If you’re Looking for the perfect escape from the Square Mile, it’s time to start thinking big. With breathtaking national parks, more than 800 world-class golf courses and over 600 miles of golden beaches lapped by the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters, Texas is the ideal location for city slickers who want an American-sized helping of the great outdoors.
“In Texas, if it’s not a thousand acres, it’s considered a ranchette,” joked actress Betty Buckley – but it gives you a good idea of the scale of the Tony-award winner’s home state. The Big Bend Country Region alone encompasses more than a million acres of natural beauty, with tumbleweeds, cacti and vast sandy plains straight out of a spaghetti western. There’s nothing like a traditional cowboy experience for a real sense of the scale and beauty of this untamed landscape.
There are more than 70 authentic guest ranches across the state which offer a unique holiday experience: you can try your hand at cattle rearing, join the hunting and fishing excursions or simply go on a horseback ride to soak up the unforgettable prairie sunsets. During the evening, al fresco dining by the campfire and chuck-wagon cooking are regular features of ranch life. Even today, real cowboys on horseback can be seen herding longhorn cattle outside ranches such as Beaumont Ranch. Located just 35 minutes from downtown Fort Worth, Beaumont features 14 rooms, a full service spa and salon (beaumontranch.com).
If you really get into it, you might want to consider a trip to the Texas Stampede from 8-10 November. With all the spills, thrills and chills of the National Finals Rodeo competition, only the best of the best have what it takes to qualify for this spectacle. The purse is rich, the competition fierce and the stock as punishing as it gets, and all with a heart as big as Texas, as profits go to the Children’s Medical Center.
Horses not your thing? Fear not: hiking, biking, swimming, rafting, camping, photography, and bird-watching all come as part of the package, too. And if golf is your game, you’re in luck. Not only are there more than 800 courses from which to choose, but Austin and Dallas were ranked first and fourth respectively by Golf magazine in its poll of ‘The 10 Best Golf Cities in America’.
Sport doesn’t come much bigger than Formula 1, so it’s fitting that Austin has also been chosen to host the United States Grand Prix until 2021. The inaugural race is on 18 November 2012, and at this point in the season it could well be a championship decider.
So, it’s clear you won’t have too much trouble filling your days – but what about filling your stomach? Unsurprisingly, this won’t be an issue. Whether it’s a traditional steak-house, fine dining or great street food – Texas offers it all.
Although Austin is renowned for barbecue, Tex-Mex spiciness and cowboy food, it also offers exquisite fine dining on par with the most exclusive restaurants in the world. Contemporary flavours and world-class chefs offer exceptional selections, many with a uniquely Austin flair, as well as many one-of-a-kind establishments that serve regional cooking, international cuisine, or their own inimitable blend of the two. Chef James Holmes’ Olivia (olivia-austin.com) is a must – the restaurant was named one of the Top Ten New Restaurants in America by Bon Appétit magazine when it opened.
Don’t think you’re restricted to Austin, though: Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston all offer a diverse and cosmopolitan selection. In Houston, primary influences come from Europe, Mexico, and Southeast Asia, but you can find restaurants serving just about every cuisine imaginable. Monica Pope from Houston’s t’afia restaurant (tafia.com) is the only Texan female chef to be named ‘Best New Chef’ by Food & Wine magazine. She actually trained in London some 25 years ago, but has been revolutionising Houston’s culinary scene since she opened her first restaurant in 1992 with her “eat where your food lives” style. “We’ve spent eight or nine years building up our farmers’ market”, she explains – it’s now become an institution, held every Saturday.
Go north, and you’ll find Fort Worth’s cuisine as flavoursome as the city’s rich Western heritage and world-class artistic masterpieces. Featuring the best Texas ingredients and exotic flavours from around the world, award-winning chefs are serving up dishes that are off the beaten culinary trail.
Finally, what of entertainment? Well, from ZZ Top to Destiny’s Child, Texas has born an eclectic collection of music stars – and its current scene is no less diverse. Over the years, electric blues, honky-tonk, Tejano and hip-hop have collided and combined to create a melting pot of musical gumbo.
The most tangible result of this is the South by South West (SXSW) music festival, known as the “Live Music Capital of the World”, which is held annually in Austin (sxsw.com). SXSW attracts hundreds of music acts from around the world every March, as well as showcasing independent film screenings and emerging technologies.
Also a must for music enthusiasts is the Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL). Located in Zilker Park, Austin’s 361-acre urban oasis, ACL features 120 bands on eight stages over the course of the three days every August (aclfestival.com). Past headliners include The Eagles, Coldplay, and Tom Petty.
The music scene is like a microcosm of the state – there’s something for everyone. As the great writer John Steinbeck saluted, “I have moved over a great part of Texas and I know that within its borders I have seen just about as many kinds of country, contour, climate and conformation as there are in the world.”