Camp Comfort, Texas Hill Country, Texas, early February 2015.
The evocative scent of wood smoke punctuates the crisp afternoon air. Trees, stripped bare of their summer leaves, are alive with flashes of vermilion: tiny robins flit from branch to branch intent on catching supper before dusk falls. A sunshine-yellow vintage Ford van sporting “Follow Me to Camp Comfort” on its rear signals our arrival at our destination: Camp Comfort in the small town of Comfort, Texas Hill Country.
Dismounting, literally, from our 4WD (as the saying goes “Everything’s Bigger In Texas”… even the rental cars!), I take in the scene: squat, bright-orange chairs are clustered around two fire pits in a central courtyard – the source of the wonderful wood smoke, a cute rustic shack painted with the Texas state flag sits under the canopy of a huge oak tree and a row of crayola-orange doors mark the entrance to Camp Comfort’s four suites*. Just as I am making my way to our room**, a furry flash of mottled grey, black and brown scuttles past me. The waggly-tail welcoming committee has arrived! Mooch, a beautiful Australian Shepherd dog, is followed closely by Camp Comfort’s affable co-owner, Phil Jenkins, who greets me warmly in his soft Southern drawl “How y’all doing, I see you’ve met Mooch!”.
Once Comfort’s bowling alley, Phil and his talented wife Lisa have transformed the historic site into gorgeous boutique lodgings. Wandering around Camp Comfort, I send a friend in Australia a photo. She immediately messages me back “It looks like a movie set!”. And it does but not in a clichéd way. Perched on a rise above Cypress Creek, Phil, a retired builder (or so he says!***), has cleverly renovated the property, retaining many of the original features and honouring the spirit of the bowling alley without slipping into the twee. On the outside, rustic rules while the interiors are a testament to Lisa’s design aesthetic, a blend of modern + cosy with a sprinkling of retro quirkiness. It feels like a grown-up version of summer camp: the vibe is laidback, fun and low key… much like Lisa and Phil.
Inside the suites, playful touches (coasters stamped with “We’re glad you’re here”, a soap dish with “I pledge to lead by example, to be true and brave” inscribed on the base, Tivoli radios and whimsical throws) meld with the quietly luxurious: Princess and The Pea-esque beds (the type you have to stand almost on tippy-toes to climb aboard!) are fitted with crisp white linen; bathrooms are stocked with beautiful Malin + Goetz products (the peppermint shampoo is so dreamy and a wonderful jetlag pick-me-up) and white cotton towels are stacked for après soaking in the sublime air-jet bath. A well-stocked snack basket (parmesan and rosemary popcorn, Godiva milk-chocolate biscuits, Mexican coke, Native Texan Fire Roasted salsa as well as fixings to make S’mores around the fire pit) makes it tempting to never leave the property.
A short stroll from the suites is Camp Comfort’s 24-hour Social Hall and Camp Store, the original social hall for the bowling alley when it was built in 1860. Guests gravitate to the spacious whitewashed hall to read, play board games, eat breakfast in the mornings and grab coffee and fresh-baked cookies in the afternoons. Road-tripping with a group of friends? The light, airy space would be perfect for late-night gatherings after the S’mores have all been eaten, the fireflies have moved on and the campfire has finally flickered out.
Prior to arriving at Camp Comfort and learning the origin of Comfort’s name (the town was settled in 1854 by German immigrants who were Freethinkers and Abolitionists), I thought it was a sweet and beautiful name evoking feelings of warmth and kindness. After spending time with Lisa, Phil and Mooch and staying at Camp Comfort, I can’t imagine a more perfect description for their venture. As we are leaving, Phil says to us “It’s been so nice visiting with you”. No, Phil, it has been so nice visiting with you.
A light organic breakfast (cereal, granola, fresh fruit, toast, juice, yoghurt and muffins) is served each morning in the Social Hall at Camp Comfort, and in the early afternoon fresh-baked cookies appear just in time to starve off the mid-afternoon energy slump.
“We are small, we are family, and we are a small business. Thank you for supporting our dream and our community. You make a difference in our lives”. In keeping with their beautiful ethos, Lisa and Phil are champions of their local community, recommending places to eat in Comfort as well as restaurants and cafes in the surrounding towns.
Alamo Springs Café: Seriously awesome (giant) burger and fries! Bigger does not always mean better but in this case it definitely does. Do not eat breakfast before you go (unless you have an extraordinarily large appetite or have run 15km that morning). In the Top Ten burgers I have eaten, and all served up with a smile. If you are in Texas Hill Country, make sure you make a detour to Alamo Springs Café.
Comfort Pizza, Comfort: Comfort’s local pizza joint serving well-executed wood fired pizza. Service is a little odd – don’t go expecting warm Texan hospitality - but the pizza is tippy-top. We got ours “to go” and settled in for movie night on the flat-screen television in our suite.
High’s Café and Store, Comfort: A lovely café in Comfort’s main street to grab a light lunch or afternoon tea (salads, sandwiches, soups and cakes). They also sell a selection of gifts and books.
Alamo Market & Lockers, Comfort: We took advantage of the outdoor BBQ grills at Camp Comfort to bbq some excellent steaks and homemade sausages from Alamo Market. Nothing better than grilling steaks, drinking beer (wine for me!) and dining alfresco under starry skies.
Further afield, Franklin BBQ in Austin is so worth the three-hour (or longer!) wait. I don’t generally “do” extremely long lines for food (probably the reason I haven’t tried a cronut yet!) but would fly back to Austin and stand in line in the freezing cold for another morsel of that moist brisket. If you are not visiting Austin, the second best brisket (out of the five BBQ joints we visited) was at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas. Obviously BBQ is subjective (like lobster rolls!) but these were the two places where we enjoyed the food and atmosphere the most.
From rummaging in the myriad of antique stores which line the main streets of Comfort and Fredericksburg, to hiking Enchanted Rock, wine tasting on the Texas Wine Trail or cooling off with a dip in a natural swimming hole (summer only!), there is much to do in Texas Hill Country.
A spin through the Willow City Loop: a pretty, 20-mile drive through countryside which would be spectacular in spring when all the wildflowers are blooming.
Luckenbach Texas: Cowboys, live music, “Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach”.
Polly’s Chapel, Bandera. Under a canopy of grand old oak trees in what feels like the middle of nowhere, this lovely chapel is worth seeking out if you are visiting Bandera, “The Cowboy Capital of The World”.
We were hosted by Camp Comfort during our stay in Texas Hill Country.
*There is also a cosy (and much sort-after) free-standing cabin overlooking Cypress Creek.
**Door codes are provided prior to arrival alleviating the need for keys (one less thing to misplace!) and making check-in seamless.
***Expansion plans are already afoot given the popularity of Camp Comfort since it opened for business at the beginning of 2014.