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Fredericksburg: A sophisticated, slow-paced, gem in the heart of Texas

Published in the Spring 2013 Issue of Canadian World Traveller
Eileen Cotter

For a first-timer in the state of Texas, I was ready to take on hordes of cowboy hats, southern drawls and a lot of barbeque. Sure, those things are there, but the vibrant, progressive and historically fascinating town of Fredericksburg offered much more than what was seen on the surface. I was greeted my smiles around every corner and was highly impressed by the creativity, motivation and drive found behind the minds of business owners in town. It made for a stimulating trip an hour outside of San Antonio that included one-of-a-kind shopping, wine tastings, live music, historical landmarks and much more.

Lady Bird’s legacy

One of the things I instantly noticed driving along the Texas highways were the beautiful blooms. Blue bonnets and poppies line roadways, blanketing every inch with spectacular reds and purples. This colorful landscapes is most due to the efforts of Lady Bird Johnson, who set out to beautify her state and the rest of the country in the 60s and 70s.

A unique German heritage

For a town right in the middle of Texas Hill Country, there seemed to be a lot of European-style architecture and German restaurants. I discovered that the first settlers in the area were in indeed form Germany and brought along their traditions, language and lifestyle to the Americas. The imprint of these early residents is best seen in the center of town at the iconic Marktplatz, which surrounds the Vereins Kirche that served as the town’s first schoolhouse and church. Nowadays the gardens are a focal point for events and gatherings throughout the year.

Transported to the 1940s 

Staying at fresh, innovative accommodations is often the highlight of my adventures. Why settle for some chain where there is amazing hotels to experience? In Fredericksburg, The Hangar Hotel is the place to be for a unique getaway, as well as cocktail hour, a classic diner meal and even a little sightseeing. Owners Richard and Rosemary Estenson have transported their property back to the swinging 40s, where pin-up girl posters and the Rat Pack reigned supreme. The hotel is located right on the tarmac of the local airport, so guests can view planes arriving and departing from their stylish observation deck. Although the Hangar is designed to bring people back in time, it is also fully stocked with all the latest services and amenities.

An impromptu art-walk downtown 

Many city folks have migrated to Hill Country and flexed their creative muscles. Each gallery in town (there are many) offers a unique take on the fine arts, whether they specialize in contemporary, classic, Western or anything in the middle.
The Whistle Pik Gallery is a great place to start for those who are fans of bronze cowboys by G. Harvey and sprawling Texas landscapes. The Good Company has a great reputation for featuring local talent and interesting pieces that convey joy and complex emotions. Insight Galleries also presents local creations, but brings in a more international flair, including several Canadian artists. The Artisans at Rocky Hill were eager to show off their impressive arsenal of local art, including scarves, mini installations, furniture and metallic paintings. This is the ideal sport to pick up a piece to take home that illustrated the beautiful Texas hills covered in wildflowers.

Wine-time in Hill Country 

Due to 95 percent of Texas wine being drunk in the state, most outsiders do not know about the vibrant libation scene tucked in the middle of the state. There are dozens of wineries to choose from, offering deluxe blends and one-of-a-kind varietals to please all palettes. Most wineries are right in Fredericksburg, with plenty others only a few miles outside of town.
On my journey, I had a wonderful time at the laid-back Grape Creek Vineyards, who boast tons of awards for their delicious and rich wines. They have a big room on the property full of oak barrels as well so some guests can taste their newest concoctions before it is even bottled. The Pedernales company has a great, crisp Rose and has been dabbling in “wine kegs” so customers can visit stores and bottle it themselves. The last stop was Four Point Cellars, which is a collaborative effort to offer some tasty, affordable reds and whites to everyone – well, at least everyone in Texas, so bringing home a bottle or three is a must.

