Texas Hill Country road trip

“The soul of a journey is liberty, a perfect liberty, to think, feel, do just as one pleases. We go on a journey chiefly to be free of all impediments and of all inconveniences.” William Hazlitt (1778-1830), On Going a Journey

“El alma de un viaje es la libertad, la libertad perfecta, de pensar, sentir, hacer lo que a uno le plazca. Vamos de viaje principalmente para liberarnos de todo tipo de impedimentos e inconvenientes.” William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

I think that a road trip embodies Hazlitt’s sentiments. We decide where to go, where and when to stop. Having our own transport gives us the liberty to do as we please. We leave behind the trappings and drudgery of daily life and go in search of adventure

The Texas Hill Country provides that sense of adventure that is missing from our 9-to-5 life. Get out of your (home) office and hit the road. Take a road trip around the Texas Hill Country and come back home renewed and refreshed.

My husband and I have done may road trips in the Texas hill Country. We love the slower pace of life of small towns and the friendliness of the locals. Each town we’ve visited has a distinctive feature that sets it apart, like San Saba, the self-styled Pecan Capital of the World, or Hico, whose motto is Where Everybody is Somebody!

Here’s some of the things what you can see and do in the Hill Country.

Best time to visit

My personal preference is the early spring, when the bluebonnets and other beautiful Texas wildflowers are out in full bloom. I also love the fall for its gorgeous colours and the cooler weather.   

Texas Hill Country road trip

Hico

Hico was incorporated in 1883. Its historic downtown bears witness to the town’s heyday as a cattle and cotton market. Plate-glass windows, cast-iron support, colourful facades, brick and stone adorn the old buildings that line the streets. Most businesses cater to the tourist trade, which is the main industry along with ranching.

The figure of Billy the Kid dominates the town. There is a fiberglass statue (1987), which to me looks like made with dripping wet sand. And there’s the Billy the Kid Museum, which intends to prove that he didn’t die in New Mexico but escaped and live out his life in Hico. If you’re a fan of conspiracy theories, fill your boots.

Texas Hill Country road trip

Look out for the vintage and new murals that adorn the downtown area, and the historic watering trough (1914) for horses and dogs.

We ate good barbeque and sides at Po Campo.  

Llano

Llano styles itself the Deer Capital of Texas. The hunting season is November-December, and hunters are welcome here. Llano, which is Spanish for plains, was founded in 1855 on its namesake river. The Inks Bridge (1936) and the Llano County Courthouse (1893) are two of the town’s landmarks.

Head to Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que (yes, that’s a mouthful) to enjoy some of the most delicious Teas barbeque around.

San Saba

San Saba was founded in 1854 and got its name from the San Saba River. The town calls itself the Pecan Capital of the World. True or not, you’ll find many businesses that sell and buy pecans from the area’s orchards.

Texas Hill Country road trip

The downtown area is spread along one street, where you’ll find the Texas Renaissance style County Courthouse and businesses like Harry’s Boots and Hats. We always stay at the Dofflemyer Hotel and eat at Pepperbelly’s Mexican restaurant. Our favourite place for breakfast is Donut City (204 Commerce St.) Their kolaches are to die for.

Among the activities you can do in San Saba are wine tasting at Wedding Oak Winery, visit the actual Wedding Oak Tree (an ancient oak tied to local Indian lore), or have a stroll around Mill Pond Park.

Longhorn Cavern State Park

Although the Longhorn Cavern isn’t very old as a geological formation, it has a fascinating human history. It is said that the Comanche Indians came down there to mine a type of local flint, Confederate soldiers used the guano from the bats to make powder (a thriving industry in Texas at the time), it was used as a night club -or speakeasy-, and lastly, it was used as a nuclear shelter during the Cold War.

You can do the walking tour or the wild cave tour. We opted for the less adventurous option. I don’t like enclosed spaces and my husband is too tall to fit in some of the tunnels.

Texas Hill Country road trip

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, you’re supposed to make an online reservation if you want to go to any state park. We did not make a reservation at any of them. So, day after we visited the cavern, we took a chance and returned to the Longhorn Cavern State Park. There was hardly anyone around. We did a short, easy hike which suited us very well.

