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From San Antonio, the quickest route to the Hill Country is I-10 northwest to Boerne (rhymes with "journey"). Boerne is only 30 miles away, but before you get there, you'll pass another attraction -- Cascade Caverns. It makes for an interesting visit, but if you would rather hold off for a bit, you can see a better one, Cave Without a Name, which lies north of Boerne.

Boerne is the seat of Kendall County and has more than 6,000 residents. It was founded in 1849 by German settlers who had come to Texas to form a utopian community in an area northwest of Austin. That community disintegrated, partly owing to poor location. This wasn't a problem for Boerne, located on the banks of Cibolo Creek. In fact, it actually got a reputation for having a healthful environment and by the 1880s became a popular health resort. Boerne was named for German political writer, Ludwig Börne (1786-1837), whose ideas resonated with many Germans in the turbulent 1840s, including those who settled here.

Despite being so close to San Antonio, Boerne has retained its small-town atmosphere. One of the things it's known for is the Boerne Village Band, an old-time brass band that occasionally holds concerts in the gazebo on the main plaza and bills itself as the oldest continuously operating German band in the world outside Germany (it first tuned up in 1860). Boerne is also known for its collection of 19th-century limestone buildings in the old downtown area. These buildings include a small historical museum, boutiques, and restaurants. Most are along the Hauptstrasse, or main street, which is also decorated with old-fashioned lampposts and German street signs. Here, you'll find lots of crafts and antiques shops.

From I-10, you will enter town on South Main Street. It then becomes the Hauptstrasse farther along. But before that, you will pass the Boerne Visitors Center, 1407 S. Main (turn right into the Wal-Mart parking lot and look for a building on your right), Boerne, TX 78006 (tel. 888/842-8080 or 830/249-7277; www.visitboerne.org).

What to See & Do

In Boerne the main event is shopping in the stores along the Hauptstrasse. But there's quite a bit to do outside of town. On the southeast edge of Boerne is the Cibolo Nature Center, City Park Road, off Hwy. 46 E. next to the Kendall County Fairgrounds (tel. 830/249-4616; www.cibolo.org). It's parkland with good hiking trails, which take you to four distinct ecosystems (grassland, marshland, woodland, and river bottom), where you can enjoy viewing some very pretty countryside. If you prefer golf, at the other end of town is Tapatio Springs Golf Course, Johns Road exit off I-10 W. (tel. 800/999-3299 or 830/537-4611; www.tapatio.com).

Farther afield, you can visit Cascade Caverns (tel. 830/755-8080; www.cascadecaverns.com); 3 miles south of Boerne on I-10, take exit 543, and drive a little over 2 miles east. This active cave boasts huge chambers, a 100-foot underground waterfall, and comfortable walking trails; guides provide 45-minute to 1-hour interpretive tours every 30 minutes. It's open Memorial Day through mid-August daily 9am to 5pm; the end of August through the end of May Monday through Friday 10am to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to 4pm (during off season, call ahead for tour times). Admission is $16 adults, $8 children ages 4 to 11.

Another, more impressive cavern because of its variety of features, greater amount of living rock, and the number of chambers is the Cave Without a Name, 325 Kreutzberg Rd., 12 miles northeast of Boerne (tel. 830/537-4212; www.cavewithoutaname.com). Hour-long tours of six large chambers are offered throughout the day. The chambers are well lit and display plenty of features and living rock. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day daily 9am to 6pm; off season daily 10am to 5pm. Admission $16 adults, $8 children ages 6 to 12.

For hiking or swimming, you can visit Guadalupe River State Park (tel. 830/438-2656; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/guadalup). It's 13 miles east of Boerne in the direction of New Braunfels. Take Hwy. 46 to P.R. 31; the turnoff is clearly marked. The park includes 4 miles of river frontage at a particularly attractive section of the river above Canyon Lake. There are a number of great swimming spots and some hiking trails that lead through some beautiful and rugged hill country. Keep an eye out and you might spot white-tailed deer, coyotes, armadillos, or even a rare golden-cheeked warbler. Camping is available (make reservations using the website). Often the park rangers offer a 2-hour interpretive tour of a nearby natural area (inquire ahead of time). The park is open daily from 8am to 10pm, and the entrance fee is $7, free for kids age 12 and under.