Visiting a popular Texas brewery

Wine is not the only adult beverage popular in Fredericksburg. There is also a healthy amount of micro breweries and state beers to sample. At the Fredericksburg Brewing Company they create several types on site, including a refreshing pale ale that goes perfectly with a plate of friend pickles. They also have a tasting board so if patrons are not sure which they may like, they can sip each variety then choose their new favorite.

Honoring the heroes of World War II 

The last thing I thought I’d find in a small Texas town is a state-of-the-art museum, but there is an incredible attraction called The National Museum of the Pacific War, which recently underwent massive renovations to rival any museum in Washington D.C., New York and beyond. The exhibits offer an unbiased look into the tragedy and heroism of soldiers during World War II. I was humbled by the first-person audio stories recorded by soldiers guests can hear as they walk through the massive space. Other notable exhibits are the Pearl Harbor room, airplane displays and vintage bomber jackets.

Live music at the Luckenbach

Texans have melodies flowing through their veins, many of which that honor the simple soul and flavor of the area. I was able to witness this first-hand with an evening spent at the famous Luckenbach – a bar, dancehall and shop frequented by great like Willie Nelson. Country music fans will know the classic song that describes the scene at this no-fills, cozy venue a few miles outside of town. When the weather is favorable, they open the big dance hall filled with white Christmas lights for live music and plenty of foot stomping.

A fine array of Texas cuisine 

Eating is often the start of the show when I journey to new places, and Fredericksburg was no exception. Many restaurants have heavily Tex-Mex influences, such as the Bejas Grill that served up brightly colored margaritas and great tacos. Hildas also has burritos and specialize in hearty breakfast egg wraps. For a more elegant affair, August E’s 

Unforgettable and tasty Texas wine tastings

 Not only is the wine and cuisine wonderful in town, it is even better when brought together for a memorable meal. Woodrose Winery, established in 2005, treated me to a four-course luncheon, pairing fruity whites with shrimp alfredo and bold reds with a rich beef marsala.

Fredericksburg’s hopping shopping scene 

It is almost a little too easy to burn a hole in your pocket downtown. The shops are plentiful and all has quite the collection of fantastic memorabilia, antiques and jewelry, to name a few. The downtown area is fairly condensed, so visitors can spend the afternoon poking in and out of stores to find the perfect souvenir or addition to their home décor. When taking a break, the Chocolat store is the ideal pit stop for those who have a sweet tooth. There namesake are a variety of chocolates filled with different kinds of liquor, including several Texas wines. They have to be eaten in one bite or it can get very messy. I took a peek inside their factory area as well to see the treats being made in real time.

Stepping back in time to the 1960s 

While I was introduced to the impact the Johnsons made on Texas when I arrived, I gained an even deeper appreciation for their influence by visiting the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site. The “Texas White House”, where the Johnsons spent a good bit of time during his presidency and beyond, have been perfectly preserved with all its original furniture. Everything from the blue chairs emblazoned with the presidential emblem to the dining room plate set once belonged to the power couple and their family. Also on the property are hundreds of acres for cattle, a visitor center and museum, plus the cemetery plot where the Johnsons have been laid to rest.

Even further to the early 20th century 

Before leaving the state park, visitors should wander through the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farmstead, also on the property. This allows people to see what kind of environment former president Johnson would have been born into – a charming farm in the early 1900s. Full of petable livestock, cooking demonstrations and houses decked out in period furnishings.

A fresh, locally sourced dinner 

Dining in Fredericksburg was delightful the whole week, but the grand finale of Texas culinary delights was savored at The Herb Farm. The owners of the Hangar Hotel also run this complex, complete with fine dining restaurant, garden, gift shop with herb-infused beauty products and a luxurious spa. On the menu is fresh game like venison and quail, complemented by roasted veggies and accoutrements.

Visiting the bustling cities of Texas is a must, but so is experiencing the slower paced feel of places like Fredericksburg, which still offer many options for culture, art and indulgence. It is the best of both worlds and was the perfect introduction for future Texas adventures.