The inn dates back two decades but, like the face-lifted spa that Sage Hill now features, is all about renewal. What began as a local family operation ultimately landed in the hands of B&B-loving entrepreneurs Eric Goldreyer and John Banczak, who together have created a singular, understated yet luxurious 88-acre destination resort. The land attracts visitors with gravitational force. Then the amenities, accommodations and dining further validate the decision to make reservations.

 

 

Via car, Sage Hill Inn Above Onion Creek is 30 minutes south of Austin, an hour from San Antonio or approximately three hours from Houston or Dallas. “Drive through the front gate and you'll find yourself on a meandering road,” says general manager Justin Raiford, who for years managed actress Sandra Bullock's Austin-based restaurant operations. “We're here for our visitors to forget about reality.”

My girlfriend, Shellie, and I barely stop to check in on a cloudy fall afternoon before ducking into the adjoining wood-tabled dining room. Homemade, perfectly crunchy chocolate-chip-caramel cookies, as well as chewy “inn-ergy bars”—the latter full of nuts and fruit—beckon. Of course, I opt for chocolate.

Lodging options are equally varied. Stay in one of 12 hotel-style rooms or four alternatives, ranging from crisp and modern (studio-style Maurice's Coach House comes complete with a slick soaking tub) to the reunion-friendly three-bedroom Ranch House. We find plenty to like in Sage's more traditional lodging. Soon after pulling her suitcase into the main building's Martin King room, Shellie eyes the fireplace (which crackles via remote control) before opting for some complimentary cold Topo Chico fizzy water found inside the armoire-cum-refrigerator. We tour the bathroom—with a glass-door shower that has both room and spray heads for two—and survey the generous porch space and rocking chairs available to us out either side of our room.

 

Pictured: Maurice's Coach House (top left and below) and Thelma's Cottage (top right)

But we decide to take a hike. Walking into luxuriously warm October winds, we choose a short trip toward Onion Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River that can run dry or, following severe Texas downpours, flow with Mississippi-grade turbulence. We step over limestone, past big oak trees and rugged cedar. Shellie drapes an arm over the creek overlook's railing, and in the fading light I get at least one decent selfie of us along with some genuine Texas hill country.

In all, Sage Hill guests can choose from five paths that range from under a quarter-mile to more than two miles. One need not walk far to find resort-supplied caches of walking sticks and cold water, or glimpses of antelope or wild turkey. But just as frequently, Sage Hill hikers feel like they're near nothing, which is no accident. According to Raiford, approximately 80 percent of the inn's land is to remain undisturbed. Combine such open space with approximately 23,000 acres of abutting government-protected wilds and Sage Hill visitors can honestly enjoy solitary experiences. Shellie and I have the trail to ourselves.

"To think the Interstate is only eight miles away," Raiford had told me earlier.

 

 

Post-hike, plenty of visitors will reach another fork in the road. One destination is some serious TLC, courtesy of the resort's reborn, two-year-old spa. Sage Hill's massage menu runs deep (available styles include Swedish, deep-tissue, and pre-natal) and is reasonable ($90 per hour). After a good kneading, or for that matter a full-body sugar scrub or a facial incorporating essential oils, you can linger in a rocking chair on the garden spa's porch. It's a sweet spot: tidy, colorful beds with the likes of cilantro, cockscomb, mustard greens, and Mexican mint marigold grow in a glorious checkerboard.

Shellie and I instead opt for food—really good food. Sage Hill's room rates have always covered both dinner and the next day's breakfast. Chef Ryan Castille—who honed his skills at a Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and Central Texas's iconic barbecue restaurant, The Salt Lick—steers the inn's kitchen, which often infuses meals with ingredients from its own garden and from local growers and ranchers.

 

 

I dine on homemade caramelized onion tart with a balsamic vinaigrette, followed by locally sourced smoked Burgundy Pasture pork. The pork loin is moist and lean, and satisfyingly hints at the notion of barbecue. A light cream, made with kale harvested out of the inn's garden, proves tasty. Fine wine is available from Texas and elsewhere. Somehow the crowd still finds room for apple cranberry strudel with vanilla Chantilly.

Diets go out the window here,” Raiford had said to me. "Visitors here want to eat in a celebratory way."

After the tables are cleared, Sage Hill predictably serves more choices. Still enough light for bocce, or horseshoes? Gather ‘round the grand fire pit? A huge deck frames a crystalline swimming pool and an oversize hot tub (and sits atop a water-catchment system that repurposes tens of thousands of gallons of gray- and rainwater). Shellie and I enjoy full-body dunks in both hot (tub) water and cool (the pool). The last dive of a satisfying stay puts us right under our bed's soft linens.

—by Andrew Tilin