In March, more than 5,000 species of wildflowers start popping up in Texas Hill Country, the relatively rural region around San Antonio and Austin, There are so many wildflowers across Hill Country -- the state transportation department sprinkles more than 30,000 pounds of seeds -- that the yearly occurrence warrants its very own Wildflower Hotline (tel. 800/452-9292; www.dot.state.tx.us), which will resume operations most likely in mid-March, depending on when they start popping up (this winter was colder than usual in Texas). There are many ways to go about this: You can stay in Hill Country itself, in one of many small, charming towns chockablock with antiques, shops and restaurants. If that's the case, see the useful Texas Hill Country Visitor Center (tel. 830/868-5700; www.hillcountryinfo.com). You can order a map from the website that includes scenic routes (one of the most scenic is Texas Route 16 from Fredericksburg north to Willow City), wildflower and bluebonnet trails, rodeos, wineries and golf courses, among other attractions. You can also get a diverse overview of accommodations options, from bed and breakfasts to RV parks to hotels and resorts. Or, you can stay in Austin or San Antonio and drive and sightsee by day.
While you're trying to decide, Austin's Convention and Visitors Bureau (tel. 866/GO-AUSTIN; www.austintexas.org) is a good place to start -- there's even a calendar of wildflower related events -- but just beware that during March 9-18, the hipster masses will descend upon this music-loving city for the yearly South by Southwest Festival (http://2007.sxsw.com), and getting a hotel room might be tricky if you're planning on traveling during that time span. While you are stopping to smell the flowers along the way, tour some wineries as you head west, northwest, or south, along the Texas Hill Country Wine Trail (tel. 866/621-9463; www.texaswinetrail.com). Vineyards are dotted from as far north of Austin as Bend and Fredericksburg, about 70 miles due west. The weekends of April 13-15 and 20-22 you can take part in "Wine and Wildflower Trail," a self-guided driving tour. Other towns to investigate include Gruene, New Braunfels and San Marcos. Or fly into San Antonio (tel. 800/447-3372; www.sanantoniocvb.com), south of Fredericksburg, and use that as a point of departure. Foodies might find the 22nd annual Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival an enticement to visit (tel. 512/249-6300; www.texaswineandfood.org). Various culinary events such as demonstrations and talks will take place March 28-April 1 with events held or sponsored by participating restaurants, hotels and wineries in and around Austin and the Hill Country. Many award-winning chefs from Texas, New York, and Atlanta, for example, will be on hand.
Right now, Travelocity (tel. 888/872-8356; www.travelocity.com) is posting a sale for round-trip flights from $83, including routes such as Miami-San Antonio from $243 and Burbank-Austin $183. You must purchase the tickets by February 22 for travel through May 10, and there is no minimum or maximum stay requirement, but fares do require a 14-day advance purchase.
Southwest (tel. 800/I-FLY-SWA; www.southwest.com) is offering a system-wide fare sale, good for travel through May 10, but you must book by February 22. These "click and save" specials start with fares as low as $49 to $169 one-way and require a 14-day advance purchase. A random search for fares from Chicago Midway to Austin Texas on Monday April 1, returning three days later, reveals a one-way internet fare from $127. Part of what's great about Southwest's search feature is that it gives you a whole list of fare options, each with its own terms and restrictions. A search for departures on February 27, using the same Chicago airport, returning Friday March 2 reveals an Internet one-way fare for $109. Some markets have blackout dates, so read the fine print carefully. Flights during that same time period from Los Angeles to San Antonio, for example, are available from $109 for Internet one-way fare.
Texas is mighty diverse, and so are its accommodations options. In Wimberley, the Blair House Inn (tel. 877/549-5450; www.blairhouseinn.com), located on 22 acres, offers eleven rooms with fresh flowers, bathrobes, CD players and a property that includes an outdoor pool, spa, cooking school and art gallery. Gourmet breakfast and evening dessert are included in the rates. Right now they're offering two specials for February and March, if you stay two or more nights from Monday-Thursday you'll receive ten percent off your stay, or book a three-night weekend stay and receive a 15 per cent discount on the third night's rate; the prices range from $142 to $280. Blair House is also located about 20 minutes away from the outlets in San Marcos. Gruene Mansion Inn (tel. 830/629-2641; www.gruenemansioninn.com), located in the historic town of Gruene settled by German immigrants in the 1800s, runs some seasonal specials. Room rates start at $165 for Country Penthaus 13 and 14, to $275 for Grand River Lodge, which sleeps up to six people.
In nearby New Braunfels, Acorn Hill Bed and Breakfast (tel. 800/525-4618; www.acornhillbb.com) is offering a "http://www.acornhillbb.com/march.htmMarch Madness" special, whereby you receive $25 off your second night stay, $35 off your third night stay and $50 off your fourth night stay. Rooms range from $135-$160 and the five-acre property has a pool, hot tub, barbecue pits and picnic tables and gardens. Finally, at the other end of the spectrum, Lake Austin Spa Resort (tel. 800/847-5637; www.lakeaustin.com) a luxury property on Lake Austin, has brought back its wildflower special, which entitles you to a fourth night free if you stay for three, or stay for four and save more. The special is only good if you book a resort, spa refresher or ultimate spa pampering package for three nights in premier accommodations -- it's a savings of up to $800. The resort package is the least expensive, priced at $1680 for double occupancy for three nights, with three gourmet meals a day and unlimited fitness and wellness activities. The spa refresher package starts at $1,920 and it includes the aforementioned amenities and a $280 spa allowance.
If none of these options are appealing or they're booked by the time you start investigating, check out the web site for Hospitality Accommodations of Texas (tel. 800/HAT-0368; www.hat.org), which lists descriptions and contact information for scores of properties across the state, searchable by region and property type -- inn, cabin, hotel, B&B and ranch. All the accommodations listed on the site are inspected and approved by the state of Texas.
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