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Readers choose Texas' Most Romantic Places

No, it's not Venice. In Texas, you could only be on San Antonio's Paseo del Rio. Last April, we asked you to vote on the state's most romantic spot. In our Readers' Choice poll, more than one third of respondents chose the River Walk. Together with second choice, San Antonio, the Alamo City captured almost half your votes–and hearts.

With the exception of Fredericksburg and Jefferson, every one of the top choices has a strong association with water (Austin's Mount Bonnell rises dramatically above the Colorado River, and even at its driest, the Big Bend is defined on the south by the Rio Grande).

What is it about water that evokes romance? Perhaps it's the way delicate water can sound: the trickle of a fountain in a plaza, the lap of waves on shore, their arhythmic slap against a gently rocking boat. Perhaps it's the way water reflects light, especially at night, when it softens reality: golden columns here, silvery moon there, perhaps multicolored splotches like the beginnings of an Impressionist painting. Like love, water affirms and ensures life.

But where romance is concerned, Texas' hills and mountains also entice you. Not only Mount Bonnell and Fredericksburg, but also the Hill Country in general (#14). In West Texas, you chose the mountainous Big Bend, the nearby Davis Mountains (#12), and Indian Lodge (#13), which nestles in the Davis range.

Like beauty, romance exists in the heart of the beholder. To one of our staff members, for instance, "just being in any of these places is romantic." Some of you voted for entire cities (Houston, Victoria, San Marcos), others for vast regions (Big Bend, Rio Grande Valley); some chose particular spots at particular times (the streets of Smithville at night). Also among your many choices: Waco's Cameron Park, Kemah's waterfront, tiny Round Top, Palmetto State Park, San Angelo's Santa Fe Park, Caddo Lake, Port Aransas, the view of El Paso from Mount Franklin, McKittrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains, and, appropriately, Love's Lookout, in Cherokee County.

Clearly, c'è amore–love exists–everywhere.

Texas offers myriad ways to celebrate love; we offer here only a few suggestions.

River Walk, San Antonio

Yanaguana Cruises, the company operating the riverboats, has begun offering a variety of specialty river tours, including a 1-hour Moonlit Cruise, available between 8:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., that costs \$250 and includes champagne, "exotic appetizers," and a violinist or guitarist. A Wedding Cruise, with the ceremony taking place on "wedding island," costs \$750 for 20 people. A 1-hour Jazz Cruise, with music by the Jim Cullum Jazz Band, departs at 10:30 p.m. and costs \$16.50 per person. There are also botanical, architectural, heritage, and culinary cruises, among others. Reserve a cruise 10-14 days in advance; call Jane Story-Stock, director of sales and marketing, at 210/244-5700 or 800/417-4139. To reserve by email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Yanaguana has also begun a Rio Trans River Shuttle service, with stops every 20 minutes at 9 points. Ticket prices: One-way, \$3.50; all-day pass, \$10; 3-day pass, \$25; tickets are sold at businesses near the stops. Shuttle service hours: Sun-Thu 10-9, Fri-Sat 10-10. Write to Yanaguana Cruises, Inc., 315 E. Commerce St., Ste. 202, San Antonio 78205; 210/244-5700 or 800/417-4139. Web site: http://www.sarivercruise.com .

More than 3 dozen restaurants lie along the River Walk, as do several hotels, including the Hilton, two Marriotts, Holiday Inn, Adam's Mark, and La Mansion. Be sure to ask about special package deals and off-peak room rates. For a real splurge, try the Honeymoon Suite (sitting room downstairs, loft bedroom and whirlpool-appointed bath upstairs; \$600 per night) in the newly renovated Havana Riverwalk Inn, at 1015 Navarro (78205; 210/222-2008 or 888/224-2008). With Caribbean-style décor–ironwork bedsteads, gauzy draperies, louvered shutters, ceiling fans, pot-ted palms–gathered from locales around the globe, this 23-room, 1914 gem epitomizes the concept "small, luxury hotel." The on-site Azucena restaurant, scheduled to open this month, will serve chef Michael Flores' imaginative cuisine.

Other, more economical River Walk suggestions: Strolling vendors sell long-stemmed roses for \$5 to \$6 each. At Pieca d'Italia restaurant, a Rossini (a delicious mix of slushy ice, crushed strawberries, rosé wine, and Asti spumante) costs \$2.75. A leisurely, hand-in-hand walk beneath the stately cypress trees has the best price tag of all.

San Antonio

General suggestions, other than the River Walk: Enjoy a wine, bread, and cheese picnic at Brackenridge Park; take a carriage ride through downtown/Alamo Plaza or the historic King William District; have breakfast or brunch at the Guenther House (205 E. Guenther; 210/227-1061), once home to the founder of Pioneer Flour Mills; stroll free through the Japanese Tea Gardens (in Brackenridge Park, next to the zoo); wander the grounds of the city's five 18th-Century Spanish missions (210/675-7275).

For general information, write to the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau, Box 2277, San Antonio 78298-2277; 210/207-6700 or 800/

447-3372. Web site: http://www.SanAntonioCVB.com .

