Although little more than an hour’s drive northwest of Houston, The Inn at Dos Brisas, a 313-acre estate set on the outskirts of the rolling Texas Hill Country, is the embodiment of rural serenity. Having passed through an electronic gateway, we meandered along a narrow road through a landscape punctuated by stands of oak and pecan trees, glassy ponds, lush vegetable gardens and paddocks dotted with quietly grazing horses. Pulling up at the Spanish Colonial-style ranch building, we were greeted by exceptionally affable staff members before being ushered inside.
The property’s history extends at least as far back as the Civil War, when Union prisoners were detained there. (The surrounding region has historical provenance, not least because, in 1836, Texas famously declared its independence from Mexico on the banks of the Brazos River, 12 miles away.) In 2000, the estate was purchased by Houston investor Doug Bosch and his wife, Jennifer. It was four years later that they decided to open it as a guest ranch. Last year, the inn was closed for an extensive six-month upgrade, notably to the kitchen and dining room.
The original accommodations were housed within four duplex Casitas. These were augmented in 2011 by five grand Haciendas, each with 3,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, cathedral ceilings and private plunge pools. Our more modest room within one of the tile-roofed Casitas created an immediately favorable impression, thanks to its high ceiling, primarily neutral color palette, wrought-iron king-size bed topped with a fur throw, writing desk and leather armchairs arranged in front of a stone gas-log fireplace. An adjoining kitchenette came with attractive stone surfaces and a Keurig coffeemaker. The bath was well-lit but on the small side, with only a single sink and a combined tub and shower. Having unpacked, we relaxed on our patio with a complimentary glass of red wine. Our surroundings felt profoundly therapeutic, and we were extremely disinclined to move.
Each Casita has a dedicated golf cart, so when it came time for dinner, we drove ourselves over to the dining room. From the outset, the inn’s owners had decided to create a gastronomic destination; this was to be no ordinary dude ranch. Their ambition was reinforced recently by the hiring of Matt Padilla, whose résumé contains stints at noma in Copenhagen and at Michael Mina’s flagship restaurant in San Francisco, as well as a period at the helm of element 47 at The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado.
The inn’s 42-acre organic farm, orchards and 7,000-square-foot greenhouse would be powerful attractions for any chef. Seldom has the expression “farm to table” been more true. After partaking in an aperitif at the long mahogany bar, we moved into the adjoining dining room, a restrained, dignified and masculine space, with cream walls, leather chairs, white tablecloths set with Bernardaud china and an impressive 18th-century stone fireplace brought over from France’s Loire Valley. Chef Padilla’s food lived up to expectations, and I enjoyed an appetizer of grilled cuttlefish and Kauai prawns, accompanied by gazpacho, avocado sorbet and cucumber. An “intermezzo” of soft-shell crab with black orzo, sea urchin, peas and ’nduja (salumi) was followed by a main of chicken with Swiss chard, carrot, radish, annatto seed and thyme jus. The menu is supported by a 7,000-bottle wine cellar. Both the sommelier and our server were polite and professional.
Unsurprisingly, the principal activity at the inn is horseback riding. In addition to miles of trails and a jumping course, the property boasts a magnificent equestrian center, with the second-largest privately owned indoor arena in Texas. Clay-target shooting, fishing and tennis are also on offer, and golfers enjoy privileges at a number of nearby country clubs. However, during our brief stay, we remained resolutely indolent. Aside from slightly overindulging in the pleasures of the table, we spent most of our time reading on our patio, lulled by the breeze, and looking up only occasionally to admire the verdant surroundings.
Comfortable accommodations, excellent food, extremely friendly and helpful staff and the atmosphere of rural tranquility.
The bath in our Casita was well-appointed but surprisingly small.
Seventy miles from Houston, the inn is also just 100 miles east of Austin, the state capital.