Taste the Texas Hill Country life at the exclusive Escondida resort


by By MARY G. RAMOS / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News


Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:40 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 20 at 11:54 AM

MEDINA, Texas - It may be the most exclusive hideaway in the rolling green hills of Central Texas. Even the name, Escondida, means "hidden." And with only 10 guest rooms, it is about as exclusive as a resort can be.

At Escondida, get a glimpse of the Texas Hill Country's great outdoors without sacrificing luxury.

Escondida was built in 1969 as a private residence on Medina Mountain, just off winding, scenic State Highway 16 between Kerrville and Bandera. The original owner brought in Mexican craftsmen to construct a posh, three-sided hacienda using traditional architecture, materials and techniques. The generously proportioned rooms of the house surround an intricately paved courtyard with a fountain at its center.

Today, Escondida is a relaxing getaway on 125 secluded acres, complete with a luxurious spa and a sparkling swimming pool. A stay includes a hot breakfast each morning and dinner, preceded by a happy hour with wine, beer and hors d'oeuvres, each evening.

Meet the owner

The current owner of this gem will be familiar to anyone who has watched the weekly television show Texas Country Reporter. Bob Phillips travels the back roads of the state gathering stories about Texans who have unusual jobs or hobbies.

He bought the hacienda as a personal weekend retreat several years ago because it met all his criteria: It is remote but easy to get to, and it has trees, hills and a stream.

If owner Bob Phillips is at the resort, he's apt to be in the kitchen making waffles for breakfast. He also hosts the weekly television program Texas Country Reporter.

But with his busy schedule, Mr. Phillips wasn't able to stay there very often. Scads of friends were asking to visit, so someone suggested he turn it into a bed-and-breakfast inn.

Architect Mark Reynolds designed a two-story, 10-room hotel wing to close the open side of the courtyard. Mr. Reynolds was such a perfectionist that it took three years to complete, but the addition looks like part of the original hacienda.

The floors downstairs are fashioned from Saltillo tile; those upstairs are of wide-plank, pegged pine. Each room's layout is different, as are each one's furniture and decor, which could be described as rustic chic. The baths, with walk-in showers, have hand-painted Mexican tile.

Even the bed frames vary in design. The bed in Room 3 is the most unusual. It was created for Mr. Phillips by West Texas rancher Bill Richardson from oil-field pipe and equipment. The bed is so heavy that it had to be placed in a downstairs room, and it is so immense that it had to be lugged into the room in pieces and assembled in place.

Flowers brighten the beige, terra cotta and cream of the stone buildings.

Weekend retreat

Escondida opened in February 2006, and it soon became a popular destination for weekends and holidays, even without much advertising. The early guests told friends about it, and word quickly spread.

"And we have a lot of repeat guests," Mr. Phillips says. "We've been open two years, and some people have come five or six times."

The spa, featuring Pevonia products, is a draw, especially for women, Mr. Phillips says.

"We had a group of West Texas ranch women stay here once," he says. "You know, they have to be pretty tough to run a ranch. But they came here, went to the spa, and turned into real girly girls."

The spa isn't the only activity for guests. "A group of well-to-do ladies once came for several days just to play poker," Mr. Phillips says with a grin.

A terrace beside the stream is great for relaxing. And the weather can be cool even in summer.

"We're at 2,000 feet [above sea level] here, and it's usually 10 degrees cooler than San Antonio," Mr. Phillips says. "It's breezy much of the time, and I've seen ladies sitting down by the creek in the evening with light sweaters on in July."

The glass-walled dining room, furnished with cushioned wicker chairs, overlooks the small creek. Guests often see elk, deer or mouflon sheep across the water coming down to feed in the late afternoon.

You may glimpse even more wildlife on a hike to the top of the mountain, another 200 feet up.

If you're really lucky, Mr. Phillips may be in residence during your stay. "I average about one day a week," he says.

If he is there, chances are he'll be in the kitchen, cooking and chatting.

In high school, he was interested in becoming a chef, but he was sidetracked into journalism. He still enjoys cooking, though, and waffles are one of his specialties. One bite, and you'll know why.

In addition to Bob's Waffles, the breakfast buffet on our visit was loaded with a substantial casserole made with eggs, sausage and hash browns; coffee cake; applesauce; fresh fruit; juices; and gourmet coffee.

The only problem for some guests: No cellphone service.

"We're in a box canyon here, so we can't get cellphone service and we have no room phones," Mr. Phillips says. "Some corporate executives have had a few hours of withdrawal problems, but they gradually relax and enjoy being unconnected for a while. We do have Wi-Fi."

Mary G. Ramos is a Dallas freelance writer.

Getting there

Escondida resort and spa is at 23670 State Highway 16 North at Medina (14 miles south of Kerrville). Contact: 1-888-589-7507; .


Rates range from $249 to $299 per night, including full breakfast and dinner (dinner not included on Sunday or Monday evening). The pool is open to overnight guests and spa patrons.

You don't have to book a stay at the hacienda to go to the spa, but you must make a reservation before arriving.

Escondida is not related to Escondido, the golf-centered resort-style private residential development near Marble Falls.

Bob's show

Bob Phillips' new national series, On the Road With Bob Phillips, will air on RFD-TV starting in January. Look for the RFD-TV lineup on your cable or satellite schedule.