Galveston

This island getaway offers sunrise and sunset strolls, as well as pedal cars, along the Seawall; horse-drawn-carriage rides in The Strand Historic District; trolley rides from the Seawall to The Strand; and performances at the beautifully restored and intimate Grand 1894 Opera House (2020 Postoffice St., 77550; 800/821-1894; see story, October 1994).

Dining choices include seafood at Gaido's (3800 Seawall Blvd.; 409/762-9625; no reservations), voted the state's Number One Restaurant by Texas Highways readers in our 1998 poll; breakfast on the patio of the Phoenix Bakery (2228 Ship's Mechanic Row; 409/763-3764); Continental cuisine at the Wentletrap (2301 Strand; 409/765-5545; dinner only); Fisherman's Wharf (Pier 22; 409/765-5708; ask for a table with a view of three-masted Elissa, Texas' 1877 Tall Ship); and Italian cuisine at Luigi's (2328 Strand; 409/763-6500).

Try a room at the elegant old (and recently renovated) Hotel Galvez (2024 Seawall Blvd., 77550; 409/765-7721 or 800/392-4285), or a Victorian-decorated room at the luxurious Tremont House (2300 Ship's Mechanic Row; 409/763-0300 or 800/874-2300). High tea, which costs \$9.69 per person and is served daily in the Tremont's palm-appointed lobby, is an elegant and less-expensive way to enjoy the hotel (call in advance for groups of 4 or more).

Unusual Galveston attractions include tours of Elissa (409/765-1877), and the tropical, butterfly-filled, glass pyramid at Moody Gardens (One Hope Blvd.; 800/582-4673). Evening dinner-and-dancing cruises on the 150-foot paddlewheeler The Colonel depart 2 to 3 times a month from Moody Gardens (\$27.50 per person; 409/740-7797; reservations required; wheelchair accessible).

For general information, write to the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2106 Seawall Blvd., Galveston 77550; 409/763-4311 or 888/GAL-ISLE. Web site: http://www.galvestontourism.com .

South Padre Island

Especially appealing during the off-peak autumn and winter months, South Padre offers the delicious pleasures of the beach: sunrise and sunset strolls, seashelling, swimming, luxuriant lolling. Build a sand castle, enjoy a picnic, make angel wings in the sand, climb the dunes. Rent horses at the Island Equestrian Ctr. (800/761-HOSS), and lope along the shoreline. North of town, you can drive up the beach for miles and get away from everything except the gentle tinkle of shells as the waves ebb.

For information (including how to rent one of the plentiful beach condos), write to the South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, 600 Padre Blvd., South Padre Island 78597; 800/SOPADRE. Web sites: http://www.sopadre.com and http://www.south-padre-island.com .

Across Queen Isabella Causeway, in nearby Port Isabel, the 1853 Port Isabel Lighthouse (800/527-6102) will emerge from renovation this summer. Also in Port Isabel, 6 blocks before the causeway, turn north onto Yturria St., and drive 2 blocks to the 1926 Yacht Club Hotel & Restaurant, known for its seafood and prime rib. On Mon. and Wed., the restaurant offers all-you-can-eat shrimp (fried or grilled) and oysters for \$15.95; a daily sunset menu (5:30-6:45) offers 7 entrées for \$7.95-\$11.95. Hours: Open daily 5:30 p.m.; weekdays, closes around 8 p.m.; weekends, closes around 10 p.m. Wheelchair accessible. Write to 700 Yturria St., Port Isabel 78578; 956/943-1301.

Padre Island National Seashore

The National Seashore entrance lies 26 miles southeast of Corpus Christi. The Malaquite Beach Visitors Center Complex (open daily, except Dec. 25 and Jan. 1) provides a wealth of information, and rangers can answer questions and help you plan your visit. Entrance fee: \$10 per vehicle, good for 7 days. Call 512/949-8068 or 937-2621. The Corpus Christi Visitor Information Ctr. (see below) can also help.

Mount Bonnell, Austin

Overlooking a spectacular stretch of the Colorado River, Mount Bonnell rises to 735 feet in central Austin, about 3 miles west of Interstate 35, and about 1 mile west of Loop 1 (Mopac Expwy.). From Loop 1, take 35th St. west for 3/4 mile, turn right on Balcones Dr., and wind through the neighborhood another 3/4 mile or so to the first stop sign. Turn left, onto Mt. Bonnell Dr., which soon dead-ends at Mt. Bonnell Rd. Turn left; parking and the stone staircase are about a block away. There are a few picnic tables on the mountaintop. Note: Getting to the view requires a climb of some 100 steps. Park curfew is from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Write to the Austin Parks & Recreation Dept., Public Information Dept., 200 S. Lamar Blvd., Austin 78704.

