Hill Country Getaways for the Ideal Glamping Experience
Retreat to Wimberley or Paige for a relaxing stay in a nature-driven environment
By Amanda Eyre Ward
Collective Hill Country photos courtesy of Collective Retreats
Serana photos by Ashley Henderson
A few years ago, I was tossing and turning inside a tent during a thunderstorm. My beloved family slept peacefully around me, but I was wide awake. My sleeping bag was too hot. There was some sort of gnarled tree root under my hip. I was hungry, and it was too dark to locate the half-melted Cliff bars I’d stashed in my backpack. Around three in the morning, I gave up on a good night’s rest. I dozed for a few hours in the backseat of our car, then watched the sun rise with the last few sips of cold coffee I’d discovered in my to-go mug from the day before.
Soon afterward, I splurged on the thickest inflatable mattress I could find. For a few family campouts, I went red in the face inflating my “mom mattress,” but still, I tossed and turned, yearning for a bed, my hair sticky with marshmallows and pine sap. I loved adventure and stars and the smell of a fire, but I was starting to think I was just too old for camping.
But just in time (for me), new “glamping” experiences have popped up in the Texas Hill Country. I explored two retreats — one to the west of Austin and one to the east — in the hopes of discovering a place where I could enjoy fresh air, a campfire and a starry night … but also a comfortable bed.
In Wimberley, an hour west of Austin, Collective Hill Country is located on Montesino Ranch, a 225-acre sustainable and eco-friendly destination made up of a working organic farm set along the Blanco River, with the retreat positioned above and overlooking a sprawling valley and rolling hills. The ranch is a secluded escape and a central location for migrating birds, flora and fauna and a variety of animal sightings.
Peter Meck, Founder and CEO, has had a passion for service to others since he was a teenager and first got his taste of hospitality working as a dishwasher at a hotel. He went on to graduate from Cornell School of Hotel Administration, then spent ten years at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, cultivating brands like Westin, W Hotels and St. Regis, and guiding strategy across marketing, loyalty and customer experience.
After that, he joined Tough Mudder to oversee experience design and product, which meant he got to think about how to create new and innovative obstacles and courses. Through his hospitality and experiential event expertise, Peter realized that hotels should be places to connect and explore — rather than just sleep and shower. Collective Retreats was born out of that drive to create a better and more inspiring travel experience. After scouring the country for the most stunning locations, he built retreats starting in Vail and Yellowstone, and has continued to expand to new markets from there.
Collective Hill Country boasts twelve Summit Tents each equipped with high-end amenities, including 1,500 thread-count linens, plush king beds, an in-tent French Press coffee bar, a full en suite bathroom in each tent, in-tent massages and spa services, outdoor dining, a private deck and more. Collective Hill Country also offers a Family Tent, which is a combination of a Summit Tent and Journey Tent where parents and children can have their own space to connect. Inspired by a whimsical bohemian aesthetic, the retreat décor draws inspiration from the unique artistic scene in Austin and embraces the brand’s first winter retreat through color, using ample hand-dyed textiles, rugs, cozy blankets and throws.
Collective Hill Country provides guests with a seasonal, immersive culinary experience that draws inspiration from Texas’ year-round growing season, farm-fresh produce and unique types and cuts of meat. Executive Chef Ezra Lewis curated, in a custom box, all the ingredients needed for a locally sourced, delicious BBQ, including widely spaced grill stations on the patio in front of Three Peaks Lodge. The featured dishes include whole smoked chicken, wild boar sausage, venison sausage and shrimp. Accompanied sides include onion marmalade potato salad, goat cheese stuffed baby sweet peppers and more, including a six-course Chef ’s Tasting Menu that embraces the heritage of Hill Country and the inspired setting on Montesino Ranch.
At Hill Country Collective, guests can enjoy an evening ritual by gathering around the campfire to reflect on the day and enjoy nostalgic s’mores with artisanal chocolate. Special experiences include Bubbly & Branding Culinary Class, Charcuterie Journey, Collective Wine Pairing and horseback riding. In response to COVID-19, the retreat is also offering a “Work From Tent” package for remote workers and students.
Heading east of Austin to Paige, Texas, I found Serana, a 21+ getaway and communal retreat space. Serana offers three tiny cabins, five off-grid glamping tents, an outdoor gym, yoga deck, pool, bathhouse and outdoor communal kitchen. Guests can join Serana for Airbnb getaways, private retreat rentals and quarterly farm-to-table dinners.
Zach and Carlyle purchased the land in 2019 and also live onsite full time. At age 27, they traded their city lives to plan and design Serana from the ground up, and knew that they wanted to commit to living at the property in order to really focus on building organically and working with the land as much as possible.
“While our home is separate from the rest of the property,” explains Carlyle, “we are always around to make sure guests have a memorable experience and are adding thoughtful touches throughout a weekend stay. We don’t come from hospitality backgrounds, but are both so passionate about the importance of community, time spent in nature and the power of shared experiences, which has really guided us through this whole process.”
Serana’s private 53 acres allows guests to unplug and reconnect with nature, while their communal style of hospitality allows guests to cook, make a drink and meet new people in the communal kitchen and dining area while also enjoying private accommodations. Serana is designed to maximize guest interaction. Their unofficial motto is “We All Start Out As Strangers,” and guests typically end up cooking together, chatting around the bonfire and enjoying each other’s company throughout each night.
Serana focuses on low-impact structures like small cabins and tents to minimize the footprint on the land, and sources all decor and accessory furniture second-hand to operate sustainably and intentionally. The result is a thoughtfully curated space with a unique design that makes guests feel as close to nature as possible.
The Kampinas (cabins) have full electricity and AC/heat, while the canvas glamping tents are spacious and have wood burning stoves for cozy nights, offering guests a range of options to choose from for their experience.
Guests are presented with a range of local goods during their stay, including Rambler sparkling water in the communal fridge, Madhu Chocolate in the welcome baskets, Cuvée coffee at the coffee bar and farm fresh eggs from nearby Mockingbird Farm.
I’m thrilled to know I can still enjoy the glories of the Hill Country, even as my appetite for burned canned beans over a fire diminishes. For all of us Austinites who love the outdoors but wouldn’t mind leaving our tents at home, both Serana and Hill Country Collective await.
One question: anybody want to buy an inflatable “mom mattress”?