It was primarily immigrants from Central and Western Europe - apart from Germans and Austrians also Czechs and Alsatians - who have shaped culture and traditions here. They were complemented by the influence of Spanish missionaries who were responsible for founding places like San Antonio or San Marcos. The mingling of these cultural influences still creates appealing contrasts that finds its expression in many ways in Hill Country. In fact, the Texan heartland is a popular vacation destination, especially for domestic travelers. This is mainly thanks to the fact that the scenery here is tranquil and relaxed; Hiking, swimming, fishing and camping are possible and yet, the region is close to big cities. In terms of accommodations, primarily small, family-run Bed & Breakfasts are available. Apart from the natural beauty, there are a few museums worth seeing and - something that’s not widely known - a considerable number of wineries producing comparatively remarkable wines. A few private companies are offering “wine tours” but the wineries can also be discovered individually. Most can be found along Highway 290 and those often offer guided tours and tastings.
Another visitor attraction are the numerous caves that have developed in the karst stone. The deepest of those contribute as groundwater carriers to the water supply of the region. Among the most famous of these caves are the Natural Bridge Caverns near New Braunfels. They have their name because a piece of limestone above the cave entrance forms a natural bridge about 20 meters long. Inside, tourists can climb down to 63 meters below the surface at a constant 21° C. Guided tours with a length of about 90 minutes are also available at Longhorn Cavern State Park near the small town of Kingsland northwest of Austin. This cave system’s peculiarity lies in the fact that it is routinely used for musical perfomances - actually a tradition going back to the 1920s.
The contribution of the town of Bandera with its population of roughly 1000 to the mix of cultures and traditions of Hill Country, can probably best be described as being “Texan”. Bandera proudly calls itself the “Cowboy Capital of the World”. All year long, the town hosts events like rodeos, cattle auctions or farmer’s markets. The large number of dude ranches in the area is also remarkable. Bandera is also popular as a meeting location and destination among bikers. It was once founded by Polish immigrants, who also erected the St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, one of the oldest of its kind in all of Texas.
In contrast, the small town of Boerne with a population of about 11.000, was founded by German immigrants who had left their home after the German revolution of 1848. Boerne is one of several towns in the area where German customs and traditions are celebrated - although not necessarily in their original version. There are two cave systems in the city, Cave Without a Name and the Cascade Caverns. Apart from that, Boerne presents itself as an arts city, featuring a number of art galleries and a theater.
The small town of Castroville was founded in 1844 when several families from Alsace settled here. The architecture of many buildings in town reminds of Alsace and a lot is done to preserve them, almost all of Castroville is today designated as a Historic District. However, the Alsacian dialect is only spoken by a handful of today’s 3500 inhabitants. The settlement of the town of Hondo a few miles away also came by the hands of immigrants from Alsace, Belgium and Germany.
Another historic downtown can be found in the town of Comfort, population 2400, founded - like Boerne - by German immigrants who had fled to America after the revolution. Even today, a large part of the town’s population can trace its heritage back to the families of these first settlers. In Downtown, there are about 100 well-preserved buildings, partly from the beginning of the town’s history in the mid-19th century. A monument in Comfort remembers the fallen inhabitants of the town who had fought on the UInion’s side in Civil War.
The nickname of Fredericksburg for the German immigrants who had come here in the 19th century, was “Fritztown”. The town had been founded in 1846 and named after the Prince of Prussia. The founder was Hans von Meusebach, the leader of the “Adelsverein” (nobility club) that had been created for the protection of the German immigrants. Meusebach negotiated a treaty with the Comanche Indians native to the area, which served to grant peaceful co-existence to both parties and which is among the few treaties with Native Americans that was never broken. Fredericksburg is considered to be the cradle of a language almost extinct today: Texas German, a mixture of the languages of both the old and the new home of the newly arrived. Not in the least part in order to promote tourism to the city (which had begun by virtue of the visit of German chancellor Konrad Adenauer in 1961), German customs and traditions are kept alive in Fredericksburg, recently intermingled with some aspects of cowboy culture. Among the sights of the city is the National Museum of the Pacific War (340 East Main Street) and the Nimitz Hotel, which is in the possession of Admiral Chester Nimitz’ family and which hosted its share of celebrity guests during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, who lived nearby himself. But mostly, the often very unique architecture in Fredericksburg are worth seeing - many homes as well as the octagon-shaped Vereinskirche (100 West Main Street), are protected as historic buildings. The church had been built in 1847 as the town’s first public building. Of course, the city’s event calendar also lists an Oktoberfest.
In the Fredericksburg area, three more attractions wait for visitors. Near Stonewall, there is the ranch of the 36th President of the USA, Lyndon B. Johnson, who was born here, died here in 1973 and it’s also where he has been interred in a family grave. Together with the home in Johnson City, where LBJ lived during childhood, the ranch makes up the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. There are guided tours available. The Historical Park is open daily until 5 pm.
The granite Enchanted Rock, standing 556 meters tall, also draws a lot of visitors who come here for hiking, easy climbing and camping opportunities. The rock displays a great variety of flora and fauna and it has a mystical meaning for several Indian peoples. In addition, a number of modern legends entwine around the rock with the peculiar, pinkish color.
Another attraction is a town with a population of exactly 3: Luckenbach, Texas became widely famous through a song of the same name by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The place consists of two building, the legendary Dance Hall, to this day an important location for Country Music, and the second structure which contains post office, saloon and a general store. Luckenbach is a popular weekend trip destination for bikers and Country Music fans, but also for families. However, it is often difficult to find the town because the signs with its name on are frequently stolen by souvenir hunters.
About half an hour outside of Fredericksburg is Kerrville, another town founded by German immigrants in the mid- 19th century with some 23,000 inhabitants today. Kerrville is home to Schreiner University, a small liberal arts university affiliated to the Prebyterian Church, as well as to the Museum of Western Art, founded in 1983, which has a collection of art from the American West (1550 Bandera Highway; closed on Sunday and Monday). Popular for day trips are the banks of the Guadalupe River that runs through town. Alongside the river, there are several parks which invite to take a walk or to hold a picknick.
The city of New Braunfels, located between San Antonio and Austin, is something like the center point of the German cultural influence in Texas. The city was founded in 1845 by the “Mainzer Adelsverein” and its President, Prince Karl von Solms-Braunfels, who had convinced hundreds of Germans of the merits of a move to Texas. The town has grown rapidly in recent years and now has a population of more than 60,000. Visitors will find hints at the city’s German roots in many places, not at least to the comparatively widespread existence of the language of Texas German and many German-sounding names. One of the highlights of the events calendar is the Wurstfest, taking place in November since more than 50 years, which is dedicated to a celebration of German customs in general. Other than that, New Braunfels offers rather contemporary fun: Next to a water park called “Schlitterbahn”, the city features two rivers. The Guadalupe Rivers and the Comal River are both popular places for tubing. The city completely surrounds the small town of Gruene, which itself is almost entirely listed as a Historic District and where several historic buildings from the founding years can be found, amongst others Texas’ oldest Dancehall.
A river also plays an important role for the city of San Marcos with its 50,000 inhabitants, located some 30 minutes by car north of New Braunfels. On the banks of the San Marcos River, which is a habitat for some rare fish species, people meet for swimming, canoeing and fishing in the summer months. This town’s heritage, contrary to most neighbor towns, is not European but Mexican. To this day, San Marcos, where there are a few large shopping malls nearby, brings the Latin American aspect into the cultural mix of Hill Country. The city, built around the Town Center constructed in 1851, is home to Texas State University and has a lively music scene.