If you go, do stop at the Longhorn Cavern lookout on Route 4. The views are really worth it. Bring a picnic.

Pedernales Falls State Park

The Pedernales River flows placidly over and around limestone slabs that create pools and falls. We did some light trekking along the river to the limestone formations. It is a wonderful place to be. If you go swimming, keep an eye on the water. If it starts to rise o gets muddy, run. Flash floods are very common.   

Texas Hill Country road trip

Creo que un road trip encarna las ideas de Hazlitt. Uno decide adónde ir y cuándo y dónde parar. El transporte propio nos da la libertad de hacer lo que nos plazca. Dejamos atrás las monotonía de la vida diaria y salimos a la aventura.

La región central de Texas, conocida como Hill Country, nos da esa sensación de aventura que nos falta en nuestra vida de 9:00 a 18:00. Al salir de la oficina o escritorio en casa y recorrer el Hill Country renueva las energías.

Mi marido y yo hemos hecho varios road trips por el Texas Hill Country. Nos encanta el ritmo lento del campo y la cordialidad de la gente del lugar. Cada pueblo tiene un rasgo distintivo, como San Saba, la autoproclamada capital mundial de la nuez pecan; o Hico, cuyo lema es Donde todos son alguien.

Estas son algunos de los lugares para visitar en el Hill Country

La mejor época para ir

A mí me encanta el principio de la primavera, cuando florecen los bluebonnets y otras flores silvestres de Texas. También adoro el otoño por sus colores y temperaturas cómodas.

Texas Hill Country road trip

Hico

Hico fue fundado en 1883. Su casco histórico da cuenta de su pasado como mercado ganadero y algodonero. Vidrieras, rejas de hierro forjado, fachadas coloridas o de ladrillo adornan las edificaciones antiguas. Hoy, la mayoría d elos negocios están orientados al turismo, las mayor indutria local junto con la ganadería.

La figura de Billy the Kid domina el pueblo.Hay una estatua de fibra de vidrio de 1987, que parece que la hubieran hecho con arena mojada. El Museo de Billy the Kid intenta probar que el bandolero no murió en Nuevo México, sino que se instaló en Hico. Si te gustan las teorías conspirativas, no te lo pierdas.

Texas Hill Country road trip

Hay varios murales, antiguos y modernos en el casco histórico. También un bebedero de 1914 para caballos y perros.

Almorzamos en Po Campo una rica barbeque con guarniciones.

Llano

Llano se autodenomina la Capital Texana del Ciervo. La temporada de caza es en noviembre y diciembre y los cazadores son boienvenidos acá. Llano fue fundado en 1855 sobre el río del mismo nombre. El puente Inks (1936) y el Palacio de Justicia del Condado de Llano (1893) son dos de sus atracciones.

Comimos la mejor barbeque texana en Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que. Muy recomendable.

San Saba

San Saba fue fundado en 1854 y tomó el nombre del río que lo cruza. El pueblo se autodenomina capital mundial de la nuez pecan. Sea o no verdad, vas ver mayoristas que venden y compran nueces de los huertos de la zona.

Texas Hill Country road trip

La zona céntrica consiste en una avenida, sobre la que se encuentran el palacio de justicia de estilo renacentista texano y negocios como Harry’s Boots and Hats. Siempre q nos alojamos en el hotel Dofflemyer y cenamos en el restaurante mexicano Pepperbelly’s. Nuestro lugar preferido para desayunar es Donut City. Los kolaches son una manjar.

Entre la actividades apra ahcer en San Saba se encuentran la cata de vino en Wedding Oak Winery, visitar el Wedding Oak, un roble antiguo con leyendas indias o pasear por el Mill Pond Park.

Longhorn Cavern State Park

Sin bien la caverna Longhorn no es una formación geológica muy antigua, tiene una historia humana fascinante. Se dice que los comanches extraían una tipo de pedernal, los soldados confederados hacían pólvora con el guano de los murciélagos (industria pujante en esa época en Texas), la usaron como nightclub y, por último, como refugio nuclear durante la Guerra Fría.

