Given our current state of affairs, it was probably fitting that we had taken a wrong turn in the middle of nowhere Texas and were now bumbling along a dust-choked, gravel road leading to the back gate of The Inn at Dos Brisas. That mood could best be described as beleaguered. Not only were we suffering the typical malaise you would expect from parents outnumbered by their offspring, our lives seemed to be distorted from every angle. The list of job trials, house demise, and health issues might have been comical if written into an “I Love Lucy” episode, but in real life, were as jarring as the unintended gravel road detour.
Back Door to Paradise
With such a rotten attitude hitching a ride on our supposed relaxing retreat, we already had an unspoken low expectation for the weekend. The fog lifted though, when we rounded the bend, and spread before us like a sweeping postcard was a rolling countryside dotted with red clay roofed haciendas and rows of dark oak plank fences. It was like an intimate marriage of the bluegrass fields of Kentucky and the high brow culture of Andalusia. It was certainly nothing like what we would have expected from the small Texas town of Chappell Hill. Had the gravel road actually been some sort of travel portal? Our surroundings certainly seemed to suggest that had been whisked away to a faraway land.
Parking under the colonnade, we stepped out of the car, reflexively expecting the press of heat and humidity typical for July in Texas. Instead, we were met with a cool breeze and comfortable temperatures in the 80’s. A complete transport to another time and place seemed even more possible with the unseasonably pleasant weather, or perhaps a bit of magic spell was more believable. Just inside the comfortable lobby, we were welcomed to sit at a high mahogany bar as staff members effortless began to roll out the red carpet for our arrival. Two glasses of lavender infused champagne-a nod to the lavender fields nearby-were chilled and waiting at our seats, along with a leather- bound itinerary. Whether it was a magic spell or global transport; we were certainly in another world.
Welcome Home: Keys to the Kingdom
With our dining reservations and activities for the weekend chosen, we were whisked off to our room. All cars are parked in a central parking lot near the restaurant to keep the ranch clear of traffic, so a golf cart was waiting to ferry us to the Hacienda Romano. The warmth of the oak lined cathedral ceilings and French Oak floors was perfectly complimented by antique furnishings and overstuffed chairs. We were introduced to the Butler’s pantry-where our food would be delivered, and the wet bar-where a cheese tray was waiting for our enjoyment.
With every turn, we were enveloped by the luxurious details that seemed to increase in glorious intensity. A sprawling marble bathroom was outfitted with an oversized jetted tub where a bath salts bar and Frette linens were beckoning a relaxing soak. The king-sized walk in shower was only eclipsed by the even bigger outdoor shower that flanked the private patio and heated plunge pool. I felt a squealing joy like that of a child on Christmas morning, mixed with a bit of the awe of Annie when she first entered the Warbuck’s mansion. I had to remind myself that I have stayed in really nice places before, but of course, nothing this nice with such exquisite attention to detail.
Surrounded by a sinful amount of perfection, I realized the Relais and Chateaux dictum to “emphasize holistic experiences that transport its guests, taking them on a sensual journey and introducing them to a deeper, truer understanding of the Art of Living” was way more than just a PR spin for a glossy brochure. Not only did such a place exist, it was my good fortune to get to experience it for the next two days. I may or may not have gleefully celebrated that fact by throwing open the doors to the private patio and rolling around on the 1200 thread count sheets.
Exploring the Ranch in Style
Slightly lightheaded from the luxury overload, we decided to get some fresh air and see if the rest of the ranch was as opulent as our lodging. Our chariot, in the form of a private golf cart was waiting in the portico, so we each grabbed a cold drink from the refrigerator and set off in style.
Our first stop was the barn, the largest indoor barn in Texas, where we were greeted with a literal tip of the hat from the ranch manager. “OK” Estes, we soon learned was a decorated cutting horse master, and seemed to be at the heart of the activities on the ranch. Like any real cowboy, he was the picture of gentility and regaled us with stories-some of which might have actually been true.
