Exploring with Eleanor

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Tex-Mex Begins in San Antonio
Article and Photos by Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel


Along the Riverwalk

Our brightly colored vessel moves peacefully under a canopy of trees and arched bridges that stretch over a river as thin as a stream. Outdoor cafes teeter close to the water. Mouthwatering odors of grilling beef assail us as we pass restaurants. Hordes of happy folks meander, shop, eat and mill around. Music blares from the trumpets of Mariachi bands.


Where am I? On a tour barge cruising the San Antonio River which cuts through River Walk in San Antonio, Texas. 


San Antonio had always conjured up images of history, romance and south-of-the-border charm as no other city in Texas had. When I finally arranged a vacation there, it wasn't difficult to convince my friend, Sandro, to join me. We were like sponges – ready to absorb the Tex-Mex ambiance of the southwest. 

La Cantera

I wanted my "digs" to represent the old west and the Westin La Cantera Resort (westinlacantera.com) did just that. It pays homage to the legends that made Texas history. Built high in the Texas Hill Country, it reminded us of historic Spanish missions and iconic ranches. Throughout the building, rooms, pavilions, courtyards, cafes and other areas display stories of colonial Texas and its settlers.

La Cantera opened in 1999, and has all the latest "bells and whistles" found in most fashionable hotels. It has 438 rooms spread between the hotel and private casitas (guest cottages). Each guestroom has Spanish-style leather headboards, 42-inch flat screen HDTVs, new carpets and furnishings. There are six pools, three hot tubs, a health club and spa, gourmet restaurants, tennis courts, a kids' club, a nature trail and two championship golf courses.


Not being a golfer, I can't vouch for the courses, but I'm an experienced spa-goer. The Castle Rock Health Club and Spa received high marks for my incredible Texas Winemaker's Massage. I floated on a haze of wine bouquet back to the lounge where a glass of Texas wine completed the treatment. Speaking of wine, La Cantera offers an "Adults Time Out" wine-tasting experience that involves an introduction to Texas wines, led by sommelier Steven Krueger. It features wines from eight Texas vintners chosen from the resort's award-winning wine cellar.


Luxury, spa services, great food and wine – what else could a woman want? Without a doubt – shopping. The resort supplies a shuttle to the nearby Shops at La Cantera (theshopsatlacantera.com) -- 1.3 million square feet of shopping heaven. Anchored by Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, high end retail shops kept me busy until my credit cards maxed out.


The Alamo

The next day, we paid our respects to the Alamo (thealamo.org), located in downtown San Antonio. It was the site of a strategic battle. In 1836, a contingent of 189 Texans bravely faced the brutal Mexican general Santa Ana's army of 5,000 troops for 13 days. Eventually, they were defeated, but the legends of Texas heroes, such as Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, emerged victorious. I, like most visitors, was surprised to learn that the Alamo had been established as the Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1718. It wasn't until 1836 that it was renamed the "Alamo." The building that we all recognize was the church.


A strolling musician

My friend and I had to sample authentic Tex-Mex cooking. One of our favorites was Mi Tierra (mitierracafe.com), a true San Antonio institution. Started in 1941 by Pete and Cruz Cortez with only three tables, the restaurant has grown to serve its patrons with over 500 chairs. With grios (musicians) strolling under strings of multi-colored lacey banners and sparkling light, the fiesta and the food continues on for 24/7. Try the classic Mexican dinner of cheese enchilada, beef taco and chile con queso, served with Spanish rice and refried beans.

Eat more Tex-Mex grub (an old Texas word) at the spacious Aldaco's at Sunset Station (sunset-station.com). Located not far from River Walk, Sunset Station's main attraction of the multiple-building complex is the restaurant. Seated under a vaulted ceiling, you'll enjoy Mexican specialties, like Flautas de Pollo with guacamole, sour cream, tomatoes and white cheese.


San Antonio was my first trip to Texas. Can its other Texas cities compete?



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