Drive Time: Eighty minutes east of Austin; ninety minutes west of Houston
For almost fifty years, the tiny hamlet of Round Top, halfway between Austin and Houston, has been a magnet for antiques collectors and flea-market pickers. That’s what first drew British-born designer Rachel Ashwell, founder of the global brand Shabby Chic. “It’s a vintage hub for the whole country,” says Ashwell, who in 2011 opened the Prairie, a forty-six-acre guest ranch and retail outpost.
For the major antiques shows in the spring and fall, thousands of dealers display wares at roadside barns, on porches, and in pastures, where canvas tents bloom like bluebonnets after a good rain.
Beyond the shows, however, country cafés and eclectic shops (including, yes, antiques outlets) promise big-city dwellers an escape from heat and concrete. And with a world-class summer music residency and spring poetry festival headlined by the likes of U.S. poet laureates W.S. Merwin and Richard Blanco at Round Top Festival Hill, locals rarely tire of explaining that their town is not in the middle of nowhere. It’s in the middle of everywhere.
The 24-Hour Agenda: On the courthouse square, Lizzie Lou offers a varied mix of jewelry, accessories, and home furnishings—all vintage—alongside such objets d’art as upholstered faux deer head mounts. At Henkel Square, a seven-acre pedestrian mall home to a cluster of restored nineteenth-century cabins, you’ll find shops like Second Market and Company, with folk art and antique jewelry, and Kathy Johnston’s Blue Door, which specializes in reclaimed, hand-painted furniture and custom lamps.
Red-dirt cowgirls would do well to mosey down to Junk Gypsy, where the sisters Amie and Jolie Sikes stock Western-themed decor and funky fashions. On the other end of the spectrum, seek out Russell Smith and Barbara Samuelson, who design silver jewelry and curate an inventory of hand-printed stationery, artisan candy, and retro glass and barware at Lark.
Do all that and you’ll have worked up a Texas-size appetite. Visit Royers Café, where proprietor Bud “the Pieman” Royer does swift business.
The Sunday fried-chicken dinner is justly renowned. But save room. He’s not called the Pieman for nothing.
Area roads offer cyclists scenic, low-traffic workouts. You need to bring your own bike, but try the twenty-nine-mile Round Top Ramble, which is manageable for riders of any skill level. If that sounds like too much work, stop by the magnificent concert hall at Festival Hill—the centerpiece of the 210-acre complex, which also has five miles of nature trails and a world-renowned herb garden.
The Stone Cellar, with a handsome patio shaded by old-growth oaks, offers twenty-five beers on tap, many from Texas brewers. Pair a pint with one of the thin-crust pizzas.
Rest easy at the new Night Bird Ranch. “It’s not your grandmother’s B&B,” says co-owner Kiki Teague of the seventy-acre spread. The dining room doubles as a dance hall, and the lake holds both bass and catfish. Or bunk in town at Hotel St. Vinzent, a chic boutique inn that occupies two classic Texas-style farmhouses.
Meet the Locals: When he’s not traveling the world tickling the ivories, James Dick can be found drumming up support for the Round Top Festival Institute—a place he founded for young classical musicians to learn from the masters. “I wanted to create somewhere that would matter in the future,” Dick says. And so he has. The institute’s crowning achievement is the student conservatory—on par with Tanglewood in Massachusetts—which brings college-aged international musicians to Round Top each summer.
At the Rohan Meadery, founded by former Houstonians John and Wendy Rohan, sample dry to sweet Czech-style wines made with honey and fruit from their farm. Relax with a glass in the tasting room or on the covered patio—the territory of the couple’s friendly white pup, Edsel. “Mead has come a long way,” Wendy says. “We could never have opened if it weren’t for craft brewing and the slow food movement.”