At least one morning of your stay at the Inn Above Onion Creek, get up early and walk a few hundred yards to the overlook. The air will be cool and the grass spangled with tiny wildflowers; foraging cottontails will freeze as you pass. Your reward will be a view over the five-and-a-half-year-old inn's five hundred rolling acres located 25 miles south of Austin; you'll also work up an appetite, which will be quickly dispatched with generous portions of cinnamon coffee cake, link sausage, and eggs scrambled with potatoes and cheese, served at long tables in the ample farmhouse-style dining room.
You won't eat luxuriously here, but you will eat very well. Breakfast is served every day, as is a simple set dinner consisting of a salad or an appetizer, a main course, and dessert. When I visited, we had a marvelously tender stir-fry of pork tenderloin and vegetables. Other nights you might have fried catfish with corn soufflé or a Southwestern grilled chicken salad. Manager Scott Taylor used to be a chef in San Francisco, and he is an excellent cook.
Afterward, watch a video, soak in your whirlpool bath, or read a book (plenty are available in the library, along with the videos). The nine rooms, all decorated differently but with equal good taste, are big enough that you actually feel like hanging out in them. (My one complaint is that the walls are thin.) The sheets and spreads are by Ralph Lauren (at least they were in my room), and each bed has a removable feather mattress on top of the regular mattress. When I sank into it, I could barely see out. But maybe the best way to spend the evening is in a rocker on one of the wide verandas, listening to the tree frogs and cicadas. You won't need sleeping pills, I promise.
Central Texas is full of other secluded outposts that emphasize fine dining. One of the best known is the 21-year-old Guadalupe River Ranch near Boerne, a pastoral inn, spa, and executive retreat. It has fantastic views and 48 rooms (including 15 cottages), all tastefully decorated. Some are rustic, others more modern. Although the ranch changed ownership in April, sous chef Keith Eggleston will stay on as executive chef and expects to continue the tradition of excellent food seven days a week, served either in the civilized dining room or under the stars. Dinners are also offered to the public. At Blair House Inn —a comfy, contemporary eight-room bed-and-breakfast filled with art just outside Wimberley—varied and original five-course dinners are prepared on Saturday nights, plus desserts seven evenings a week. The dining room is open to the general public (by reservation) as well as the inn's guests on Saturday evenings. The plantations of the Deep South have nothing on Rose Hill Manor , a year-and-a-half-old four-room colonial-style inn that opens its dining room to both guests and non-guests on Friday and Saturday nights for four-course dinners prepared by the chefs from Ernie's Mediterranean Grill, in nearby Fredericksburg. PATRICIA SHARPE
What is the color of money? Well, at Rough Creek Lodge it is a deep, rich brown—think cognac, cigars, and Caribbean tans. In the two and a half years it has been open, this 39-room resort on 11,000 windswept acres seventy miles southwest of Fort Worth has established a reputation as a fine-dining venue, executive retreat, and gentlemanly hunting lodge (pheasant, quail, and partridge). The design (by Lawrence Speck, the dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin) is clean and modern; the decor nods ever so genteelly toward the Old West. If Cary Grant and Gary Cooper had decided to open a lodge together, Rough Creek would have been the result.
In the dining room, a soaring space with gleaming wooden tables and tall leather chairs, chef Gerard Thompson offers dishes that would pass muster in Dallas or Houston. My lavish three-course dinner began with a complimentary mini-appetizer of smoked mussels splashed with chive oil, proceeded through a silky soup of fire-roasted eggplant and tomato, and peaked with a prodigal entrée of pan-roasted pheasant (I couldn't resist ordering the lodge's logo). Presented in a lovely puddle of demiglace, the slightly tough bird was eclipsed by the accompanying truffled risotto, a dish of staggering richness. Dessert—a strawberry-and-rhubarb puff-pastry tart with Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream—was hardly austere. By the time the bill—$55 without wine—arrived, I was hoping the lodge's spa included a sensory-deprivation chamber.
Ultimately, though, the best approach to a stay here is to give in to luxury. Enjoy being pampered by the staff; take advantage of the sauna, heated pool, massages, facials, tennis, clay shooting, mountain biking, and more; book a "Valentine's Fantasy" package for next February. Except for the name, there's nothing rough about Rough Creek.
If you're east of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, in the vicinity of Tyler, check out the brand-new Kiepersol Estates Bed and Breakfast, perhaps best described as a restaurant with guest rooms attached. The fare is upscale steakhouse and quite nice; the five rather small, plush rooms seem to have been decorated by an interior designer with a tassel fetish. The Kiepersol Estates' recently planted vineyard, with its resident flock of chattering, bug-patrolling guinea fowl, is an easy stroll away. P.S.