There’s a lot more to Texas than cowboys
CRAIG Tansley discovers there’s a lot more to Texas than cowboys…
exas is famous for a lot of things: cowboys mostly, and country and western music… this is where Willie Nelson hails from, after all. But no-one ever picked Texas as a place for wine lovers, right? But right now I’m in the second most visited wine region in all of America, and yet I’m here in a state where a quarter of its 254 counties ban the sale of alcohol. Texas holds a lot of surprises; I’m only part way through a week-long stay based around the city of Austin in the centre of Texas, and I’m already figuring that out.
Texas’s wine country — centred around the town of Fredericksburg — is the fourth biggest producer of wine in the US, and it’s also where the very first wine in the country was ever made, over 350 years ago.
US wine magazine Wine Enthusiast calls this region one of the 10 best wine travel destinations on earth to visit. It’s pretty as a picture here, set out in a huge valley beneath limestone and granite mountains. It’s where Lance Armstrong used to come to train for the Tour de France. The wine here used to be about quantity over quality — it got the job done but it was cheap and nasty; but these days some of it’s even served up at the White House — you’ll taste some of America’s best wines here.
But it’s the things unmistakably Texas that make Fredericksburg for me. Wine towns can start to look awfully familiar once you visit enough of them, but here after I spend a day at the tasting rooms of wineries on the eastern fringe of town, I’m taken to the most iconic cowboy music destination in the southern USA.
At 4:30pm (which coincides nicely with wineries closing, doesn’t it?) each day guitarists play out under an old oak tree for free at Luckenbach, one of the world’s premier country music settings, which was once was a trading post in the mid-1800s. Willie Nelson played here every 4th Of July — with Waylon Jennings — the two of them wrote songs about this place. Country music lovers travel from all over the country just to get their picture taken here. To them, this is the equivalent of Graceland.
There might be a lot more to Texas than cowboys and their cowboy songs, but then again, that’s a big reason why you’d want to come here. Only 55 minutes south of Fredericksburg (and two hours south-west of Austin) you’ll find the Cowboy Capital Of The World (the town of Bandera). They actually trademarked it. It’s a pretty drive here, past sprawling ranches and tiny farming communities.
I stay on a dude ranch just outside town — these are the only real form of accommodation you’ll find around here. Generations of the same family run these places, and generations of the same families come back each year to visit. I muster long-horned cattle right through town with a group of cowboys because that’s the kind of thing you do round here. Through the summer months there’s a rodeo on every weekend on the northern edge of town, and there’s even a bar here — the 11th Street Cowboy Bar — where people tie their horses up outside. One day, I ride a mule right into the bar with one of the country’s leading mule trainers. Around here they dip their steak in oil and batter it — they call it chicken fried steak; and if you want to sit at the bar, chances are you’ll be sitting in a saddle (“straddle a saddle”, they’ll tell you).
You won’t meet a friendlier kind of people than those around here. I ride my mule through the wide streets of town where locals sit on their porches and holler greetings, as white-tailed deer chase each other around.
But then once you’re done riding horses and mustering cattle, you can head on east back into one of America’s hippest cities. While Austin these days is as cosmopolitan as it comes, there’s still the same small town heart as Bandera. It’s billed as the live music capital of the world — there’s over 250 live music venues in town and two of the biggest music festivals on earth here each year. The US News Report voted Austin the number one place to live in the US, and I can see why. The city buzzes with energy. There’s over 300 parks in town each with their own groups of locals strumming guitars in the sunshine. Locals plead to ‘Keep Austin Weird’, it’s the home of quirky, unique businesses — no chains — and residents are made up of college students, sports stars, musicians and tech industry workers who helped turned Austin into what became dubbed ‘Silicon Hills’.
There’s far fewer long-horn cattle on the streets here — but still the same Texan energy flows through the air; and while international sports stars and some of the world’s most famous musicians live here now, there’s still something homey about just being here. Travellers needn’t venture further out than two hours from Austin to get to Fredericksburg and Bandera and everywhere in between. And yet, in those 150-or-so kilometres there’s everything that’s good about Texas.