This secluded country escape roughly halfway between Austin and Houston should have a warning posted at its entrance: “Caution: Guests may become incurably spoiled. Stay at your own risk.” Once inside its gates, you’ll wend your way along a narrow road through acres of bucolic farmland, passing organic gardens, pastures of grazing horses, and a sizable pond encircled by white Adirondack chairs, two of which are so laughably oversized they’d make Shaq look like Edith Ann.
Every square inch of this 315-room hotel in the Museum District exudes the look-at-me personality of a Kardashian sister. Formerly the famed Warwick Hotel (which opened in the twenties), the twelve-story building was transformed into the glitzy ZaZa in 2007 (a sister property of the same name opened in Dallas in 2002). To be perfectly up front, it took me a little time to warm to the hotel’s overt (some might say obnoxious) over-the-top-ness.
Opened in 1911 as a triumphant symbol of Galveston’s rebirth after the devastating 1900 hurricane, the coast’s premier beachfront hotel unveiled an $11 million face-lift last year on the occasion of its hundredth anniversary. So while you’ll find much-needed upgrades throughout, the Queen of the Gulf still radiates the same splendor that made the landmark building the center of Galveston’s social life in its heyday.
The first thing I noticed as I pulled into this middle-of-nowhere retreat an hour south of Abilene was that I had no cell service (though Sprint customers should have better luck). The second thing I noticed was the achingly pastoral scene surrounding me: an organic garden verdant with heirloom tomatoes and black Spanish grapes, a peach orchard, and a petting zoo’s worth of critters, including a horse, two donkeys, a cluster of lambs, a brood of chickens, and the two black-mouth curs that bounded over to greet me.
The most strenuous task you’ll have to accomplish during your stay at this 210-acre working ranch may be uncorking the bottle of Texas wine that’s been set out for your arrival. Unless you consider strolling through a garden or floating the Guadalupe River (bring your own tube) to be unnecessarily taxing, in which case perhaps you’d rather spend your time reading by the pool or getting to know the Tennessee walking horses that roam the pastures.
Housed in a twenties-era downtown high-rise, this boutique hotel boasts the only underwater bird’s-eye view of the city. That’s right: if you’re daring enough to swim to the glassed-in edge of the Joule’s heated rooftop pool, which juts out a dramatic eight feet beyond the building’s facade, you can peer down on the passersby walking along Main Street. If you like to do your people-watching unmediated by water and glass, you might prefer the rooftop bar, which lures in packs of glamorous locals.
The first time I drove by hotelier Liz Lambert’s high-desert “kibbutz,” which sits on a large, flat plot of dusty land just off U.S. 67, I mistook it for a trailer park. Which it basically is, except instead of dumpy double-wides, it’s strewn with seven sleekly restored vintage trailers, from the 18-foot-long Little Pinky to the 45-foot-long Imperial Mansion.
Is that Mick Jagger taking an evening swim? It’s hard to tell in the glow of the neon “SOUL” sign that illuminates the tree-lined pool at this coolly decadent boutique hotel, but spotting rock royalty here is about as surprising as encountering a lion while on safari in the Serengeti. Lushly landscaped and well hidden even though it’s only a block off touristy South Congress Avenue, the Saint Cecilia is an ideal urban hideout, whether you’re dodging paparazzi or your preschoolers.
ROUTE: Paris to Decatur
DISTANCE: 148 miles
NUMBER OF COUNTIES: 6
WHAT TO READ: Michael Andrews’s Historic Texas Courthouses
ROUTE: Fort Belknap to Red Bluff
DISTANCE: 505 miles
NUMBER OF COUNTIES: 15
WHAT TO READ: J. Evetts Haley’s Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman