Congratulate yourself if you resisted spending those big bucks to fly to Europe this summer. You can take a handy little European tour in the Texas Hill Country, traveling through German, Polish and French towns just outside of San Antonio. And it won’t cost even a fraction of your mortgage. Your route starts in Boerne (say it “burn-ee”), follows Texas 46 and Texas 16 west to Bandera, then FM 470 and FM 462 south to Hondo (stop here if you need to play nine holes on the municipal course or bowl at the local alley), and then east along U.S. 90 to Castroville. It’s about a 95-mile journey, and you won’t need a passport.
See the native limestone for which the Hill Country is famous on magnificent display in this downtown from another era. If you wander into the heart of this village on a Tuesday or Wednesday, you’re likely to have the sidewalks to yourself. If it’s the weekend, all bets are off—this repository of German heritage is a popular weekend haunt. Either way, make sure you stroll Main Street at leisure, ducking into galleries and shops. Allow plenty of time to explore the Boerne Public Library in the historic Joseph Dienger Building, erected in 1884. In the History Research Room, you can see a rare 1614 Low German Bible and learn about the Boerne Village Band, still playing nearly 150 years after its founding. Oh, and ask the library staff about the resident ghost. Two blocks away, Ye Kendall Inn is a beautiful hotel that opened in 1859 as a stagecoach stop for travelers heading west from San Antonio. It offers 34 rooms, suites and cabins as well as a fitness center.
Boerne Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1407 S. Main St.; (830) 249-7277 or 1-888-842-8080
Ye Kendall Inn, 128 West Blanco Rd.; (830) 249-2138 or 1-800-364-2138
The depth of rich cultures in this town never ceases to amaze. For starters, it’s one of the oldest Polish communities in the nation, settled circa 1855; you can see the foundation of this heritage at the handsome St. Stanislaus Church, built in 1876. Just a few blocks away, there’s a vast collection of Old West relics at the Frontier Times Museum; a trip through this treasure trove is like rummaging around a rich, eccentric aunt’s attic—but it gives you a good idea of how deep the Wild West roots run here. And as you meander past the myriad honky-tonks and stores selling Western wear and cowboy decor, you’ll understand how utterly tethered to the cowboy society Bandera is. But understand that it doesn’t call itself “The Cowboy Capital of the World” because of the wealth of dude ranches in and around town; instead, it’s that a significant number of championship rodeo cowboys come from Bandera or call it home today. In fact, you can catch rodeos at Bandera at least twice a week between Memorial and Labor days. On hot afternoons, grab an inner tube or kayak and float down the Medina River, which wraps around the town.
Bandera Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-364-3833
Frontier Times Museum, 510 13th St.; (830) 796-3864
If you’re not prepared, this town—called the Little Alsace of Texas—will throw you for a loop with its intense European feel. Settled in 1844 by Henri Castro, a Jewish Frenchman of Portuguese heritage who had served in Napoleon’s guard, Castroville grew from a group of Alsatian colonists. Sitting within a scenic bend in the Medina River, the town features several Old World-style cottages among the 50-plus historic structures. While you’re there, stop at one of the handful of Alsatian restaurants, where you’re likely to overindulge. If that’s the case, you’ll be glad you called ahead to book a room at the Landmark Inn, a state historic site and one-time stagecoach stop right on the river. You can fish, roam the gardens in search of birds and butterflies, borrow bicycles to ride around town, explore the old gristmill, relax in a rocking chair on the porch—or take a nap in your quiet room and dream in foreign languages.
Castroville Area Chamber of Commerce, 802 London St.; (830) 538-3142 or 1-800-778-6775
Landmark Inn, 402 East Florence St.; (830) 931-2133
June Naylor is the author of Texas: Off the Beaten Path (Globe Pequot Press).