination from the start. I get a feeling from something,” Ashwell said. She spent a lot of time at the preexisting B&B attending the well-known antique festivals and became familiar with the place and its story. “It had good bones and good energy; it just needed a layer of my luxurious energy.”

Each building is original to the area and was created in the 1800s. Ashwell bought the property in 2011 from the former B&B owners and put her own Shabby Chic stamp on it. She had no desire to scrape the old buildings and create something new. Born and raised in London, she appreciates the lack of pretention in rural Texas. Apart from the heat, it is where her heart is.

“I like the uncontrived coloring of Texas,” said Ashwell.

She sensitively upgraded all of the buildings so that the original story of the property stayed intact. After all, it is the storytelling culture that she loves most about Texas. She kept the rustic features of the old farm buildings, yet added a coat of paint and balanced it out with her soft, ruffled bedding and décor. Many visitors said the place reminded them of a time before hurried modernity. The property is timeless and nostalgic. The B&B cultivates those quieter times by making board games available and high afternoon tea.

“It is authentic. It just comes with the land,” Ashwell said.

They even line dry all of the sheets. She said the guests love the sheets blowing in the wind over the prairie grounds. And it is more ecological and dateless.

“It could have been 15 years ago or 200 years ago,” she added.

Town & Country magazine published in 2015 that this bed and breakfast has a seven-year waiting list during the famous biannual antique shows. But, plan to get away and escape to the past any other time of the year to one of her five authentic cottages.

theprairiebyrachelashwell.com, High Season (3/15-4/15), cottages, $275+, houses, $550+. Off season, cottages $195+, houses, $410+

Airbnb Vacation Rentals

Adobe Dome in Big Bend If you have ever wondered what it’s like to “live off-the-grid” but not actually commit to that lifestyle, then this quirky, yet stunning 250-square-foot adobe dome bordering Big Bend is the place.

Musician Trevor Reichmen built it on what was “cheap land” when he bought it 10 years ago. His 80-something-year-old neighbor made dome frames, gave him one and taught him how to build his own home on the property. They used Ferrocement, which is sand, water and cement reinforced by a steel mesh, resulting in a structure that’s more like a sculpture.

Inside, guests will find just one room with four large windows. A fully equipped kitchenette, a small writing desk and a queen-sized bed complete the interior. Reichmen added his own touches like the blue wine bottles he built into the walls around the square windows. Although not intended, it does allow a cool blue light inside. The shower is outside. If you haven’t tried outdoor showering yet, I strongly recommend it.

“About 90 percent of materials in the dome come from the earth. A very small footprint as far as the dome goes,” Reichmen said.

Cell service is spotty, and the main grocery store is about 20 miles away. It would be best to stock up on your way to the dome and just hang out for as many days as you booked. And of course there are hiking and biking trails all around you. After all, Big Bend National Park is next door. The dome is equipped with high-speed internet if you must work or stay in touch with the outside world.

“When you’re staying there, you feel like you are on your own,” said Reichmen.

He said it is so far removed from any large city that visitors can see the Milky Way and all of its colors from horizon to horizon. That area is considered one of the darkest places in the country next to the Grand Canyon. And because the sky is so big, he enjoys watching storms build from up to 100 miles away.

“I think it gives guests the chance to experience off-grid living. It gives them an idea what it is like to live in a small home and to use solar power. Also, people enjoy being solitary for a moment,” Reichmen said.

Off-the-grid living hasn’t been made comfortable until recently, and he hopes his visitors get a taste of a life he fell in love with years ago.

airbnb.com/rooms/457547, ~ $88 plus a $20 cleaning fee

Casa Kenwood Guesthouses Nestled up in the trees in Austin’s Travis Heights neighborhood, this Airbnb evokes the artist within. The style is inspired by the rustic earthiness of Big Bend but with the colors of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

“Not everyone wants to stay in a vanilla box. We want people to feel at home but a more colorful funky version of home. We take that Austin-weird sort of vibe and really want to build on that,” owner Christina Shapter said.

When you walk up to the property, you go through an ivy-covered archway and immediately see the door to one of two bungalows. “Studio Azul” is in front of you, but around the property to the back is the tree house, “Casita Roja.” Both are available for rent.

Decorative steps lead up to the tree house. Walking in, one notices the unusual windows all over the casita, allowing natural light and a nice breeze. They used glass doors turned sideways, creating a large glass-panel-look in the living and kitchenette room.

“[It] overlooks the waterfall and pond. The effect is very tropical due to the tall trees that fill the ravine on the perimeter of the property below,” Shapter said.

A creek at the bottom of the ravine gives soothing sound effects to visitors. She has had some visitors say they felt like they were in Costa Rica.