Corpus Christi

In the "Sparkling City by the Sea," one of Texas Highways readers' favorite vacation destinations, much bayfront activity originates at the Peoples Street T-Head, where Peoples meets Shoreline Dr. You can charter fishing boats here, rent paddleboats in summer, and arrange for narrated day and evening boat tours of the Texas State Aquarium, the Columbus Fleet, and other harbor attractions. Along the seawall, the 8 Miradores del Mar (with the Selena Memorial) are popular settings for weddings.

To arrange for sunset/supper cruises (\$55 per person; 4-person minimum), or to charter a sailboat (captained or bareboat), write to the Corpus Christi Sailing Center, Inc., 200 S. Shoreline, Corpus Christi 78401; 512/881-8503.

For more information, write to the Corpus Christi Visitor Information Ctr., Box 2664, Corpus Christi 78403; 800/678-6232. The Visitor Ctr. is at 1823 N. Chaparral. Also see story, May 1998 issue of Texas Highways.

Fredericksburg

Chosen by Texas Highways readers as one of the state's friendliest towns, as well as one of the best sites for viewing spring wildflowers, Fredericksburg boasts more B&Bs–more than 300 at last count–than it had original German settlers in 1846. The town has several B&B reservation services, including Gastehaus Schmidt (830/997-5612), Be My Guest (830/997-7227), and B&B of Fredericksburg (830/997-4712). The C&VB brochure (see below) lists these and other accommodations. One B&B, The Cook's Cottage (703 W. Austin; 210/493-5101 or 830/997-6422; Web site: http://www.aisi.net/patsys-place), was recently selected by Travel & Leisure magazine as one of the 25 most romantic places in the nation.

Fredericksburg Carriage Co. (830/997-2211; reserve in advance) offers tours of historic downtown. Fredericksburg Fudge (105 N. Llano; 830/997-0533) offers that classic fuel for romance, chocolate. At the Fredericksburg Herb Farm (402 Whitney; 830/997-8615), try lunch in the tearoom, a stroll through the gardens, and a massage.

If a stroll through wildflower-fields-forever appeals to you, spring is an especially good time to visit Wildseed Farms, which is 7 miles east of Fredericksburg on US 290. You can even cut your own bouquets during blooming season. Write to Box 3000, Fredericksburg 78624-3000; 830/990-1393.

The Fredericksburg Convention & Visitors Bureau offers a free, helpful brochure, with map, that lists restaurants, lodgings, and attractions. Write to 106 N. Adams, Fredericksburg 78624; 830/997-6523.

Jefferson

This small East Texas town, which readers chose as a favorite for its B&Bs/historic inns, offers a plethora of charming accommodations. (Texas Highways' September 1998 special issue includes articles covering some of the town's dining and lodging venues.) Reservation services include Book-A-Bed Ahead (800/468-2627), AAA Reservation Service (800/299-1593), Sunset Reservations (800/533-0532), and Jefferson's Concierge Service (903/665-9776). The 6-room 1850s McKay House (306 E. Delta St.; 903/665-7322) was chosen by Vacation magazine in 1991 as one of the most romantic B&Bs in the nation.

Several of Jefferson's historic homes open for tours. You can also enjoy narrated tours of the town by mule-drawn wagon or trolley (call the chamber at the number given below, or call Tour Headquarters at 903/665-1665). A 1-hour, narrated cruise on the Bayou Queen costs \$5.50 per adult (903/665-2222; the chamber will also make cruise reservations). Auntie Skinner's Riverboat Club (107 W. Austin; 903/665-7121) specializes in down-home Texas cooking and offers live music ("everything but country") and dancing Fri. and Sat. nights.

For more information, write to the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, 118 N. Vale, Jefferson 75846; 903/665-2672.

Big Bend

For many people, nothing can beat the panoramic views and relative isolation of the Big Bend–a true Texas getaway–not to mention the stars at night, which, you betcha, are big and bright. Crumpets Restaurant of San Antonio, together with Far Flung Adventures (915/371-2489) of Terlingua, offers 3-day Rio Grande rafting trips, with a classical guitarist and gourmet meals prepared by François Maeder, the restaurant's chef-owner. Upcoming trips (\$650 per person) take place Feb. 26-28, Mar. 12-14, Apr. 9-11, and Apr. 30-May 2. Write to Crumpets Restaurant, 3920 Harry Wurzbach, San Antonio 78209; 210/821-5600.

Near Big Bend National Park, you can drive the spectacular 70 miles of the Camino del Rio, FM 170, between Presidio and Study Butte. Within Big Bend Natl. Park, you can drive, ride, hike, camp, or stay in the park's Chisos Mountains Lodge (915/477-2291). For park information, write to the Supt., Big Bend Natl. Park 79834; 915/477-2251.

Big Bend Ranch State Park offers primitive camping, and also lodging and meals at La Sauceda, the ranch headquarters, in a dormitory-style lodge and in the ranch's lovely, Spanish-style Big House. The park offers naturalist-led bus tours twice a month, seminars and workshops, trail rides through the rugged, spectacular scenery, and, at times, even survival training (to really test your love). Write to the Supt., Box 1180, Presidio 79845; 915/229-3416, 424-3327, or 229-3613. Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. Web site: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us .

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