It’s easy to dismiss the charming 10,000-odd people town of Fredericksburg, Texas as a drive-by bit of German history -- especially when the Virginian Civil War town often comes to mind when mentioning the name.
But this Fredericksburg is located in Gillespie County on the Edwards Plateau along the rolling and often wildflower-studded hills of Texas (about an hour's drive from Austin, and two hours north of San Antonio), this town brims with European charm and is bathed in the soft glow of its many characteristic limestone “Sunday Houses.”
Age-old traditions stem from the town’s German roots: Baron von Meusebach came here from Europe with a group in a second wave of a chain of settlements. He loved the blue valley near the Pedernales River because resources were as plentiful as the clear skies: water, building stone, and wood. And in 1847, the cornerstone for the town which focused on tradition, family, and artistic preservation was laid.
Here, a guide on what to see, where to stay, what do to, and where to sip in this delightful Texas town.
See: the Regional through the Eyes of Artists
To get a bird’s eye view of the town, take a stroll along Main Street and take in the architecture, the quiet antique stores, the quirky boutiques (like Vaudeville), and the well-heeled art galleries.
Currently, 15 galleries exist featuring world-class artists in just about every medium and style, from bronze sculptures to Plein Air paintings. Some, like the three year old InSight Gallery owned by Meredith and David Plesko are museum-style. Yet others, like RS Hanna Gallery set in a pale limestone Sunday School house, function as cozy homes that open wide their doors to you and invite you to linger (this gallery’s walls are crammed in framed oil paintings by Marie Wise, Stevie Jo Lake and Maryneil Dance among others, with luminous furniture by Rex White).
The Good Art Company owned by the young Mary Katharine Fickel is an excellent departure from the norm. Fickel says she wanted to “find a niche” and avoid the rinse and repeat of predictability; she looks for artists that have some edge to them. Here you’ll find the talent of Katharine Lott who works in so many medium including textiles and clay; the two distinct styles of Cathy Pegues; and the mysterious almost mythical bird art of Wendy Vaughan.
A must-see gallery is the Fredericksburg Art Gallery which features the unmistakably moody cloud paintings of Phil Bob Borman, the sensitive landscape paintings of Donald Darst and the explosions of color found in Joyce Combs’ work.
These galleries host a monthly “Art Walk Friday” event where they open their doors at 10:00am (often with wine and cheese) and guide you through the maze of talented artwork. Visits to these galleries are always free; some require appointments, so inquire first.
Stay: in one of the over 400 Bed & Breakfasts
Fredericksburg has a small constellation of bed and breakfasts in its vicinity, many of which feature Sunday House or limestone elements with a truly rustic and laid-back vibe.
Sugarberry Inn, a newcomer which has been open for only four months, is outfitted by shabby-chic expert Carol Hicks Bolton, who has her own store on Lincoln Street. Each one of the 13 rooms is filled with European semi-treasures that include canopy beds, antique daybeds from the 1920s, custom-made mattresses and even an opera panel converted into a king-size headboard. All rooms have extraordinarily generous-sized bathrooms with claw foot tubs and bright, white tones (rates from $215 per night).
Brush Up On: Presidential History
The Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) ranch is a sprawling National Park and is where the former President was born, lived, died, and was buried. The “Texas White House” as it is fondly known offers ranger-guided tours so you too can marvel at the superb vision, style and upkeep of both the former President and Lady Bird Johnson, the former First Lady.
The ranch is an idyllic place, studded with graceful pecan trees that are part of Texas’ vernacular. Many brown and cream colored Longhorn cattle roam the grounds. On one end of the ranch is the Junction School, a one-room Sunday House-style place of contemplation for the young future President. Education continued to play an important role when he was in office (he passed over 1,200 Bills during his lifetime, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act –the first time the federal government assisted with local schools –as well as with bilingual education).
April is a great time to visit the ranch because the acres dance with thousands of wildflowers. Visits are free.
Sip: Grape Gifts from Hill Country
There are over 60 vineyards in Texas Hill Country and several are well worth the trip. One in particular stands out. Becker Vineyards, a 46-acre bit of land filled with Precambrian granite soil, has been producing award-winning wines for over 20 years. Over 89,000 cases of several varietals are produced annually; some bottles have even made their way to The White House. One particular favorite: the spicy floral of the 2009 Gewürztraminer bears notes of florals and apricots, and captures some of the gorgeous notes from the estate’s lavender crop and Stonewall peach orchards. These are gardens in a glass.
If possible, splurge for the “Library” tasting in a cellar whose delightful oak barrel mural hugs the walls of the vineyard basement ($60 per person each Saturday; reservations required).