The Hill Country Wine Trail

Wine-tasting jaunts through the Hill Country are becoming more and more popular. Though most people don't know it, Texas has an old connection to winemaking and viticulture. Domesticated grapes first came to Texas in the late 16th century when Franciscan friars brought them from Mexico for cultivation at the Spanish missions. From the missions, the cultivation of grapes spread to the general populace and continued be practiced long after Texas separated itself from Mexico. In fact, during the 1870s a Texan grape grower, Thomas Munson, saved the French winemaking industry by shipping to France a number of root stocks that were resistant to the disease phylloxera, which had ravaged the vineyards of France and central Europe. The French were able to graft their own varietals to these root stocks and save their vineyards from ruin.

Viticulture in Texas would surely have kept developing had it not been for Prohibition, which was more disastrous than any plague. Not until the 1970s was grape growing able to reestablish itself. At first it grew in fits and starts, but then took off in the 1990s. In the Hill Country, small wineries now number more than 30. They can be visited at any time of year, but spring and fall are perhaps best. There are several wineries in and around Fredericksburg that are open to the public throughout the week, but the rest open their tasting rooms only on weekends. For more information about Hill Country Wineries, see www.texaswinetrail.com.

Between New Braunfels and Boerne, you will find:

  • Dry Comal Creek Vineyards (tel. 830/855-4076; www.drycomalcreek.com), at 1471 Herbelin Rd., is just off Hwy. 46 between New Braunfels and Bulverde. It's known for being one of the first wineries to highlight a local varietal called Black Spanish, a descendant of the cuttings brought from Mexico long ago by Franciscan friars. Available are red and white wines made with this grape and a wonderful port. Also of note is the bone-dry French Colombard.

Between Boerne and Fredericksburg:

  • Sister Creek Vineyards (tel. 830/324-6704; www.sistercreekvineyards.com), in Sisterdale, close to the intersection of R.R. 473 and FM 1376, is in a gloriously rough-hewn old cotton gin that dates from 1885. You can stroll through some of the fermentation rooms and see the large vats and oak barrels used in the production of the wine. The winery employs traditional French techniques but is as down-home as the building it occupies.
  • Comfort Cellars Winery (tel. 830/995-3274; www.comfortcellars.com), at 723 Front St., in the town of Comfort, has a full range of wines from dry to sweet, but the latter are what sells the most, including an intriguing orange chardonnay and what the owner calls sweet rojo (red).
  • Singing Water Vineyards (tel. 830/995-2246; www.singingwatervineyards.com) is located 2 miles east of Comfort at 316 Mill Dam Rd. The winery is best known for its sauvignon blanc and a merlot/cabernet blend.

In the Fredericksburg area:

  • Fredericksburg Winery (tel. 830/990-8747; www.fbgwinery.com) is on Fredericksburg's Main Street. It's run by three brothers who are rebels in the winemaking business. Visitors will always find something out of the ordinary, and the wines available for tasting are always changing.
  • Bell Mountain Vineyards (tel. 830/685-3297; www.bellmountainwine.com) is located 14 miles north of Fredericksburg off Hwy. 16. The tasting room at the vineyard is open only on Saturday. A trip there can be combined with an outing to Enchanted Rock. But the vineyard has opened a tasting room on Fredericksburg's Main Street, above the Rathskeller Restaurant.
  • Grape Creek Vineyard (tel. 820/644-2710; www.grapecreek.com). Ten miles east of town on Hwy. 290, in the direction of Stonewall, are four beautiful vineyards loosely bunched together. Grape Creek is one of them -- situated on a hilltop with a panoramic vista that you can enjoy from beneath a copse of old oak trees. Try the cabs and the Fumé blanc.
  • Torre di Pietra (tel. 830/744-2829; www.texashillcountrywine.com) is another impressive winery with an inviting terrace. The cab/syrah/Sangiovese blends are what most people go for.
  • Becker Vineyards (tel. 830/644-2681; www.beckervineyards.com) is probably the Hill Country's most famous vineyard. The tasting room is within an old-style stone barn, and the old bar was taken from a saloon in San Antonio. It grows classic French varietals with which it makes some skillfully produced cabernet and Viognier, among many others.
  • Woodrose Winery (tel. 830/644-2539; www.woodrosewinery.com) has another beautiful outdoor setting for sampling the wines. The cabernet sauvignon is popular.