Hay dos opciones para visitar la caverna:walking tour (caminata) o wild cave tour. Nosotros hicimos la caminta porque mi marido es alto y no iba a caber en ciertos pasadizos. Además a mí me hubiera dado claustrofobia.

Texas Hill Country road trip

Debido a las restricciones por el covid-19, hay que reservar online para entrar a los parques estaduales. No hicimos ninguna reserva y nos quedamos afuera. Entonces volvimos al Longhorn Cavern State Park al día siguiente. No había casi nadie. Hiicmos una caminata corta y facilonga que nos vino bien.

Paramos en el mirador sobre la Ruta 4. Las vistas son muy linda. Ideal para hacer un picnic.

Pedernales Falls State Park

El rio Pedernales fluye tranquilo entre bloques de piedra caliza que forman piletones y cascadas. Hicimos una linda caminata hacia estas formaciones de piedra caliza. Es un lugar precioso. Si vas a nadar, cuidado con las crecidas repentinas. Si el agua comienza a subir o se pone turbia, a salir del agua.

Texas Hill Country road trip

Some of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds!

These are some of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds.

Green rolling hills, charming villages, gardens in full bloom, old churches, market towns, and medieval houses: this describes some of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds.

The Cotswolds, declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, cover an area of almost 800 square miles. It spreads out over five counties: Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and Worcestershire. But what are the “wolds”? Wold is an Old English word that refers to low, rolling hills and valleys.

 

Walking in the Cotswolds

Long-distance trails and paths crisscross the Cotswolds, a rambler’s paradise. The Cotswolds Way National Trails is 102 miles long of pure walking beauty. There are, of course, shorter trails. People walk from village to village, like, say, from Bourton-on-the-Water to Lower Slaughter. It’s not a bad idea, since there is very little parking available in the Slaughters!

 

Cotswolds history

People have been attracted to the area since time immemorial. There are remains of Neolithic passage graves and Bronze and Iron Age forts. The Romans also settled here. They founded modern-day Cirencester, called Corinium back then. Cirencester was second in importance to London in Roman Britain. The Corinium Museum has one of the largest Roman artefact collections in the nation. Many villages are so old that they are mentioned in the Domesday Book, the survey ordered by King William in 1086.  

 

 

If you think there are lots of sheep grazing in the fields now, think again. Wool was the main source of income in the Middle Ages, so sheep reigned supreme in the fields. Cotswold merchants did a roaring trade with the Continent. They poured some of their wealth into building what are now known as wool churches. Most towns and villages have one, which are well-worth a visit. They’re like a hands-on local history and architecture lesson. 

Nowadays, the Cotswolds attract well-off people who buy weekend cottages to escape from the big cities.

 

Literary ties

Life in a remote village in the English countryside is vividly described in Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. The author was born in Slad before the First World War. Interestingly, he learned to speak Spanish with a girl from Buenos Aires and volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War with the International Brigades.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a regular visitor to the Cotswolds. It’s said the drew inspiration from the village of Moreton-in-Marsh to create his fantasy worlds.

The illustrations of The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter show buildings that are still standing in Gloucester.

Even the beloved Jane Austen found inspiration for her novels. In this case, it was for Mansfield Park. She used to live nearby in Bath.

T.S. Eliot wrote poems inspired by the countryside as well.

 

Cotswolds villages

Most houses are built with Cotswold stone. The effect is quite stunning: whole streets of pretty honey-coloured buildings. The houses are all from different periods, from Tudor and earlier to Georgian and Victorian. Modern housing can be found in the peripheries. Most are also built with local stone and a traditional design.

 

some of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds

 

I do recommend a visit to the wool churches. The religious aspect aside, they are a treasure trove of historical and artistic objects. Some date from before the Norman Conquest, although precious few artefacts remain. There’s one in almost every village. 

What to see in the Cotswolds

Here’s our Cotswold itinerary.

 

Bibury

It was love at first sight with Bibury. We arrived in the afternoon and went straight to The Swan Hotel to check in. It’s a beautiful historic building and a handful of centuries old. Our room was big and comfortable, and so was the bathroom. There was a rubber ducky on the side of the bathtub. I wondered why. I later learned that there are rubber duck races every year on Boxing Day in the very shallow river Coln.

