At least once a year, it’s imperative to gather all my best friends and get away from routine responsibilities. The destination could be a swanky spa hotel in Dallas, a kayaking adventure on the Gulf Coast, or in this case, a weekend reveling in the bucolic beauty of Washington County.
A few years ago, our first annual 40 friends getaway was planned when three in our group of six lifelong friends were turning 40. The trips continued, every year exploring a new Texas destination. I suggested that our fifth annual excursion should take place in the enchanting small towns of Washington County, where in 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico. Just a little over an hour north of Houston and three hours south of Dallas, it was a convenient drive for everyone.
A B&B as Home Base
Brenham is the largest town in the area, and there are hotels, motels, and bed-and-breakfasts there, including the historic Ant Street Inn. There also are numerous accommodations in Round Top, home to one of the largest antiques fairs in the country. However, we decided on Prairie Hill Bed & Breakfast—an 1880s farmhouse on 40 acres of trees, flowers, peace, and quiet—in Burton, about halfway between Round Top and Brenham.
Tucked away in a meadow surrounded by trees, the inn offered two guestrooms and a loft space—a perfect fit for the six of us. We booked the whole place for a weekend group package that included supper upon arrival and breakfast each morning.
R&R, and a French Restaurant
Our first agenda item was spa time, and Thyme Day Spa & Salon in Brenham was just the ticket. Decorated in soft colors and comfy vintage furnishings, the spa had a full menu of services, including facials, massages, and scrubs. I chose a 30-minute Swedish massage, followed by a 30-minute craniosacral therapy session, which nicely relieved the tension in my head, neck, and along my spine. My friends chose hot stone and deep tissue massages, reflexology, sea salt scrub, and a seaweed wrap.
Dinner that evening was at the Brazos Belle in Downtown Burton. Back in the late 1800s, the building was home to an area farmers’ cooperative along with the town’s first post office. Much of the historic charm was still on view as we were shown to our table.
The menu featured country-French signature dishes, with all sauces homemade by Chef Andre Delacroix. We started with a French country pâté, and ordered entrées that included scampi Provençale and steak au poivre. Paired with wines from France and California, the dishes were an exquisite surprise, and we returned to Prairie Hill both sated and sleepy.
Retail—and Ice Cream—Therapy
Saturday’s schedule called for shopping. Before hitting the stores, however, we had to fortify ourselves (with ice cream, of course). So we headed into Brenham for the morning tour of the Blue Bell Creamery.
For more than 100 years, Blue Bell has produced lusciously creamy sweet treats in dozens of traditional flavors. On our tour, however, we were able to try two rotational flavors: Caramel Turtle Cheesecake and Marbled Cream Cheese Brownie. We almost didn’t leave. Shopping beckoned, however, so we were off to Round Top.
The Round Top biannual antiques fair swells the population of this small town from 90 citizens to well over 99,000 shoppers. Since the spring show ended a couple of weeks before we arrived, we looked forward to perusing the stores and galleries in relative calm.
Henkel Square is the hub of the town, so we parked there and walked to dozens of interesting and engaging spots. One of my favorites was the Junk Gypsy Company, a mother-daughters business that has an eclectic mix of items described by the owners as “a little bit hippie, a little bit rock ’n’ roll, a little bit southern-fried, and a whole lot Gypsy-fide!”
On the way back to Burton, we stopped in at the Round Top Festival Institute. This world-class music and arts venue offers 30 concerts every summer, as well as year-round events like the International Guitar Festival, annual forums for theater and poetry, and classical music instruction for hundreds of students. The campus is full of beautifully restored historic buildings, and the 1,000-seat Festival Concert Hall is called an acoustic masterpiece by musicians who’ve played there.
Texas History and Home
We slept late on Sunday morning, waking to the gentle sounds of crickets and a soft breeze through the trees. Reluctantly, we packed up and—after another delicious breakfast—headed back toward the highways that would take us all home.
On the way, we stopped at Washington-on-the-Brazos, the 293-acre historic park with structures, tours, timelines, and a museum, all of which tell the stories of Davy Crockett at the Alamo, Sam Houston at San Jacinto, and other highlights of the fight for Texas independence.
The Brenham Creamery Company began making ice cream in 1911. Searching for an appropriate name for their new product, the owners had only to look out their windows at the wildflowers that blanketed the town’s fields every spring. That flower was the Texas Bluebell, and the company officially changed its name in 1930.