Between San Antonio and Austin in Texas lies the area known as the Texas Hill Country, where the flat-lands of Southern Texas soften into rolling countryside dotted with small, historic towns that make a pleasant contrast to the metropolis of Houston. In this part of Central Texas you’ll find ranches around Banderas, wineries close to Fredericksburg as well as the sightseeing and history of San Antonio and the laid back, creative vibe of Austin. On my Texas road trip with the family this spring I wanted to explore a bit more of the Texas Hill Country and so we based ourselves for a couple of days in the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort that lies about 30 minutes north of San Antonio.
The resort was opened only a couple of years ago after a three year building programme in an unspoilt area of the Texas Hill Country, so you get the benefit of a resort that still feels fresh and stylish but is running with a confident and polished air. The resort oozes that combination of luxury and informality that the Americans seem to do so well and although the place is huge, it’s virtually impossible to pass anyone without them giving you a smile and a ‘Have a good day’. Being an understated Brit I found it a little overwhelming to get so much attention and after a while felt like hiding away somewhere where no-one would notice me or want to carry my bags, but I guess you could get used to this kind of attentive service.
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My husband had visited Texas before and kept repeating the mantra “Everything in Texas is BIG” and nothing could have epitomised this more than the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort. There are over 1000 rooms and the buildings are several stories high although I thought that the charm was more on the inside than the outside. From the outside you get the impression of a large apartment complex set in landscaped ground, while from the inside you get the benefit of uninterrupted views in all directions over the green golf courses and wooded hill country reserve.
The entrance hall is all polished natural limestone and towering flower arrangements but even more impressive is the double height open lobby, with different arrangements of sofas and chairs to create more intimate seating spaces. Being Texas, the decor included plenty of leather in deep reds and browns, bronze cowboy sculptures of bucking broncos and indoor and out-door fireplaces to gather around the metaphorical camp fire. If you find the wide open spaces a little too public there are plenty of smaller areas to tuck yourself away too, such as the library with books about the history of the area and the pool room where my kids enjoyed a few games. There are other fun features too, such as the table size touch screens where you can play computer games and the computer terminals to print off any documents you need, as well as the ubiquitous flat screen TVs that they seem to have in all bar areas in the US to keep track of your favourite sporting events.
Our bedroom was on the 5th floor, which I would recommend for the views over the water park, golf course and the Hill country beyond, although if I had younger children I might be a little nervous about being quite so high up. Our bedrooms were roomy and decorated in elegant Texas style with the leather and cowhide stools, woven Mexican style throws and more than a few lone stars woven into the carpet, overlooked by the bull with impressive horns on the wall. The bathrooms were also stylish and spacious, with a marble topped, dark wood vanity unit, a separate bath and shower and an interesting carved wood panel over the bath. The wifi in the bedroom and public areas was included in the resort fee, as were free local and domestic calls from the rooms.
In the couple of days that we were there, there was so much to explore around the resort that I barely scratched the surface, but then we did spend a fair bit of time on activities around the area as we wanted to see what else the Texas Hill Country might offer. Once you’ve settled in, there’s so much to do at the resort that I expect most families never leave feel any desire to leave during their stay. The waterpark is a big draw for families, with a huge, landscaped pool area surrounded by sun loungers and a pool bar for drinks, light meals and snacks. Around this snakes the lazy river which you can drift around in your inflated ring and then to one side there is another pool with waterslides to descend in a rush on tubes. The kids had great fun wooshing down the waterslides and practicing their underwater handstands in the pool and in April when we were there, the weather was perfectly warm and sunny apart from one showery day.
The Sunday House
All the grounds are beautifully landscaped with flowers, cactus and water features with a charming addition in the grounds of the Sunday House with echoes of the European settler influence in the small towns of the Texas Hill Country. The Sunday House was traditionally a weekend house, used in the 19th century, when farmers came into town at the weekend to attend church on a Sunday. To avoid travelling a long distance and returning the same day, they would come into town on a Saturday night to socialise and do business, then spend the next day at their Sunday House with an opportunity to meet friends. The Sunday House at JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country is used for conferences and celebration events and is surrounded by vegetable gardens that would have been typical of those grown by the farmers, although I don’t suppose the cabbages go very far in a 1000 room resort.
