We’re going to a touristy spot, but we’d like the place we stay to be a haven.
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Dust and cobwebs are standard furnishings in old log cabins, but good luck finding any speck of grime at Fredericksburg’s Austin Street Retreat. The five tightly grouped structures are all more than a century old, but our cabin, called simply Maria’s, was immaculate—even the cracks in the ceiling had been vacuumed. There was also a high serenity level, though mere blocks away cars and crowds thronged the main drag of this former German farm town, now a shopper’s paradise. Maria’s has two bedrooms (each with an antique bedstead, the high kind you have to vault onto), a tiny combination kitchen-den, and a stone-walled room for the hot tub. Subdued but suitably vintage decor includes an interesting window treatment—an ancient, oompahed-out concertina stretched across the sill. At dusk, my friend Ilse and I plunked ourselves down in the handmade pine rockers on the porch and indulged in that immortal pastime, watching the world go by (cats, dogs, a couple of trucks). Then, in an abrupt return to the present, we headed inside, suited up, opened a bottle of Merlot, and immersed ourselves in the hot tub. (As we soaked and sipped, Ilse said with a sigh: “This is great. I really needed a vacation.” “Easy for you to say,” I groused. “I’m working!”)
The next morning, however, we discovered that Maria’s lacks an overhead shower—the handheld one was bad news for daily shampooers. Oh, no—forced to go hat shopping! We sallied forth to fritter away some cash; our favorite emporia included Generations, where we exclaimed over a rack of bejeweled bug pins; Jabberwocky, a hedonistic experience for fine-linen lovers; and Three Amigas, which offered fun yard art at fair prices. And by all means pop into Parts Unknown, a cool travel-clothing store that was once the Palace Theater, if only to admire the vast forest mural on the former screen.
If you're heading to Salado, another famous small-town shopping destination (between Austin and Temple on Interstate 35), an equally appealing bed-and-breakfast is the Rose Mansion. There are genteel Victorian-style rooms in the big house as well as early-settler log homes in the ample back yard, which is shaded by enormous oaks. Our choice: George's Cabin, built in the late 1800's, which is actually three one-room structures (two bedrooms and a bath) with a common roof. We loved the decor—churns, yokes, milk cans, curious rusted cast-iron thingies—although the picture of a cowboy-hatted Ronald Reagan definitely gave us pause. A.D.
If you like to be gently rocked to sleep, try Galveston's Stacia Leigh Bed and Breakfast, located aboard a 120-foot yacht with an improbable history. Built in 1906, the Chryseis was briefly owned in the forties by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. After he was executed, it found its way into show business, appearing in such films as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Count of Monte Cristo. It looks nothing like it did in Il Duce's time. Owners Pat and Bonnie Hicks bought the languishing yacht in Florida in 1998, renovated it—adding two stories of cabins to the deck—and renamed it the Stacia Leigh, after their daughter. No longer seaworthy, it is now permanently moored in Galveston Bay.
With polished-wood floors and gleaming oak paneling, the Stacia Leigh has three levels of rooms and a light-flooded salon area at sea level, where guests can socialize over complimentary wine and coffee and flip through the photo album that documents the vessel's transformation. Each of the cabins, most of which are quite small, has a private bathroom (some with whirlpool baths) and a king- or queen-size bed; the original ones below deck have the most nautical ambience. All of them should be reserved well in advance. The above-deck cabins' views of the bay, its shipyard—where mammoth oil rigs are repaired—and the nineteenth-century tall ship Elissa, moored only a few hundred feet away, more than make up for their lack of certain amenities, such as bedside lamps, televisions, and telephones. Breakfast—quiche, pastries, and fruit, served on the pier—is a congenial affair, and the service couldn't be friendlier. At night, sit in the Stacia Leigh's hot tub at the end of the pier and enjoy the flickering lights of arriving boats. Or head for the restaurants, shops, and nightspots along the Strand, only a block away. JORDAN MACKAY
Never has voyeurism seemed so appealing as at the Settlement at Round Top. In the little arts center halfway between Austin and Houston, nine restored cabins and cottages, decorated to a fare-thee-well, recreate a nineteenth-century pioneer compound. I stayed in the Cowboy Room (one of four accommodations in a former general store), and its trappings were so appealing that I yearned to look in the windows of the other lodgings—such as the Frontier House, built with an airy dogtrot and equipped with a hot tub (hardly authentic, but who'd complain?). My fellow guests, however, thoughtlessly left nary a door ajar, so I was forced to soak up only the Western atmosphere in my own smallish room. Festooned with leather this and cowhide that, it was enclosed by cedar and longleaf pine walls and dominated by an antique iron bedstead piled with bedding. Thanks to eight fat pillows, I had no problem propping myself up for a bedtime read. The bathroom too was undersized, but I got a kick out of its saloon-style doors. The best part of my stay, though, came the next morning, when I warmed a rocking chair on the veranda while sipping coffee and watching a bunny rabbit convention in an adjacent field. Breakfast in the barn turned dining room finally allowed me to inspect another building, which showcased the inventiveness of innkeepers Karen and Larry Beevers; the tin-and-cedar ceiling was formerly the roof of a nearby building—they simply flipped it over and reshingled it. Don't expect health-conscious foodstuffs. I downed plain biscuits, cinnamon biscuits, hash browns, and a casserole of eggs, cheese, and sausage, then worked it off—sort of—by shopping for antiques in Round Top proper and strolling the pretty grounds of the Festival-Institute, a mile north of town, and the Winedale historical center, a four-mile drive away. A.D.
Those in search of a refuge amid the surf shops and fried-seafood joints of throbbing South Padre Island should look no farther than Casa de Siesta, a bed-and-breakfast that opened in January. But don't be fooled by its location on the strip: This is an oasis in an oasis. There may not be a more beautiful or serene place to stay on the island.
Casa de Siesta feels more like a villa in San Miguel de Allende than an oceanside inn—all the rooms are built around a long interior courtyard with a splashing fountain, a swimming pool, and tropical flowering plants. But the courtyard is merely an introduction to the calm you'll feel in your room. Heavy, arched wooden doors lead into huge spaces with floors of cool Saltillo tiles. The rooms, rustically decorated with Mexican and Southwestern furnishings, are equipped with cable televisions and small refrigerators; more Mexican tiles, these elaborately hand-painted, adorn the bathrooms. Enormous stained-glass windows framed in carved stone harness the island's abundant natural light, letting in a cool radiance that is a soothing contrast to the brightness of sea and sand—which, by the way, are only a block away.
You may go to South Padre for the surf, but Casa de Siesta will tempt you to just let the hours pass, lounging in your room or reading in the courtyard. A breakfast buffet of cereals, pastries, and fruit is served in the attractive cantina—just the thing to get you ready for another long, hard day of taking it easy. J.M.