Easy Escapes: Austin, Texas

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  • Yeeha! It's time to make the most of new daily flights to the Texas state capital

    Yeeha! It’s time to make the most of new daily flights to the Texas state capital

    Why go? Because Texas is a whole lotta fun. It’s huge, sunny, scenic… and its citizens have a zest for life, music and barbecue that we can all learn from. Austin has hippy roots and prides itself on being different from more corporate Houston and Dallas, both just a few hours’ drive away. The city bills itself as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ and you can certainly hear great sounds here. It’s also home to the mighty University of Texas, with 52,000 students, and a host of techie start-ups and lifestyle enterprises (this is the birthplace of Dell and Whole Foods) that are bringing a growing sense of boom times. This energy is reflected in a diverse multitude of bars, restaurants and over a hundred live music venues. And from 5 May direct daily flights on a British Airways 787 Dreamliner will get y’all right on down there…

    Fancy footwork: if you’re after some cowboy boots, this is the place © Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau

    When? Summers are real hot, with spring or autumn ideal times to visit. This is a city where there’s lots going on year-round – see the Visitor Center’s online calendar. Tickets are now on sale for Austin City Limits Music Festival (3-5 October, aclfestival.com) with acts that include Calvin Harris, Lana Del Rey and Pearl Jam.

    You really must: Downtown is pretty walkable, and you can also use the city’s bike rental scheme (austin.bcycle.com). Get your bearings on a 90-minute city tour that also takes in the surrounding Hill Country (austinovertures.com). You can learn all about Texas at the Bullock Texas State History Museum (thestoryoftexas.com), while the Blanton Museum of Art (free on Thursdays, blantonmuseum.org) is worth a trip for its serene American and Contemporary galleries. The wealth of the University of Texas is reflected in the colossal Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, home of the Longhorns American football team, and the Harry Ransom Center (hrc.utexas.edu) where the archive includes major work by James Joyce, Evelyn Waugh, Frida Kahlo, Robert De Niro and many more. Pop into the lobby to see ‘The First Photograph’, taken in 1826, while movie fans can look forward to an exhibition about the ‘Making of ‘Gone With The Wind” (from 9 September), which marks the 75th anniversary of this Southern classic.

    A hotel with history: The Driskill is in the heart of Downtown

    Stay at: The four-star The Driskill (doubles from £163, driskillhotel.com) was built by a cattle baron in 1886 and couldn’t be more central with 189 rooms and a lively bar and restaurant with an old school style. For something hip, head to SoCo (South of Congress Avenue Bridge). Music stars and celebrities like to lay there creative heads at Hotel Saint Cecilia (£232, hotelsaintcecilia.com), while close by you’ll find the delightful Hotel San José (£149, sanjosehotel.com) and historic Austin Motel (£80, austinmotel.com). Also consider the new Lone Star Court (£115 with breakfast, lonestarcourt.com) in The Domain with 123 retro-feel rooms, a food truck court and live music nightly.

    Dine at: Austinites love their food trucks and some, such as Franklin (franklinbarbecue.com), attract unbelievable queues. If you pass one you fancy give it a go – you can also download an app (austinfoodcarts.com) and there’s a new dedicated park, The Picnic, in Barton Springs Road. To understand why ‘barbecue’ means a whole lot more here than burnt sausages in the back garden, head for the casual Lamberts (fancybarbecue.com) where the menu features beef brisket rubbed with brown sugar, coffee and chilli (£10), housemade jalapeño hotlink sausage (£9.50) and a butter pecan bread pudding with maple black pepper sauce and tangerine ice cream (£4.75) – you have been warned… Almost everywhere you go portions are inevitably huge. When you crave some sophistication, LaV (lavaustin.com) is a new ‘Provence modern’ restaurant with an all-female team, dishes include a divine hand-cut tagliatelle (£9) and wood oven bouillabaisse (£17).

    Sweet times: food trucks are big news in Austin © imagepalace.co.uk

    Party at: Thanks to Austin’s passion for microbreweries, ‘custom’ cocktails and high class live music, your night is looking good… Sixth Street is the city’s principal entertainment strip with wall to wall bars sporting bands belting out everything from blues to heavy metal. It’s an impressive cacophony and you can spend all night dipping in and out for the price of a few drinks and tips. To the south, Rainey Street is the new area to go, a run of residential bungalows now filled with hot spots to eat, drink and dance. Check out Container Bar (austincontainerbar.com), built from seven colourful shipping containers, and The Blackheart (blackheartbar.com). Over on East Side, The White Horse (thewhitehorseaustin.com) has live music daily, pool tables, free two-step dance lessons on Saturdays and a tacos trailer, or go trad at Broken Spoke (brokenspokeaustintx.com), a memorabilia-filled country music venue that’s 50 years old this year. Don’t forget your ID…

    50 years young: catch some country music at the Broken Spoke © imagepalace.co.uk

    Bring home: Cowboy boots are a favourite buy with Allens (allensboots.com) in SoCo a famous place to try some on. This is the best neighbourhhood for independent shopping – seek out Co Star (costarstyle.com) and its hoard of vintage designer labels at the back (archivevintage.com). Other favourites include Uncommon Objects (uncommonobjects.com) and Parts+Labour (partsandlabourstore.com); for more vintage finds see facebook.com/vintagearoundtownguideaustin. Pack a bottle of locally-distilled Deep Eddy grapefruit vodka (deepeddyvodka.com) so you carry on partying back home.

    Book now: British Airways (ba.com) has direct daily flights from London Heathrow to Austin, from £628 return in May. A three-night package staying at The Driskill costs from £944 per person with British Airways Holidays (0844 493 0758; ba.com) including flights. You’ll need a visa-style authorization (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/), and you can catch an airport bus to Downtown for just $1.50 (capmetro.org/airport).

    Info: Texas (£15.99; Lonely Planet) is an up-to-date guide, and see austintexas.org and traveltex.com. Movies featuring life in the city include Slackers and Dazed and Confused.


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