The Lantana Spa
If you want some quiet time away from the busy water-park, you could escape to the Lantana Spa, which has another very pleasant pool area which is more private and reserved for grown-ups. There is a fitness centre and daily yoga and exercise classes which are included in your resort fee or when booking a treatment, otherwise a day pass to use the spa facilities is $15 for resort guests and $30 for visitors. At the spa reception I saw some very inviting lollipops which I thought were a variation on the cake balls I’d seen in the Austin food trailers and nearly popped one in my mouth until I realised that they were for putting in the bath. Better to stick to the light bites, salads and fruit smoothies I saw on the menu of the Replenish Bistro, containing immunity boosting Royal Jelly.
There are plenty of eating options in the resort some of which we tried while were were there. In addition to the healthy light dishes at the Replenish Bistro within the Lantana Spa, you can get family-friendly snack food at the Rivertop Grill beside the water-park (they even have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the menu) and snacks with a Southern flavour, such as tacos and flat-breads at the Crooked Branch bar next to open lobby area, For fine dining I had a look around the 18 Oaks restaurant in the golf course clubhouse where I was coveting the beautiful coloured glass candle holders from San Antonio Artist, Gini Garcia (there are also some beautiful coloured glass lamps in display in the lobby). The Resort is in its third year of hosting the Texas Open Golf Tournament and the 18 Oaks is known for its dry aged steaks and seasonal organic vegetables, some of which come from the gardens beside the Sunday House.
The two restaurants that we ate in during our stay were the High Velocity Sports bar and the Cibolo Moon and the votes were divided on which of the two we preferred, although mine was with Cibolo Moon (Cibolo being the Apache word for buffalo). On the first night at the High Velocity Sports Bar, the huge wrap-around TV screens serving up baseball and other sporting events had our teenagers so mesmerised, that they barely noticed what they were eating off the menu of nachos, sliders and burgers although my husband was very appreciative of the wide range of beers. Although the noise and energy of the High Velocity Sports Bar got the teenage vote, I found the Cibolo Moon restaurant was a much more civilised dining experience. Here you can be seated inside or outside on the terrace where we enjoyed the warm evening air and the Mariachi band that was playing for an evening reception. The cuisine is based on Texas and Southern favourites, including meats that are smoked on the premises. Breakfast is not typically included with the room rates and if you just want to grab a quick coffee and croissant you can pop into the Starbucks just off the lobby, or take a sit-down breakfast buffet with cooked dishes to order in the Cibolo Moon.
One of the highlights of our stay was the Tequila Tasting that my husband and I tried in the Cibolo Moon Tequila Bar. We were taken through some of the 80 different kinds of Tequila that are served here, together with a bit of the history of how some bright spark discovered that the fermented heart of the Agave made such an invitingly intoxicating spirit, which is now produced around the town of Tequila in Mexico. I left having learned to distinguish my Blanco (the fresh, young Tequila) from the more mature Reposado (or rested) Tequila and to show some respect for the complex flavours of the Añejo or aged Tequila that is best appreciated for sipping with a slice of orange as you might sip a good whisky. Derek Rattcliff, of the Cibolo Moon also introduced us to some of the infused Tequilas that are used to make the house cocktails, such as the green vegetable flavoured infusion of tomatoes, jalapeño chili peppers and white onions which was a bit like a vegetable version of pimms. You can read my article and watch my video about the Cibolo Moon Tequila Tasting.
The JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country resort seemed to have something to please everyone and while I noticed plenty of families around, there were also many grown up visitors such as those attending a conference from the nearby Military Base. We had a nice chat and took a photo of a young local couple who had come for a romantic dinner in the Cibolo Moon restaurant. This is a resort that wraps you up in a cocoon of luxury and elegance, where nothing is too much trouble and where it’s really much easier to relax and enjoy the wonderful facilities than to ever think of leaving.
Visitor Information for JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa
JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa
23808 Resort Parkway, San Antonio, Texas 78261, USA
Resort Telephone: 210-276-2500
Facebook Page: jwmarriottsanantonio
Although we were kindly hosted by the Resort, the rooms start from $279 Room Only or $309 for a Bed and Breakfast rate. Remember to check whether local taxes are included in any price you are given, as prices are often quoted exclusive of local or state taxes. These prices are based on the website at the time of writing, but may vary, so you can check for the best prices at JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country here.
An additional Resort Fee of around $29 per room per night is charged, which covers internet access, domestic calls, access to fitness centres, 2 complimentary drinks and some other resort benefits
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