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Central Texas

An embarrassment of riches

No one can take advantage of all Central Texas offers in a weekend, a week or even a month. But if you wanted to find the essence of this region, what would rank as a “don’t miss?” Each visitor chooses different favorite destinations. For my list, I only considered things that are truly unique. Here are some of my favorites:

The Round Top Festival Institute, featuring the 200-acre-plus Festival Hill campus, is a world-class, classical music venue in the middle of Fayette County. James Dick, a University of Texas graduate, Fulbright Fellow and internationally acclaimed concert pianist, founded the institute in 1971. He envisioned—and achieved—a place where gifted young musicians could study with the best teachers in an inspiring environment.

Festival Concert Hall, the primary venue for music, was built by master woodworkers  incrementally as money became available. Though the hall has been drawing students and classical music aficionados for more than 40 years, it is only now achieving Dick’s grand European vision of a lyrical, harmonious composition in wood. Imagine an ornate, wooden concert hall with near-perfect acoustics where the royalty of Bavaria might spend an evening after a bracing day of stag hunting. As Dick asks, “Why dream the ordinary?”

The institute is an easy day’s drive from many of Texas’ large cities. Local restaurants in Round Top can provide delicious munchies. But why not dine alfresco by the tranquil pond near the herb garden? No crowds, just serene lushness before the concert, the ballet or the poetry reading. It all makes a picnic and performance here a don’t-miss experience.

Blue Hole in Wimberley gets my vote for the perfect swimming hole. It’s a dream come true for a woman such as myself who was born in the Chihuahuan Desert city of El Paso. A plunge in cold, clear Cypress Creek on a 100-degree summer day is sheer bliss. The creek has shallow areas for moms and babies and tree and rope swings for adventurous youngsters. And for the truly agile, there’s the game of catch the ring in which one grabs a ring swinging on a rope before a dive into the creek. Read what fans have to say about this cypress tree-framed swimming hole on its Facebook page. You, too, might want to take the plunge.

The Blanco Bowling Club Cafe has those old-fashioned, Tex Mex truck-stop-style enchiladas, cheesy with a chunky meat sauce. The drive to Blanco after a day at Blue Hole is easily doable. The cafe has good pies, too.

Or for a luxe experience, I love Flat Creek Estate Vineyard and Winery outside Marble Falls, an easy jaunt from Austin. Sitting out on the restaurant balcony overlooking the vineyard and creek, watching the birds soar, sipping wine and enjoying exquisite fare is just the cure for everyday blahs. Food & Wine magazine has named it one of the 50 most amazing places to taste wine in the U.S. Its Mistella dessert wine was named the top Texas wine in the 2010 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo international wine competition. Come to Flat Creek to sample the wine and enjoy the music or the drop-dead gorgeous setting. But don’t miss the chef’s tasty treats like stuffed quail, duck confit, foie gras and wild mushroom risotto followed by a chocolate caramel pecan tart.

The Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio offers something for virtually every ethnicity and ancestry that has influenced the development of Texas. Each year, the Institute puts on the Texas Folklife Festival, the biggest cultural celebration in the state. More than 40 different cultural groups in Texas celebrate the Lone Star State’s diversity through food, music, dance, arts and crafts.

Suzi Sands is Texas Co-op Power’s art director.