Out of the car's rear-view mirror, the tall buildings of San Antonio's downtown fade into the dusk and the neon glows from malls and shopping centers lining the Interstate 410 Loop around the city. Highway 151 rises and dips through the gently rolling hills covered in scrub oaks. As the desert terrain takes over, you begin to realize that the next big city west of San Antonio is El Paso, about 650 miles across the arid Texas landscape. Then, a small green street sign flashes up on the side of the road: Hyatt Resort Drive. Less than a mile later, after passing increasingly well-groomed grounds, you chance upon what must be an apparition: a four-story, limestone facade hotel with a green metal roof and wooden porches. Welcome to the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort.
The 500-room resort serves as everything from a convention center to a family-fun getaway. The $100 million property is only 20 minutes from downtown San Antonio and the city's airport, but it is an oasis that nestles comfortably into its natural setting, with amenities and services that cater both to the business traveler and the family with infants. Guests are greeted in a lobby sweetened with the aroma of mesquite wood that burns in huge fireplaces. Accommodations include a full range of one-bedroom suites as well as a separate two-bedroom villa called the Sunday House, named for the buildings where nineteenth-century Hill Country farmers stayed when they made the long journey into town for church services. Many rooms have balconies overlooking the property.
Among the hotel's best offerings is its four-acre water park. The centerpiece is the Ramblin' River, a 950-foot-long stream-like loop that winds between two pools and a spa. A machine creates a mild current that pushes green inner tubes through the course; bathers can float lazily along all day if they like. Camp Hyatt, a kid's activity program, uses the pool and the grounds to keep the young ones busy for half or full days. One young camper, named Elizabeth, said the camp "was the best part" of her vacation. Activities were supervised by five counselors throughout the day.
Golf gets top priority here. The 18-hole Arthur Hills-designed course plays at 6,913 yards from the championship tees, but with three other tee placements it conforms to any level of skill. The course follows the rolling terrain of the Hill Country region, and many of the hazards are simply the dry creek beds that crisscross the area. There are also tennis courts, rental bikes and a series of jogging paths that wind through the 200-acre property.
The hotel has a wide range of restaurants, from the Springhouse Cafe, for casual dining, to the more formal, and superior, Antlers Lodge. The latter's cuisine has a southwestern influence, with such fare as mesquite-smoked prime rib and grilled buffalo rib eye, which is perfectly tender. The wine list has a well-chosen selection of top California producers, including Grgich Hills and Acacia Chardonnays as well as Caymus Special Selection and Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignons.
The hotel also takes special efforts with cigars. There is a house selection of premium cigar brands, including Avo, H. Upmann, Joya de Nicaragua and La Flor Dominicana. Smoking is permitted in the bars and lounges, but there is an even better place: Aunt Mary's Porch, which is part of the lobby, extends onto a classic wooden porch, with a view of the golf course and the Ramblin' River. From there, sitting in the large wooden rocking chairs, you can easily drift off into a reverie with your cigar, a glass of Bourbon and a good book.
Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort
9800 Hyatt Resort Drive
Rates: rooms, $190-$315, suites, $295-$1,550, Sunday House $1,700-$2,250 per night