A flower-scented courtyard surrounded by lush tropical plants reveals glowing torches and five waist-high, linen-draped tables topped with a colorful assortment of bottles.
As the dusky autumn sky fades from pink to orange, Spanish music wafts on the gentle breeze and happy faces swarm around the tables, oohing and aahing at the beautiful displays. Soon the faces grow serious as conversations begin in earnest. “What should we make?” “Should we add some of this?” “How about a splash of that?” Welcome to the mixology cocktail competition at The Westin La Cantera Resort in the heart of Texas Hill country.
My group of cocktail aficionados quickly begins discussing creative recipes and which flavorful ingredients to add to the mix. With little time to waste, we concoct two holiday-themed drinks—Santa-licious and Frosty Fig—since the top libation will be featured on the resort’s holiday cocktail menu. Both taste like winners. Soon judges are sampling the myriad cocktails with serious faces, sometimes wincing and other times beaming with pleasure. Our group cheers when the winner is announced: it’s the Frosty Fig! (See recipes below.)
This team-building activity is the perfect introduction to The Westin La Cantera Resort nestled in Texas Hill Country 15 miles north of San Antonio. Its name, Spanish for quarry, recalls Texas’ storied past when good luck, hard work, and clear vision helped settle this harsh land. At The Westin La Cantera Resort, guests experience Texas lore at every turn since local legends are imbued into the very framework of the resort—from Brannon’s Café, named after Cal Brannon, who claimed the land on which the resort sits in 1881, to Steinheimer’s, the wood-paneled bar named for Karl Steinheimer, who legend says buried treasure in the nearby hills before succumbing to wounds suffered during an Apache attack. A hastily drawn map, reproduced on the bar’s ceiling, is all that remains of the treasure.
One sunny afternoon my group meets for a barbeque feast on the patio adjacent to La Cantera Grille, where chefs prepare extraordinary grilled meats—from beef briskets to succulent salmon, all charred to perfection. The resort features a host of options for groups—like this Texas-style BBQ—along with 39,000 square feet of meeting space.
Whether you’re having a meeting at The Westin La Cantera Resort or visiting with your family, you can choose among a variety of activities: two championship golf courses and a golf academy; the Lost Quarry pools, which cascade down a hillside; a health club and spa, where I receive a relaxing massage one afternoon; a nature trail that winds up and down hills; and the Shops at La Cantera, a short shuttle ride away, where you can shop to your heart’s content. Red cowboy boots, perhaps? Or try a fringed leather jacket, perfect for getting in touch with your inner cowgirl.
Families love staying at this casually elegant resort, thanks to its close proximity to Six Flags Fiesta Texas, where coasters like Twister and Krypton will leave you breathless; and Seaworld, where you can interact with beluga whales, sea lions, and dolphins. I decide to skip the thrills and head into San Antonio for a sedate River Walk boat tour. Our guide, José Herrera, patiently explains the history, sights, and sounds of the San Antonio River as we putt-putt along under bridges and past colorful cafes and fountains. I lunch at Boudro’s on the Riverwalk, where Boudro’s Famous Guacamole* is the best I’ve ever tasted. Their Blue Crab Tostada is also divine. Arrive early if you want to sit on the terrace and enjoy San Antonio’s unique riverside vibe.
Touring the Alamo, located right in the center of town, is de rigueur while in San Antonio, and although I am seeing it for the second time, I still marvel at the brave souls who sacrificed their lives for freedom. “No one’s ever been handed their freedom on a silver platter,” says our guide, John Richardson. “You have to fight for it.” Indeed.
Another night my group makes its way to a local restaurant called Aldaco’s Mexican Cuisine at Stone Oak, where the patio boasts amazing views. Margaritas seem like a good idea, so we start with a prickly pear version that’s tart, sweet, and refreshing. For an appetizer I order Citrus Shrimp Ceviche tossed with lime, citrus, basil, cantaloupe and avocado and served in a martini glass. Yum! The traditional Chile Relleno is also good: stuffed with beef picadillo and jack cheese and topped with salsa ranchero.
One sunny day I head north to Boerne, an adorable town with European architecture and ambiance. Settled by Germans in 1849, Boerne is known for its antiques, boutiques, and galleries. Nearby Cibolo Nature Center, a 162-acre natural area, offers a peaceful escape. Forests and prairies provide bird watching opportunities or just a chance to slow down and savor the fresh breeze and earthy smell of Mother Nature.
My last evening at The Westin La Cantera Resort, I dine at Francesca’s at Sunset, the resort’s fine dining restaurant specializing in farm-to-table fare. Chef Ernie Estrada’s South Texas-inspired creations are wow-worthy—Foie Gras Hoja Santa served with a quail egg and Guajillo Chile Rubbed Filet of Beef. As I savor my meal, I think about the restaurant’s namesake, Francesca, a beautiful señorita who became lost in a forest while her lover went to seek help. I’m happy I found my way to this hilltop retreat.
1 ounce vodka
1 1/2 ounces St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1 1/4 ounces pink grapefruit juice,
Mix liquids and muddle with 1/2 fig, shake with ice, pour in martini glass, garnish with the other half of fig.
1 ounce bourbon
1/2 ounce orange liqueur
1/2 ounce ginger liqueur
2 ounces apple cider
teaspoon orange marmalade
Mix ingredients in a shaker, add ice and shake vigorously. Pour into martini glass and garnish with an orange slice dusted with cinnamon.
For more information, visit:
• www.westinlacantera.com or call 210-558-2200.
• www.visitsanantonio.com or call 800-447-3372.
• www.visitboerne.org or call 888-842-8080