Bibury’s main attraction in Arlington Row. This row of stone cottages was originally built in 1380 to store wool. In the 17th century, they were converted into cottages for local weavers and their families. It’s a well-known sight and some of the most photographed houses in the country, so much so that it appears on the pages of the British passport.

 

some of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds

 

St. Mary’s church left me speechless for its historic artefacts. Although it was first built in the 12th century, it has at least one Saxon tombstone. It’s embedded on the side wall next to the Norman entrance.

Bibury is very popular among Japanese tourists because Emperor Hirohito included it in his European tour. Be patient if you want to take photos.

 

some of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds

 

Northleach

With a population of 1,800, Northleach is the smallest Cotswold village. We didn’t find a whole lot to do except walk around the narrow streets and admire the medieval, Tudor, Victorian, etc, houses. Northleach has a market every Wednesday, and it happened to be Wednesday when we visited. It was a very tiny market!

 

some of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds

 

The Perpendicular Gothic church of St. Peter and St. Paul was mainly built in the 15th century. However, some bits date from the 12th. The bronze gravestones commemorate local wool barons.

 

Chipping Norton

Chipping Norton did not make a good impression on me. It’s a relatively big town with loads of traffic and little space. What caught my attention was a row of almshouses built in 1612. Now as it was then, they house six elderly men and six elderly women. The only difference between now and then is that they have a kitchen and an indoor bathroom.

 

some of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds

 

The church of St. Mary the Virgin is beautiful. Unsurprisingly, it’s been added to over the centuries. For example, two arches date from the 13th century and so on. I loved spotting the Green Man in the porch.

 

Stow-on-the-Wold

We came across Stow-on-the-Wold by chance. It started to rain hard when we were in Chipping Norton and traffic was bad. It was easier to get out of town than to try to find a place to eat and park the car.

 

some of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds

 

Although we didn’t stay very long, I really liked Stow-on-the-Wold. We had a light meal (avocado toast and Welsh rarebit) at Lucy’s Tea house. We then went for a browse at an antique shop that specialises in campaign furniture. Thanks to its location where several roads meet, Stow-on-the-Wold has an important trading history dating back to probably prehistoric times. It was the site of a battle during the English Civil War.  

 

Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-Water is also known as the Venice of the Cotswolds. I think it’s an exaggeration. Five bridges span the Windrush River, which is very shallow. I’ve seen ducks walk along it!

 

some of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds

 

The village is very pretty and gardens everywhere were in full bloom. However, there were way too many people for my taste. It felt very touristy, somewhat Disneyfied, as if it tried to hard to be quintessentially English. It’s on the verge of being a cliche. I was told that it gets downright crazy in the summer months. We didn’t stay very long.

 

Lower Slaughter

Lower Slaughter is a tiny little village. But what it lacks in size, it compensates in charm. The village of Upper Slaughter is next door, both villages crossed by the River Eye. Upper Slaughter is one of the handful of “thankful” villages, which means that none of the local lads who went to fight in WWI lost their lives.

 

some of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds

 

It takes a few minutes to see Lower Slaughter, but it’s well worth it. We went into the Lower Slaughter Mill & Café, from the 14th century. It started to rain, so we ran inside and then to the car. We could have shopped for leather and wool goods at the mill, but we were anxious to carry on.

Many people walk all the way from Bourton-on-the-Water. You’ll see groups of ramblers out and about. Rambling is such a British sport!

 

Painswick

Without the shadow of a doubt. Painswick was one of my favourite places in the Cotswolds. It was beautiful whichever way I looked. The fantastic views down the countryside deserve a special mention.

Painswick isn’t honey-coloured but grey, as a different kind of stone was used here. We stayed at a pretty inn. However, the decor of our room was overwhelming and the carved wood bed was uncomfortable as well as hideous. The whole thing reminded me of that episode of Gilmore Girls in which Lorelai stays at The Cheshire Cat inn. Breakfast was amazing, though.