Offbeat features like an orange and turquoise adobe shower in a bathroom with yellow walls and a purple-trimmed mirror create an atmosphere that Shapter says inspires the creative side of visitors. The kitchen has wooden walls painted red with a pea-green trim and blue mosaic countertops. Even the exterior is a concatenation of colors and shapes.

“We are not the Four Seasons, but we don’t try to be. We are a little more funky and artistic. We try stuff that you may be afraid to try in your own home,” Christina says. “We are a sort of Mecca for artists and musicians.”

What’s even better is guests can rent bikes from Austin Bike Rentals and Tours, or bring their own, and travel to downtown Austin’s plethora of fine restaurants on South Congress Avenue within minutes. Even closer is the 10-minute walk to Butler Park (formerly Town Lake Park) with dozens of jogging and biking trails on the water. This way guests can experience the best of Austin while evading the downtown parking issues, and maybe even find their creative and weird side.

airbnb.com/rooms/10331035, Casita Roja, $139-$159, Studio Azul, $159-$179, plus a $30 cleaning fee

The Wilde House Rocky and Sara Garza had first been admiring the 2,000-square-foot contemporary farmhouse minutes southeast of Canton, Texas, on Instagram. Sara, an interior decorator who worked for an architecture and design firm in Dallas, and Rocky, a former pastor and also a creative spirit, admired the unique layout, materials used and quiet location. They jokingly told the homeowner if he ever considered selling his home, they would buy it.

They got the phone call that he was ready to sell — they were not. They had quit their full-time jobs and just started their own businesses. They also had a baby on the way. But they jumped in with immense faith and a miniscule budget.

Sara’s father helped and taught Rocky how to build furniture like the dining room table and bench and bed frames. They even did all of the renovations, the stunning modern tribal decorating, and Texas native landscaping around the home, with the exception of the sheetrock installation.

“There is no sound or traffic. There is a big cement wall on one side and pasture and trees on the other sides,” Rocky said.

The house slides open on either side, which allows light to pour through the open floor plan. Yet the home was designed in a way that offers much privacy. A pair of glass doors brings one from within the kitchen outside to a screened porch that looks out onto a grove of pine trees. The other side is open to a prairie with four hanging Hammaka hammock chairs.

The exterior of the home looks like a modern farmhouse painted in the popular Sherwin Williams “tricorn black.” A concrete cinderblock wall surrounds the home yet opens to the front door. The spacing in the cinderblocks allows for more natural light while maintaining privacy.

When you walk inside, lightness in the unfinished concrete floors, white walls politely interrupted by some pale knotty pine, and a marble backsplash in the kitchen nicely contrasts the black exterior. All four bedrooms are upstairs, and the floors are white-painted plywood, making the rooms’ light ethereal.

A significant feature of this home is that it is filled with accessories, paintings, photography, ceramics and rugs from Texas artisans. Their hope is to support the small businesses’ beautiful work. Even better, everything is affordable.

“We want it to be a living gallery that can be used,” Rocky said.

One goal for Sara and Rocky was to create a high-designed space that felt comfortable. They didn’t want their guests, or clients Rocky takes on company retreats, to feel like they couldn’t use anything in the house because it was “too nice.”

airbnb.com/rooms/10122886, Weekends, $250/night for 2 people and $25 per extra person

Ranches & Retreats

The Gist Kinsman Ranch When I think of hunting lodges, I think of bunkhouses, bad coffee, early mornings and meat and potatoes. But Greg Gist designed his hunting retreat with women and family in mind. His research not only included his own lifetime of hunting all over the country, but countless tips from his wife and daughters-in-law.

The lodge itself is definitive of the kind of operation Gist runs. It is 4,000 square feet of comfort. All of the entries to the four bedrooms are outside, allowing for more privacy. Each room can sleep from four to six people and has a king or queen bed and bunk beds, which are custom-built extra large. Upstairs is a bunkhouse for guest overflow. Novices, women and children are all welcome.

All hunts are guided. Gist and his team want to make sure each kill is ethical. If you’re a novice, they will teach you how to shoot the animal at a proper range and put you in a stress-free environment. He said his team’s goal is to make sure everyone has a good time whether he or she is a man, a woman, an expert or a newbie.

“We enjoy the novice hunters because we love to teach them our passion,” Gist said.

Gist harvests every animal and stores any extra venison people don’t take home in his freezers. The ranch has a full-time chef that prepares every meal. The lodge also has a large kitchen and comfortable living area.

He said some guests call him the day before and ask what they need to bring.

“You can bring all you want, but all you need to bring is your gun and a bullet,” Gist said. “And if you don’t have a gun, we have one for you.”

Gist has 600 acres of high-fenced land in South Texas with all sorts of deer and African antelope to hunt, but his main business is white tail deer hunting, which includes a breeding operation on the property.