Mr. Estes was scheduled to put his proverbial money where his mouth was in the ring with a cutting horse, and he invited us to attend the lesson. Training the next champion cutter is a large part of his job on the ranch, and we enjoyed the skill with which he and the animal worked. Between passes the master rider trotted over to tell us a few more stories and give us the rundown of the procedures of the sport. At the end of the lesson, we excused ourselves to explore a bit more of the ranch.
We had been invited to explore anywhere we desired on the ranch, so we set out to find the outer reaches of the property. Along the way we stopped to explore the greenhouses and organic gardens that served as the beginning of the farm to table meal we were promised that evening. Confident that we had seen enough of the ranch, we motored back to our hacienda and enjoyed the snack of meats and cheeses that was waiting in our refrigerator. Whatever was bothering us before was certainly forgotten with that first drink of sweet tea.
A Little Unplugging Here, a Little Reconnecting There
A knock at the door perked up our ears. Mr. Estes was waiting at the door, hat in hand again. This time our chariot was an actual chariot, or rather a 19th century Amish buggy replica. A one hour buggy ride was included with our weekend refresher package, and they had come to call as a pre-dinner treat. Samson, the half-Clydesdale was our guide, and we quickly learned that he had found his way to the ranch because he was too slow to be a tour horse on the street. A slow carriage ride around the property was punctuated with more stories and tour-like information from our driver. The monotony of the clip-clop and slow herky-jerky of the carriage didn’t seem to lend itself much to romantic conversation, but the movement was nonetheless therapeutic. It also seemed to work an appetite. Good thing dinner at the on property restaurant was next on the leather bound schedule.
Tongue Tied Dinner for Two
Dinner for just the two of us would be a luxury even if it were at the local McDonalds, but a leisurely seven course dinner at the only Forbes Five Star restaurant in Texas was an extravagance of the highest proportions. Food in rural Texas is often deep fried and served with gravy, so it is perhaps most surprising to find a restaurant here that ranks among the most acclaimed restaurants in the country.
Properly attired, we entered the intimate, but grand dining room and took a seat at one of the ten tables in the corner opposite the enormous 18th century fireplace. The details we had come to appreciate throughout the ranch carried over to the dining room, but the rustic Texas and elegant European décor combined created a comfortable environment.
Petite portions of farm to table cuisine with an emphasis on seasonal fruits and vegetables began to effortless arrive at our table with all the understated flare expected from an acclaimed restaurant. The food choices were not overworked, but the presentation and colorful reductions paired with the cuisine elevated to each course to a special treat. We agreed that although the food was delicious, the portion size might actually have us running to the nearest McDonalds after dinner. We also agreed, at least silently, that carrying a conversation that was not punctuated by children shouting and parents instructing was proving difficult. Had we become victims of the parents who can’t carry a conversation urban legend?
As the leisurely rhythm of the multiple courses began to flow, fortunately so did the conversation. By the time a sinfully rich chocolate dessert was delivered to our table, we were flirting and carrying on like two teenagers. Despite our worry that the delicate portions would leave us hungry, we rose from the table full in both body and spirit.
Out of this World
Stargazing seemed like a proper and totally out of the norm way to end the evening, so we loaded the back of the golf cart with the telescopes available to borrow and headed back to the hacienda. Our porch was slated as stargazing central, but as we fumbled with the unfamiliar telescope, a thick cloud cover rolled across the inky sky. Stargazing thwarted, we switched to Plan B- a just as desirable dip in the heated plunge pool. The warm rhythm from the iridescent blue water and the occasional sparkling firefly were as idealistic and soothing as any candlelit spa treatment.
The crisp Frette linens were the only siren call that could pry us away from the pool, so we lodged ourselves from the warm water and prepared for bed. Just as we were heading inside, the clouds parted and the most glorious tapestry of constellations was revealed. Telescope forgotten, we collapsed in the deck chairs and stargazed ourselves into a lazy stupor, swapping childish giggles and jokes until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.
~The Inn at Dos Brisas hosted our weekend stay. They did not require that I express a particular viewpoint and all opinions are my own.~