By June Naylor
From Glen Rose to the Hill Country, lodgings with lofty views offer an escape from the city.
Surveying the picturesque Hill Country, I’m lulled by the gentle tumble of the Sabinal River just a few feet beneath me. An impromptu afternoon nap on a nearby loveseat sounds like a marvelous idea, perhaps followed by an early evening glass of wine.
Oh, and did I mention that I’m in a treehouse? Specifically, I’m staying in Carousel, one of four retreats that opened last fall in Utopia, a town in remote and rocky country some 85 miles west of San Antonio. Each luxury guesthouse is built high in a bald cypress — some perhaps 800 years old — rooted beside the Sabinal. From the decks of the dwellings, you see nothing but ranchland and the deer and turkeys that roam there. Fifteen miles away, the riot of fall color at Lost Maples state park is worth a look — if you can pull yourself away from your perch.
This dreamscape is the inspiration of chef, restaurateur and antiques connoisseur Laurel Waters, whose family has owned the ranch for decades. After a chance meeting with Pete Nelson, host of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters, a couple of years ago at her nearby restaurant The Laurel Tree, the two teamed up to create Treehouse Utopia.
This dreamscape is the inspiration of chef, restaurateur and antiques connoisseur Laurel Waters, whose family has owned the ranch for decades. After a chance meeting with Pete Nelson, host of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters, a couple of years ago at her nearby restaurant The Laurel Tree, the two teamed up to create Treehouse Utopia evoke a mountain chalet.
In Biblioteque, books fill the shelves that cover nearly every inch of wall space between windows. Branches filled with tiny white lights hang over the bed. Carousel’s accents include vintage merry-go-round animals.
Waters buys much of her decor on an annual trip to Provence. Such treasures join others from Round Top fairs to fill her treehouses and also Main Street Utopia, the antiques shop she and her mother have run for 20 years. And Waters and her husband recently opened Bear’s Market in the nearby village of Leakey.
One-off finds fill her restaurant, too, including the private dining space in a treehouse behind it. There, I savor by candlelight an asparagus-strawberry-prosciutto amuse-bouche, followed by roasted tomato-basil soup with pesto-cheese scone and Norwegian halibut with a cheese-artichoke crust. An after-dinner flute of bubbly sends me happily back to my Carousel bed, to drift off to dreams of riding wooden horses somewhere near Paris.
At Skybox Cabins, the magical property has come a long way from its previous life as an uninhabited 50 acres. The innkeepers, too, have had quite a journey to this Glen Rose retreat. Yvan Jayne hails from France, but earned his Texas spurs as a successful bareback rider. He eventually met future wife Kristin at a rodeo in Mesquite. The couple settled in Rockwall, although the call of country life was strong.
While looking in Glen Rose, they fell in love with the gorgeous views, mature live oaks and a creek on property with a lot of potential. Thus was born the plan for Skybox Cabins, originally intended to be a weekend getaway with rental possibilities. Life happens, however, and after the Jaynes’ young daughter survived a near-fatal brain bleed, the couple opted to move to Glen Rose full time and push forward with their plans, which included a second child, a son born in the summer of 2018.
Treehouse Utopia The lodgings accommodate two guests in one bedroom (three with queen beds, one with a king) and private baths with full showers (two have clawfoot tubs, as well). Each has a sitting area and deck seating, minifridge, coffee maker and Wi-Fi. Breakfast is delivered each morning. From $475 nightly with two-night minimum stay; book online at treehouseutopia.com or call 830-966-8733.
The Laurel Tree The restaurant serves lunch and dinner on Saturdays only; reservations required at 830-966-5444. 18956 N. Farm Road 187, Utopia, utopiagourmet.com
Main Street Utopia 282 Main St., 830-966-5544, mainstreetutopia.com
Bear’s Market 608 U.S. 83 South, Leakey, 830-232-5559, bearsmarket.com
Skybox Cabins Booking is done through Airbnb, but informative links to each cabin are on Skybox’s website, along with information about a new glamping option, things to do and places to eat nearby. Prices range from $134 to $146 a night; skyboxcabins.com.