A cool fact about the name — “kinsman” is a biblical term that means family, so it is another way of saying Gist Family. Gist said people that are connected to the land tend to be more grounded people. This gives them a responsibility to give back by sharing their family land.

gistkinsmanranch.com, Entertain a very limited amount of commercial hunters each year

Greystone Castle A little more than an hour west of Fort Worth in Mingus, Texas, is a castle with a focus on hunting and skeet shooting. The main “castle” houses a bar and a restaurant with an executive chef that has an expertise in cooking wild game, farm-to-table style. Seems appropriate.

Six different lodges are in the castle walls that surround the main structure with two to five bedrooms in each, totaling about 26 rooms. While some would say Greystone Castle has the best hunting around, what makes this place unique is the Western European hunting atmosphere that you may experience in Scotland, but with more sunshine and heat.

Greystone Castle won the “2015 Wing Shooting Lodge of the Year by Orvis.” But, marketing director Jennifer Miller says the property is good at it all.

It also provides fishing and sporting clay shoots. And after a day outside getting your game, it provides games inside with pool tables, laser shot (video hunting game), darts and poker tables. Or a guest could cool off with a drink around its horseshoe bar.

If you don’t like to shoot, Greystone offers kayaks and paddleboards, a workout facility, biking and hiking, horseback riding, a Safari ranch tour and a spa service. Or bring a book and soak in its massive hot tub while taking in the big Texas sky.

“Texas is one of the few states where African and the exotic game thrive in. We have 30 different species,” Jennifer said.

You feel like you’re in another world, and this place is right off I-20, making it easy to get to and a relaxing stay.

greystonecastle.com, Rooms start at $149 from June-August, $210 from September-May

Rancho Loma: Restaurant + Rest This unique and picturesque place encourages guests to unplug and look around. Revered by magazines like Saveur and Vogue, Rancho Loma is in Talpa near Coleman - about 2 ½ hours southwest of Fort Worth. It is in the rolling hills of southwest Texas, where it is so dark at night, guests’ jaws hang open as they gaze into the Milky Way’s patterns.

Laurie and Robert Williamson escaped their hurried life in Dallas nearly 14 years ago to purchase the 300 acres they now call Rancho Loma. On the property was an 1878 stone ranch house, which they tastefully renovated into the restaurant and their family quarters.

Therein is Laurie’s passion where she has served gourmet dinners every Friday and Saturday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. for 13 years. The menu changes every weekend and is based off what she pulls out of her garden that week.

Guests have come from all over to experience the sights and smells of what Robert and Laurie are creating. But to do this in the middle of nowhere, they needed a place to stay. So they opened Rest nearly four years ago, their five-room sleeping quarters that juxtaposes the original ranch home with its contemporary design and architecture.

It has concrete floors, white walls, patterned rugs, large glass sliding doors that open to a shared patio (if you stay in one of the four queen rooms), and Robert’s anecdotal and penetrating black and white photography of Texas rural living hanging on the walls as if each room were a warm art gallery. The king room is on the other side of the structure with the added bonus of a king bed, a bathtub, more space and an outdoor shower.

“Laurie designed it and I built it, but we share a love for details,” Robert said.

And there are no TVs in the rooms. The idea is to eat a fine dinner, engage others, rest and stargaze. Imagine that. You may have to meet a stranger.

“We are throwing a dinner party every weekend in our home. We want you to come to experience the flavors,” their website says, which is beautiful in itself.

The couple now has even bigger dreams, which is to give the nearby town of Coleman a new Marfa-like vibe. They have already opened a mod pizzeria, also with great reviews, an art gallery and a winery. And plans for Robert’s vineyard are already visible on the property.

rancholoma.com, Queen rooms, $190, King room, $250, breakfast included

The Kilpatrick Ranch in Hico This getaway is a little different from the others. It is not open for public use or for rent, but rather for ministries in the Fort Worth area. What started as a rustic bunkhouse for family later turned into a handsome lodge with every room looking out onto a 150-acre lake.

The land is available for nonprofits like Hope Farm, Catapult Adventures and many more. It typically supports “at risk” children who may not have a father figure at home. They bring them out to the ranch to take them away from their own world for a few days. Through nature and adventurous outdoor experiences these ministries aspire to mentor and challenge at-risk youth to become responsible young adults. They teach them how to fish, camp out, roast hotdogs or s’mores by the fire, all while showing them they care. There they can take in the natural mixture of rolling hills, woods, streams, ponds and meadows. 

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike,” adventurist John Muir wrote in 1912.

So it is fitting that when Betty Kilpatrick said when they thought of expanding the property, they wondered what it was all for. They thought about all of the hurting and lost people in the world and realized they wanted to share their peaceful plot of land to heal souls.

“Nothing we have is actually ours. We feel like we are only stewards of what has been given to us,” Betty said.

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