Tour the Texas Hill Country
Day One: Johnson City to Fredericksburg
Distance: 70 miles
There's something intoxicating about wildflower season in the Texas Hill Country—and I'm not just talking about visiting any of the 33 wineries found along the annual Wine and Wildflower Trail (April 13-22; texaswinetrail.com). It's also a glorious time to see the Hill Country, and there's no better way to take in the beauty and vino than on a road trip.
Start in Johnson City, as the birthplace of former President Lyndon B. Johnson celebrates wildflowers with events all month long (johnsoncity-texas.com). Have lunch at Pecan Street Brewing (106 East Pecan Drive; pecanstreetbrewing.com or 830/868-2500), located right across the square from the historic courthouse. Wash down Tim's Baah Baah Black Sheep lamb burger ($10.95), topped with whipped feta and whole grain mustard, with a pint of County Jail Pale Ale ($3.50), a deep-gold brew with a citrus aroma and subtly spicy flavor.
Afterward, take a short detour to Perdernales Falls State Park (2585 Park Road 6026; 830/868-7304), one of the most beautiful places in the Hill Country, for an easy, scenic hike.
If you love bird watching as much as bloom viewing, check out Songbird Meadows Bed & Breakfast (1022 Stanton Ranch Loop; songbirdmeadowsbb.net or 830/868-2468) before leaving Johnson City. Patrick and Patti McLead's peaceful, restorative retreat includes 18 acres that fill with migrating birds in the spring. Continue on U.S. 290 West and take the Stonewall exit for Becker Vineyards (464 Becker Farms Road; beckervineyards.com or 830/644-2681). Pick up a bottle of 2009 Newsom Reserve Cabernet ($40) to savor with a thick steak when you get home.
Just before reaching Fredericksburg, you'll see the vibrant fields that announce Wildseed Farms (100 Legacy Drive, about 7 miles east of Fredericksburg on U.S. 290; wildseedfarms.com or 800/848-0078). It's worth a stop at the nation's largest working wildflower-seed farm to check out the merchandise and see native butterflies fluttering about in the spectacular butterfly garden. If you're in town, stop by for the Wildflower Celebration, April 7-22.
As evening falls, you're just in time for a twilight glass of wine at The Fredericksburg Herb Farm (405 Whitney Street; fredericksburgherbfarm.com or 830/997-8615). Check in to one of the Sunday Haus Cottages (from $179), patterned after the historic city houses German farmers once used on weekends when they came to town. The Herb Farm also incorporates local blooms and native herbs in the menu of its Farm Haus Bistro restaurant, where dishes such as Chicken Cooked Under a Brick with herb salsa and creamy herb polenta ($24) make fragrant use of the farm's backyard bounty.
Day Two: Fredericksburg to Brownwood
Distance: 185 miles
Wake up, put on the coffee pot, and check the mailbox outside your room. If the flag is up, then a freshly baked croissant, cinnamon roll, or slice of quiche has been delivered for breakfast. Head out on U.S. 87 North toward Mason. The road will take you past goats browsing on low limbs, lovely stone German farmhouses, and rolling hills speckled with flowers.
When you hit Mason, stop at Santos Taqueria (205 San Antonio Street; santostaqueria.com or 325/347-6140) and do some grazing of your own with a squash gordita made of sautéed local vegetables in a flour or corn shell ($3.50), chips and guacamole ($7), and a glass of sangría ($7).
Follow U.S. 377 past Brady to Brownwood for acres and acres of Texas bluebonnets. Way Out Wineries (wayoutwineries.org), a group that organizes tours of seven small boutique wineries in the upper Hill Country, hosts their annual Wildflower Road Trip April 13-15. Karen Johnson, the group's president and co-owner of Alamosa Wine Cellars in Bend (677 County Road 430; alamosawinecellars.com or 325/628-3313), says coreopsis start blooming in the Brownwood area at the beginning of wildflower season, followed by Indian paintbrushes, primrose, yellow daisies, purple horse mint, and verbenas.
Drive 28 miles from Brownwood to Comanche and stop at Brennan Vineyards (802 South Austin Street; brennanvineyards.com or 325/356-9100), where Pat Brennan's Viognier consistently wins international accolades. Sample Pat's best at the beautiful soapstone bar in the vineyard's McCrary House Tasting Room, located in an 1879 historic building.
Now head back to Brownwood and check in to the Star of Texas Bed & Breakfast (650 Morelock Lane; star-of-texas.com or 325/646-4128), a small B&B with accommodations ranging from a 1955 Spartan Park Home to a second-floor room with a lovely tree house-like balcony (rooms from $139). Enjoy a glass of wine while watching as the owner's miniature donkeys graze in a nearby pasture; then head to dinner at The Turtle Restaurant (514 Center Avenue; theturtlerestaurant.com or 325/646-8200). Order a local wine and a hearth-cooked pizza at the restaurant's adjoining Enoteca. Owner Mary Stanley promotes slow, fresh food and travels frequently to Italy for inspiration. Save room for dessert in the (also adjoining) Gelateria. Each week brings 16 new flavors of Italian ice cream, including several with regional twists, such as Jalapeño Peanut Brittle, a sweet-spicy ending to two days blooming with fun.