“I see him! I see the big turtle,” the little girl next to me said excitedly. No, it wasn’t the enormous snapping turtle famous for trolling the waters next to the Hilltop Herb Farm Restaurant at the Retreat at Artesian Lakes. Still, it was big, appearing to be about a foot in diameter as it swam across the surface with a companion of equal size. We leaned collectively over the rail, a row of humans fascinated by a couple of reptiles. And then—out of nowhere, a huge, wide-open, sharp-toothed maw straight out of Jaws emerged from the water, clamped down, and disappeared back to the depths of the lake. The turtles were gone. The humans gasped. “I didn’t like that!” the little girl said. My husband got out his phone. “An alligator just ate two turtles whole in one bite right in front of me and Cathy,” he posted to Facebook. “Romantic weekend getaway ENGAGE!”
Happily, the gator retired to another part of the lake to crunch on the turtles in peace. As for us, we wandered off, still a bit rattled, for a post-breakfast hike on a path through Artesian’s chain of 13 connected lakes, or rather gravel pits that long ago filled with clear spring water—an idyllic setting that’s actually the byproduct of industry, now populated by adorable cabins surrounded by pines overlooking the water. Formerly known as Chain o’ Lakes, Artesian is just an hour northeast of Houston near the Big Thicket National Preserve.
The place is like summer camp—if summer camp had coed lodging, wine, and gourmet meals from the Hilltop Restaurant, which offers a fabulous seasonal menu featuring herbs from its own garden, as well as awesome in-room meals (you can even order a white-linen dinner with candles and champagne). Saturday mornings, guests ride to breakfast in horse-drawn carriages, which is as fun as it sounds. Other activities include horseback riding, canoeing, hot-tubbing, swimming, and fishing, either from a boat or right off the porch of your cabin.
Retreat at Artesian Lakes/Hilltop Restaurant
Ye Kendall Inn
Red Snapper Inn
Le Pavillon Hotel
After our hike, we’d planned to pick up a Hilltop picnic basket, find a spot on the water to enjoy it, and then take a canoe trip, but were thwarted by rain. Momentarily at a loss, we soon found ourselves picnicking on our cabin’s porch, then breaking out the cards and Prosecco, playing game after game before moving to the porch swing, where we sat quietly, watching the rain hit the limpid green water. As the afternoon wore on and it became clear that the rain wasn’t going to let up, we accepted our fate, wandering inside to turn on the gas fireplace, read our books—thankfully, there were no TVs—and, finally, take an honest-to-God nap together, the front door open to the sounds of rain hitting the porch’s tin roof. Suddenly, neither of us could remember the last time we’d been so relaxed, turtle chomping aside. Thus we decided that Artesian Lakes was a lovely destination for a romantic weekend (again, turtle chomping aside). We’ll be back for our anniversary, hoping it rains.
The wealth of historic buildings in the little town of Boerne, between San Antonio and Kerrville, makes for a romantic backdrop, and the private cottages at Ye Kendall Inn, located off the Main Plaza, are as comfy as they come. If the two of you get cabin fever, wander the town’s Hill Country Mile along Main St. through pocket parks, historical landmarks, shops, and restaurants.… In Hunt, find a rental on the Guadalupe River and spend a couple’s weekend in the gorgeous Hill Country floating past cypress trees, playing games, and barbecuing. Saturday night, head to Crider’s for fried catfish, sweet tea, live country music, and two-steppin’ under the stars.… The sleepy little beachside town of Surfside doesn’t offer much in the way of activities or restaurants (although the seafood and Greek dishes at the Red Snapper Inn are wonderful). No matter: the thing to do here is hide out with the one you love in a beach house bungalow, enjoying peaceful afternoons under the umbrella, your only care in the world what to make for dinner, and who’s ahead at cards.… And in New Orleans, walk back to Le Pavillion Hotel through the cobblestone streets of the French Quarter, arm in arm with your favorite person in the world, after an evening spent drinking hurricanes in the street, indulging in a fabulous dinner at Commander’s Palace, and taking in a killer jazz show. If you’re not in the mood for love after all that—well, we can’t help you.