When I mention to friends that I’ll be spending the weekend antiquing and eating German food along the historic hauptstrasse of a small Hill Country town, they assume I’m heading to Fredericksburg. Close, but not quite. I’m en route to Boerne, which is a few years younger (it was settled by German colonists in 1849) and a bit quieter, though as San Antonio—thirty miles to the south—grows, so grows Boerne.
My friend Leigh, driving in from Canyon Lake, arrives at the 36-room Ye Kendall Inn (128 West Blanco, 800–364–2138) before I do. The Southern Colonial–style main building was constructed as a private home in 1859 and once hosted Confederate icons Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. More recently, Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton thought enough of the hotel to make it their wedding weekend headquarters. Maybe they’re the ones who’ve booked the inn’s old cedar log cabin (transplanted from Enchanted Rock) that I was hoping to reserve. Instead, Leigh and I are given the keys to one half of the Blanco House, a modern but cozy cottage duplex.
The wicker love seat on our porch would be the perfect afternoon perch but for the siren song of the antiques shops just down the street. Walking south past the town square—the Boerne Village Band, the oldest continuously active German band outside Germany, plays here in June and July—we hit Hill Country Antiques (112 S. Main, 830-249-8979), where Leigh scores a $10 wood-bound cocktail guide from 1947. A couple of doors down, at Carousel Antiques and Fickle Pickles (118 S. Main, 830-249-9306), I buy several jars of their famous sweetly spicy pickled cucumbers, and after a whirl around the Antique Mall (153 S. Main, 830-249-2006) across the street, I’ve added several vintage Texas cookbooks to my haul. We dawdle so long at the three-story, thirty-dealer Boerne Emporium (179 S. Main, 830-249-3390) that it closes with us inside. But, as it’s only five-thirty when we emerge, we’re still able to catch “ducky hour” at the Dodging Duck Brewhaus (402 River Road, 830-248-3825), across from River Road Park. Their home-brewed, grapefruity Big Duck IPA is a solid opening act to the main event: a feast of knackwurst, bratwurst, sauerkraut, Bavarian potato salad, and jumbo pretzels. When the waiter mentions that we can purchase a half-gallon growler of any of their brews, we’ve only one thing to say: “Prost!”
Despite last night’s post-dinner proclamations that we’d never eat again, we wake with grumbling stomachs and walk to Little Gretel (518 River Road, 830-331-1368), where owner Denise Mazal, a Czech native, makes traditional kolaches filled with everything from wurst to povidla (plum jelly). On the way back to our cottage, Leigh and I aim to stop in to as many of the boutiques on Main Street as we can. Dozens of other tourists have the same idea, undeterred by the gray clouds and steady mist.
Because Boerne has more than 140 historical structures, we spend as much time marveling at the old storefronts as we do browsing inside them. At the home decor shop Cielo (334 S. Main, 830-249-0677) (once the 1850’s residence of Boerne’s first postmaster), I consider going into credit card debt in order to buy the decadent linen bedding and handmade soaps, while at A Little Nature Store (106 E. Theissen, 830-249-2281), I contemplate buying enough feeders to start my own hummingbird sanctuary. I momentarily lose Leigh, only to find her engrossed in the tiny bat-themed room.
I have a little surprise planned next: a tour of Cave Without a Name (325 Kreutzberg Road, 830-537-4212), one of the state’s seven show caves, just a twenty-minute drive northeast. A guide leads us down 126 steps into a 66-degree netherworld festooned with delicate icicle-like stalactites and mammoth mounds of calcite that I’m dying to touch (but obediently don’t). After an hour, we’ve explored six sizable chambers, peered into an underground river, met a frog called Big Mama, and come nose to nose with several slumbering bats. Upon resurfacing, we’re tempted to head straight to Cascade Caverns (226 Cascade Caverns Road, 830-755-8080), the other show cave in the area, but realize we have time for only one thing: dinner. Back downtown, we slide onto stools at Soda Pops (103 N. Main, 830-331-8799), a retro-style diner. Eating cheeseburgers and onion rings, we notice an old photo of the service station that stood in this very spot in the twenties. I bet its mechanics would get as much of a kick as we do out of the goosed-up pickups that keep roaring by.
With yesterday’s mistiness now cleared, it’s easy to see why Boerne was once thought to have recuperative powers. Even though the only thing I suffer from is writer’s block, I have no doubt the natural beauty will do me some good. After stocking up on fresh sandwiches from Epicure (210 S. Main, 830-331-9355), a gourmet market, we find a picnic table at the 162-acre Cibolo Nature Center (140 City Park Road, 830-249-4616) and lay out our feast. Once part of the 1852 Herff Ranch, the CNC is open to the public year-round and is crisscrossed with 3.5 miles of trails. At the welcome center, we grab a free birder’s checklist, then proceed to the trailhead out back. As we start down the path, I realize how quiet it is out here. Unlike on Main Street, there isn’t a steady stream of tourists. At least not yet.