#TravelTuesday: 3 Best Texas Places to Reunite for the Holidays

by Marika Flatt on October 12, 2021 in Living Texas, Travels,

Make up for lost time by completely losing track of it, with your family by your side. 

The majority of families did not gather in 2020, with individuals and immediate family members celebrating the holidays in their own homes. With many vaccinated, families are looking to schedule reunions and holiday celebrations at locations around Texas. We found three that are ripe for the gathering.

Casa Cartel, Austin

Preservation, a love of architecture and artistic boldness collide in Austin’s Casa Cartel, a villa unlike any you will ever experience. Plus, there’s what every family reunion needs in Texas — a gorgeous pool! Courtesy photo

Casa Cartel in Austin is not for the ordinary because this stay is anything but. This expansive five-bed, five-bath home sleeps 17, and it has wow factor from ceiling to basement.

If you are looking for a bold and immersive experience from pick up to pack up, then this villa is the one to book. Though the villa sits secluded in southeast Austin, it is still near enough to downtown, local shopping and restaurants to enjoy both the allure of the city and the privacy that the location offers.

Originally built to house his family and two full-time maids, Casa Cartel eventually housed a priest and the house infamously played host to the most fabulous parties of the 70s and 80s, many of which included the prominent local and state politicians of the era. Courtesy photo

Arrive in Style

By request, guests have the option to ride in style and be picked up from the airport in a custom 1969 Cadillac limo convertible – an option unique to this stay. Arriving, expect to be greeted by a 20-foot mural, a testament to the bold fusion of colorful artistic design and preservation of the building’s historic integrity that awaits guests. 

Wow Factors

This villa is art, plain and simple. Around every corner, there is something to catch your eye. Bold color choices and historic structural designs create an experience unlike any other.

Casa Cartel is more than just a property, it’s an experience. When you book, you are signing up to indulge yourself in a 5-bedroom/5-bath villa (sleeps 17), complete with a 15-person home theatre, 7 outdoor patios, a pool, a barbecue grill, complete privacy, a kitchen with commercial-grade appliances, secret nooks to find along the way and Sonos speakers throughout all main areas of the residence. Courtesy photo

A home theatre that seats 15 prompts intentionality with time, as it is the only television in the house, and encourages togetherness. This gives families who stay here the opportunity to connect with each other and indulge in the other avenues of entertainment without the looming presence of all-around technology.At the heart of the property is a large pool that the villa’s balconies overlook – a must have during summer stays in Texas.

The basement, though, is where the party is at. Downstairs, adventurous guests can find an on-site speakeasy, complete with dimmed lighting, a high-end poker set and a vintage record player for looks. 

Casa Cartel’s original owner, Abraham Kennedy, born in Mexico in 1929, crossed the Rio Grande with nothing but what he could hold in his hands. Later becoming an icon in the Mexican-American community, he developed a place for the social elite of his day to gather. Now, you can stay here and experience the history deeply rooted in his private villa. Courtesy photo

Home-Cooked, High-End Chef-Prepped Dining

If a getaway means only eating out to avoid the hassle of cooking, consider the villa’s option to hire a private chef – yet another unique option provided by the stay. With menus like caprese salads, prosciutto wrapped melon with ginger and balsamic reduction, basil and ricotta crostini, caramelized gnocchi with a gorgonzola cream sauce and chimichurri lemon raspberry panna cotta with mixed berries, guests have the possibility of enjoying home-cooked yet high-end meals straight from the kitchen.

Four-Legged Family Members Welcome

This location is a hit for bachelor or bachelorette parties – that should go without saying – as well as stays to connect more with family and friends. If that is not enough, the location even welcomes dogs as guests, so pack up your pooch for this experience. The spacious 6,000 sq. ft. home goes for $700-$2,000 per night, depending on the season. Tips: The property is more in demand during the warmer months, so book well in advance.

Casa Cartel is a magnificent labor of love, which you and your family can experience. Courtesy photo

Medina Highpoint Resort, Medina

Tucked in the heart of Texas hill country, Medina Highpoint Resort is surrounded by endless natural wonders and boasts a cornucopia of outdoor activities for the entire family. At an elevation of 2,000 feet atop Edwards Plateau, catch awe-inspiring scenic views each day and every night. Courtesy photo

It’s truly a hidden gem, deep into the Hill Country. I grew up approximately 25 minutes from this location and never knew it existed until this year. As the coordinator of my extended family’s reunions, I’ve been trying out locations for nearly a decade and Medina Highpoint Resort is currently everyone’s favorite.

Ideal Ranch House

Part of the RVC Outdoor Destinations group, this quiet piece of Hill Country bliss exists between the two small towns of Medina and Kerrville. The reason this location is absolutely ideal for a family reunion is the ranch house. Designed in the 1940s by a famed architect that was involved with the design of many buildings on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin, it was completed in 1948 of the same limestone that the LBJ Library was constructed out of, and has been the host of many politicians and dignitaries over the years.

Medina Highpoint Resort is a great venue for a gathering, whether it’s a birthday party, wedding, corporate retreat, or road rally. Its natural setting, relaxed atmosphere, assortment of spaces and close proximity to Austin and San Antonio make it the ideal spot as an accessible getaway. Courtesy photo

The ranch house, the original home of the owner decades ago, has been renovated to perfectly accommodate 10 people with its 3 suites, living room, dining room and adequately appointed kitchen where you can rotate meals and cook for the entire group.

The kitchen features a deluxe range top oven, plenty of space and large refrigerator. The house offers a washer and dryer and two out of the three suites include a fold-out couch (a double) that can sleep two small people. The master suite offers not one but two full bathrooms!

