Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Like a beacon calling San Antonio to spring break, wildflowers in colors from blue to crimson are dotting the roadsides from here to the Hill Country. They are just in time for that annual hiatus between the gloom of winter and blaze of summer known as spring break.
Lucky for us, bluebonnet peeping leads straight to friendly, small-town escapes where you can hang your hat for a night or two.
The Rivard Report chose to get out of Dodge by going west, out U.S. Highway 90 and Interstate 10 West, to visit four spots: a historic inn and peaceful hillside resort and spa, a sprawling and historic bed-and-breakfast, and a camp that’s more about comfort than camping.
Thirty minutes west of San Antonio, where the rich farmlands of the Medina River Valley frame the highway, the speed limits begin to drop as the city of Castroville comes into view. Slowing down, after all, might be the best part of spring break.
You might not stop and smell the roses, but the town’s signature red poppies are currently in full bloom. The Little Alsace of Texas was founded 175 years ago by European settlers whose descendants still farm the land, occupy the town’s historic homes, and run its quaint shops.
In the center of town is the 1840s-era Landmark Inn State Historic Site, the only hotel of its kind that the Texas Historical Commission operates year-round. Stop for the night, a dose of history, or a walk along the Medina River and out to the old gristmill.
From here, the highway ascends gently and delivers travelers to the newly remodeled Hillside Boutique Hotel, a 38-room hotel and spa with dining and poolside views overlooking the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Canal and the valley beyond. With a big Texas sky on a clear day, the Tower of the Americas is visible on the horizon.
The hotel has recently completed the first phase of a $2 million renovation, a project undertaken by the hotel’s longtime owners, Joseph and Jana Winkler, and Pete Markwardt that has turned a tired roadside motel into a “countryside Emma,” Joseph said.
In fact, it was that much-lauded hotel at the Pearl that inspired Joseph, an architect who has done much of the carpentry work himself as a labor of love – from the crown molding and closet barn doors to the Adirondack chairs and cabanas. He had the vision to purchase another 8 hillside acres recently for an expansion of the hotel, a plan confirmed by original blueprints for the hotel that Winkler discovered stashed in an air duct.
His wife created and operates the hotel’s spa, a retreat within a retreat that’s as popular with wedding parties as the scenic outdoor setting and ballroom and event space.
The Winklers moved from Austin in 2005 and purchased the former Hotel Alsace, where Joseph had attended his high school prom nine years earlier. In the years since, the couple has worked to revive the site using available cash flow, rebranded it to the Hillside, and in 2017 joined with Markwardt, owner of Casa 1810 Hotel in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to fully realize their dream.
The Hillside’s restaurant, once occupied by the Old San Francisco Steakhouse, has been given a makeover that is a modern interpretation of Texas Hill Country charm. The Barrel Room, furnished with deep leather couches, vintage photographs, and several screens, is a cozy place for both locals and visitors to pre-game and unwind.
For their efforts, bookings have gone up, and room revenues have tripled, Joseph said. Its renewed popularity is also due to the development that’s moving west from San Antonio, he said, as well as from increased energy industry activity in the Eagle Ford Shale and Hondo, about 15 miles to the west.
“On the weekends, it’s destination-type stuff, either with events happening here or in the area, or it’s people just getting out of the city,” he said.
For spring break, rooms are still available, at rates ranging from $111 to $420 (suites), according to published rates on its website, including pet-friendly rooms. The restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner daily. The hotel is at 1651 U.S. Highway 90 in Castroville.
Inns of Comfort
In the mid-1800s, the center of community life in Comfort, a small German immigrant settlement between Boerne and Kerrville, was the Turn Verein, a gym and social club. Established in 1860, the hall and its grounds on the site along Cypress Creek is known today as Camp Comfort.
San Antonio real estate investors Mike Kelleher and Paul McCutchen recently purchased the property from Phil and Lisa Jenkins, retired builders and decorators
, who transformed the dilapidated Turn Verein and its nine-pin bowling alley into a luxurious if not kitschy campsite and music venue.
With real estate prices in San Antonio rising, Kelleher and McCutchen went looking outside of town for their next investment and found Comfort. “All the big, giant money is coming in [to San Antonio] and we’re just too small-time to compete with it,” McCutchen said. “We were looking for different opportunities.”
The Jenkinses, and now Kelleher and McCutchen, have maintained the Turn Verein’s rustic, reclaimed feel on the outside but have given the camp’s 10 private rooms, charming creekside cottages, plus a cozy Airstream, a luxury aesthetic that campers and noncampers alike can appreciate.
The camp draws frequent visitors from Austin and Houston, they said, who come for staycations, weddings, and corporate retreats. The Texas musicians who perform there regularly are an added draw; singer-songwriter Kinky Friedman headlines April 4.
The owners purchased both Camp Comfort and the Meyer Bed & Breakfast, previously owned by Shane Schleyer, who said he still loves the history of the property and the easygoing attitude of the small town’s residents. “We say we’re not far from Welfare, but we live in Comfort,” Schleyer said, referencing a neighboring township.
In 1857, the Meyer site was a coach stop, guest house, and bathhouse. A wheelwright owned the stately stone house and a midwife provided services in another building. A rambling complex of 13 historic structures, the Meyer offers both rooms and full-size residences, and porch-swing views of the sweeping lawn, majestic Cypress trees, and undeveloped land on the other side of a tranquil creek (anglers, bring your waders). Four red-speckled Texas longhorns graze, indifferent to watchers on the adjacent lot.
The 6-acre B&B property is a stone’s throw from the antique stores, hometown cafes, and tasting rooms of this sleepy town that draws its share of day-trippers but not the crowds often found in Fredericksburg.
Both the camp and B&B have accommodations available during the coming spring break weeks. Camp Comfort, at 601 Water St., ranges in price from $165 to $265, and the Meyer, at 845 High St., from $140 to $320.