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Utopia: Rugged, Refined and Totally Texas

Plenty to see and do in this part of the Hill Country—whether you’re on foot, horseback or motorcycle

Located about an hour and a half west of San Antonio, Utopia is paradise for those wanting to enjoy the outdoors but not quite wanting to rough it. Let’s leave out the “quite.” Ain’t nothin’ like a gourmet meal and a comfy bed after a day of hiking or kayaking.

Once my friends and I booked a cabin at horse-friendly Farhaven, a B&B (bed and barn—no breakfast!) outside Utopia, we loaded up food to grill. A feast of veggies awaited us in Farhaven’s garden. Proprietors Mark Hall and Nancy Rinn share seasonal organic produce with their guests. No cellophane here, just veggies straight from the garden. We used the provided grill to prepare a super-fresh, super-easy, super-healthy meal of fish, mounds of fresh asparagus, baby carrots and chard. Superb.

The next morning found us heading out to Lost Maples State Natural Area for a leisurely hike. Please note: We opted for the leisurely hike, but the state park does have hikes for the more adventurous. Camping, picnicking, photography, swimming and bird-watching are enjoyed here by visitors from all over the world. We shared part of our hike with students from Malaysia and two Korean sisters who, by the way, powered on ahead to the rockier, steeper trail and left us in the dust. Pick up a trail map and talk to the park rangers for an idea of what you want to tackle.

The stunning limestone canyons and clear, aqua waters of the Sabinal River can be enjoyed by everyone, as parts of the park are wheelchair accessible. Keep your eyes open and you might get to see the rare green kingfisher. Easier to spot are the maples, madrones, agaritas, native grasses and the wildflowers, all obligingly posing for their close-ups right along the well-marked trails. Tip: Book early if you want to see fall color.

Our hosts at Farhaven suggested we stop at the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum in Vanderpool to try an Aussie burger at the Ace Café in the museum. Good tip! The large, juicy burgers topped with grilled tomatoes and onions disappeared in the blink of an eye. We barely glanced at the vintage motorcycles as we did not pay the museum fee. Gotta admit, though, I took a couple of peeks. Beautifully restored motorcycles from around the world, dating back to as early as 1910.

A slow and meandering tour of Utopia led us to the picture-perfect, old-fashioned Utopia Park. The cool, clear river lined with ancient cypress trees—even a rope swing—is what a swimming hole should be. Additional classic park accoutrements include an outdoor dance area (where the dance scene for “Seven Days in Utopia” was filmed) and screened cabanas with grills.

We enjoyed the rugged and rambunctious. Next, for a taste of the refined, we took our hungry selves to the Laurel Tree, where reservations are recommended. Just a couple of miles outside Utopia and set among huge oaks and gardens, the Laurel Tree serves Saturday lunch and dinner using fresh, seasonal herbs and vegetables, many from its own gardens. The five-course meal ($39), prepared under the supervision of Laurel Waters, was love at the first bite of the goat cheese-stuffed pepper, right on through to a tiramisu with raspberries and strawberries, garnished with mint.

Hiking one of Texas’ premier parks followed by Cordon Bleu-inspired Texas fare. How perfect it that? Or should I say: How Utopian?

Suzi Sands, art director