The Texas vacation cabin rentals Medina Highpoint are for people who want more of a rugged camping feeling, yet don’t want to stay in a tent. This cabin is the most basic of the five cabin options. There are 17 with various bed configurations ranging from a single king bed, double full bed and bunk beds. Courtesy photo

Hero of the House

But the hero of this house is the back porch that runs the length of the ranch house and overlooks the resort’s pool. With a lovely green space between the house and the pool, there’s easy access to enjoy the infinity pool with adjoining hot tub.

Average cost of the 10-person ranch house is around $870 per night on a weekday and up to $1,000 per night on a weekend.

Additional members of the family can rent their own cabins, with many to choose from on property, some with a bedroom downstairs and a loft upstairs, to include a fold-out futon and bathroom downstairs. (Average cost is around $250 per night). There are 6 different types and styles of cabins to choose from with a total of 45 cabins. 

Make your “happy place” an extended experience with new longterm camping options. With a variety of accommodations, features, and rates, tailor the ideal getaway retreat for you or your family at Medina Highpoint. Courtesy photo

Pro tip: If the open road calls your name, then look no further. At the start of Three Sisters Scenic Loop – a road popular amongst motorcyclists for its jaw-dropping scenery – the resort offers a convenient and cozy place for travelers to take a load off when not exploring the surrounding hill country.

Mountain Included

The resort even has its own mountain, boasting to be the second highest elevation in Texas’ Hill Country. And there’s an observation deck at the top. For views to remember for a lifetime, the deck at sunrise and sunset is the place to be. Stargazers can find comfort under the expansive night sky at the observation deck. With a high-flying Texas flag at the mountain’s summit and the vantage point of the surrounding mountains and valleys, the deck provides an Instagram-worthy backdrop.

Medina Highpoint offers you and yours the chance to recharge by the glow of campfire, relish dining under the big sky, find daytime adventure around every corner and soak in breathtaking views among nature’s wonders. Courtesy photo

RV Hookups & More

The property also offers RV hookups, grilling, hiking, fishing and pets are allowed. There is free Wi-Fi but no phone service, a children’s play area and live music seasonally.

Enjoy a high quality stay with a back deck offering an unbelievable view of the Texas hills right from your porch at Medina Highpoint. Courtesy photo

West Sandy Creek Winery, Richards

West Sandy Creek Winery is a 360-acre ranch at the edge of the Sam Houston National Forest near Huntsville. This family-owned and operated business is founded on the family’s decades-long love of winemaking. Courtesy photo

There aren’t a whole lot of wineries in the eastern part of Texas. However, 45 minutes from College Station, 45 minutes from The Woodlands, 13 miles from Huntsville and 20 miles from Montgomery, you’ll find West Sandy Creek Winery. It’s a gorgeous drive through the Sam Houston National Forest to the small winery.

All in the Family

A family-owned and -run business, the winery boasts four cabins for rent for those guests who want to enjoy an overnight stay.

The owner spent 40 years in Saudi Arabia and Italy in a very successful career when he purchased the property in 2007. The owner’s son, Sandy, who runs the winery, came from the banking industry in Washington State before he moved back to Texas.

Get some carrots so the kids can feed the animals that call West Sandy Creek Winery home. There is often live music to further enhance your enjoyment of wine and nature. Courtesy photo

They started planting the vineyards in 2009 and now have 15 acres of vines on the property. The winemakers pick their 2017 blanc du bois dry which pairs best with fried or rich foods. Those grapes, however, were heavily impacted by the freeze of February 2021.

Reason to Celebrate

West Sandy Creek Winery opened in March 2019 and celebrated its first birthday at the start of the pandemic. They were fortunately able to stay afloat with to-go wines for a few months and then were able to open back up as their cabins were an ideal #EscapeToNowhere.

There is a one bedroom bungalow that rents for $200 a night, 2 three-bedroom cabins that rent from $330 to $380 per night. And, there is a four bedroom cabin that’s very popular for a group of couples, a girls weekend or a family reunion.

The property of West Sandy Creek features the vineyards where they grow their own grapes, the winery and tasting room, several log cabins, and plenty of room for the animals that call the ranch home. Courtesy photo

Pets (& Plates) Aplenty

On property, guests enjoy the three great Pyrenees dogs, goats, cats, chickens, donkeys and even the very unusual zebronkies (a mix between a zebra and donkey). The winery hosts live music nearly every weekend on Friday evening, Saturday from 4pm-7pm and Sunday from 2pm-5pm. A $15 ticket gets you a tapas plate and a front row seat to the singer/songwriters.

The tasting room, patio, and gazebos at West Sandy Creek Winery offer abundant, comfortable seating and beautiful views of the property, where you can relax with your favorite WSCW wine and delicious tapas. Photo Steve Basham

Late Checkouts & More

One of my favorite features is that check-in is at 1pm, which is quite a bit earlier than other properties. And, on the day you are checking out, you are welcome to stay until the winery closes, there’s no mid-morning check out required.

Many more reasons abound as to why this property would be great for a family reunion: There are a total of 11 bedrooms on property, there is event space that you can utilize or not, there are hiking trails all throughout the nearby Sam Houston National Forest and plenty of room on the 360-acre ranch to spread out and enjoy.

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Cover photo courtesy Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Marika Flatt, who organizes her own family reunion every year, is the Travel Editor of Texas Lifestyle Magazine and was named “Outstanding Austin Communicator” 2021 by Women Communicators of Austin. Flatt has been the voice of the Weekend Trip Tips on NPR’s Texas Standard for nearly five years and is a regular travel contributor to TV shows across the state.