 

some of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds

 

The oldest bits of St. Mary’s church are from 1377. The tower (1480) still has shell cannonball damage from the Civil War of the 17th century. There are 99 yew trees in the church gardens. Legend has it that the Devil takes the 100th tree. Each yew tree is numbered too. You’ll find the stocks outside the perimeter wall of the church grounds. There is a Grade II listed lychgate from 1902, although it looks older.

 

Gloucester

Although Gloucester is an important city, I was only interested in the cathedral. I know there are some really nice neighbourhoods, but I have to say that the centre of town has a seedy air about it. I didn’t find it attractive.

 

 

The cathedral is a wonderful treasure trove for history buffs. Some of the historic artefacts include King Edward II’s elaborate tomb. You may remember him as the controversial son of Edward Longshanks in the film Braveheart. Another nobleman buried here is Robert of Normandy, the rebellious son of William the Conqueror.

The choir window is wonderful to behold. It was made in 1350 and, believe it or not, three quarters of the glass are original! People went to great lengths to protect the stained glass from potential damage during World War II. The entire window was removed and put in storage in 1939-40 and reassembled in 1945 at the end of the war. 

Film buffs will recognise the cloisters from some of the Harry Potter films, Doctor Who and Sherlock episodes, The Hollow Crown and Wolf Hall. 

It took us two days and a bit to do all this by car. Trying to do it by public transport can prove to be challenging.

 

some of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds

 

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Los Gigantes hills, Cordoba, Argentina

– Go straight on, at the roundabout take the exit to Tanti and continue on that road. You’ll drive past Lo de Daniel, a popular steakhouse. Keep climbing until after the tarmac ends. There’s only one way up, you can’t miss it.

With these directions, we set out to Los Gigantes range in Córdoba (Argentina) in our rental car. This mountain range is located in an area called Pampa de Achala, 28 kilometres from the sleepy town of Tanti and 90 from Córdoba City, down state route 28. It was the November bank holiday. The day before had been hot, with temperatures in the high thirties Celsius. The weather changed overnight and it was a cold, rainy morning. Córdoba has rather unpredictably weather.

We drove past Lo de Daniel, famous for its grilled kid goat, a local specialty. I would have liked to stop in Tanti and have a look around the place where my father spent many a childhood summer visiting relatives. But Los Gigantes beckoned.

We were now driving uphill. Slowly, urban areas began to thin out until they disappeared. Tarmac gave way to gravel; picket fences became pircas, as dry-stone walls are known locally. Rocks and boulders outnumbered trees and plants the higher up we went. The ghostly figures of grazing cows and horses stood out against the low-lying clouds and drizzle.

Estambul11

The hills suddenly became a big, verdant plateau. In the distance, a lonely bus disappeared behind a curtain of fog, adding a new layer of contrast.

The gravel road was now peppered with big flat stones and our car was definitely not an off-road vehicle. We continued for a few kilometres. We drove past Lo de Daniel II, an isolated restaurant that promised desayunos camperos (country-style breakfast) and grilled kid. We figured it belonged to the same Daniel as the steakhouse back in Tanti.

Estambul10

A sign posted at a fork in the road indicated Los Gigantes to the left. The going was rougher. We were the only vehicle in sight and had little or no cellphone signal. Discretion being the better part of valour, it was time to turn round and go down.

We stopped at Lo de Daniel II for a hot drink. We had a big bowl of café con leche and the most delicious homemade bread we’d had in a long time. Bread tastes different in Córdoba, it’s special. It tastes like the bread my Córdoba-born grandmother used to make.

After a while, a gentleman asked us whether we were German. No, we said. I’m Argentinean and my husband is British. We invited him to sit with us. He asked questions about England and Europe and he told us his life’s story. He turned out to be Daniel, the owner of both establishments that bear his name. Three generations work in this family business. He told us that he owns a few hectares of this lunar landscape where he raises his own goats. We chatted until he had to go and wait on new customers who also braved the rain and the cold.

The weather and the road conditions prevented us from reaching Los Gigantes. Instead, they led us to an interesting and colourful local man. And delicious bread.

There are buses that connect Cordoba City with Tanti but the best way to reach Los Gigantes is by car.