Horseback riding is a favorite pastime at the ranch, but they also have an exercise room, swimming pool, hot tub, and sauna for guests. Mountain-bike and hiking trails lace the ranch's private wilderness areas. Canoe and tube trips travel scenic stretches of the Guadalupe River that few people get to see.
The ranch offers plenty of opportunities to relax. The rooms are all elegantly furnished and range from hotel-style rooms to condos with a balcony on the edge of the bluff. They also have two-bedroom suites for the families.
The heart of the ranch is the stone-and-cedar main lodge with hand-hewn beams and fireplaces in every room. Built in 1929, the house was an entertainment center for Walter Napier, president of a bank in San Antonio.
Napier sold his weekend ranch to actress Olivia de Haviland, who used the ranch as a hideaway after Gone With the Wind. She left soon after wrecking her Packard on one of the rough country roads.
The ranch went through a succession of owners. The stone cottages were built for a "chicken ranch" with gambling and girls. The sheriff ended that business. When Walter Starcke found the property in 1977, it had deteriorated to near-total disrepair.
Starcke is a fifth-generation Texan who returned to Texas after a career on Broadway. His list of credits include The King and I, Cabaret, and others. Originally, Starcke intended to turn the property into an artists` colony, but the ranch proved to be too demanding for the project and it ended after seven years. Starcke decided to convert the ranch into a retreat where groups could relax, rewind, and recreate.
Bed and breakfast accommodations at the ranch begin at $150 a night (double occupancy). Activities are as inexpensive as $4 for a tube trip down the river and as expensive as a $65 massage.
The dining room is open to non-overnight guests when room is available in the dining hall overlooking the river valley. The gourmet six-course suppers are offered Thursday through Saturday evenings. The main house is also available for private parties, with guests getting discounts on overnight lodging.
The Guadalupe River Ranch is north of Boerne on RR474 and about 45 minutes from San Antonio and an hour from Austin. For information and reservations, call 210/537-4837.
First Saturday brings vendors, musicians, and cooks to downtown Smithville, Jan. 4. 512/237-5549.
Road Condition reports are available from the Texas Department of Transportation travel information line along with the latest tourist information. 800/452-9292, http://www.dot.state.tx.us or http://www.traveltex.com
Artifacts from La Salle's ship from the archaeological site in Matagorda Bay will be traveling to: Museum of Science and History, Corpus Christi, Jan. 3-12, Mar. 1-31, June 1-July 31; Capitol Rotunda, Austin, Jan.13-25; Victoria Mall, Victoria, Feb.1-28. 512/729-1271 or http://www.thc.state.tx.us