In the Northern Hill Country and Lakes:

  • Flat Creek Vineyards (tel. 512/267-6310; www.flatcreekestate.com) is on the north side of upper Lake Travis. From Austin take Hwy. 183 (avoid getting on the toll road) to Cedar Park and go west on RM 1431 for 14 miles, then left on Singleton Bend Road (there's a sign). This is one of the grandest of Hill Country vineyards, with a large tasting room offering wide vistas of rolling terrain. The winery produces a lot of wine using grapes from outside the state. Only a few of the wines here use locally grown grapes.
  • Pillar Bluff Vineyards (tel. 512/556-4078; www.pillarbluff.com) is the treasure for those who stay on Hwy. 183 all the way to Lampasas (66 miles from Austin), and then take FM 1478 west, to these two small wineries owned by twin brothers Gill and Bill Bledsoe. Gill Bledsoe produces an interesting white merlot, a full-flavored cabernet, and a medium dry port, among other wines.
  • Texas Legato (tel. 512/556-9600; www.texaslegato.com) is within sight of Pillar Bluff; this winery, owned by Bill Bledsoe, produces merlot and Malbec wines.
  • Alamosa Wine Cellars (tel. 325/628-3313; www.alamosawinecellars.com) is 25 miles west of Lampasas, near the tiny town of Bend. The owners have been careful to select varietals that they believe have the best chance of producing outstanding wines when grown in Texas. Try the Tempranillo, which is bottled under the label "El Guapo," the Viognier, and a fruity Grenache.

Where to Stay

A small, picturesque hotel fronting the main plaza is Ye Kendall Inn, 128 W. Blanco, Boerne, TX 78006 (tel. 800/364-2138 or 830/249-2138; www.yekendallinn.com), which opened as a stagecoach lodge in 1859. The rooms ($110-$130) and suites ($140-$200) are decorated in various styles. Historic cabins ($160-$180) transported to the grounds are available, too. For more economical lodging, try a room at the Bourne Vistro Country Inn (tel. 830/249-9563; www.boernevistro.com). It has small rooms ($69-$79) arranged like an old-fashioned motor court.

Where to Dine

The Limestone Grille, in Ye Kendall Inn , 128 W. Blanco (tel. 830/249-9954), offers an atmospheric dining room and New American cuisine. It's open for lunch Monday through Saturday, dinner Tuesday to Saturday, brunch only Sunday; entrees are moderate to expensive. The more casual Bear Moon Bakery, 401 S. Main St. (tel. 830/816-BEAR [816-2327]), is ideal for a hearty breakfast or light lunch. Organic ingredients and locally grown produce enhance the flavor of the inventive soups, salads, sandwiches, and wonderful desserts. It's open Tuesday to Saturday 6am to 5pm, Sunday 8am to 4pm, and is inexpensive. A fun place for lunch or dinner is the Dodging Duck Brewhaus (tel. 830/248-DUCK [248-3825]), at 402 River Rd. It's on Cibolo Creek and has a welcoming outdoor dining area in front. The food is mainly sandwiches, soups, steaks, and a bit of seafood. There are normally four different local brews to choose from, or you can order a sampler. Prices are moderate.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.