A great place to visit this summer I have passed through Chappell Hill, Brenham and Burton more times than I care to count over the years on my way to Austin, or the Hill Country. This summer I decided to apply the brakes on the family truckster and pay my respects. Imagine my surprise on what I discovered. Attractions – Downtown Brenham (www.DowntownBrenham.com) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This quaint little town has lovely array of unique dining, lodging, antique and retail shops. Downtown Brenham also hosts a “Hot Nights, Cool Tunes” Concert Series in the Courthouse Square most Saturday nights during the summer. Check out www.DowntownBrenham.com for dates and times. The Blue Bell Creamery (www.bluebell.com) in Brenham is hands-down the sweetest place on the planet. Guided tours of the Texas icon last 40 minutes and are first-come, first serve. Open Monday-Friday, general admission is just $3. The tour is sandwiched between a charming short video and a delicious scoop of ice cream at the end. The day I was there they were making Homemade Vanilla, Butter Pecan and, my personal favorite, Cookies ‘n Cream. What can I say, it’s a magical place. The birthplace of Texas, Washington-on-the-Brazos (www.birthplaceoftexas.com), is worth the trek 19 miles northeast of Brenham. It is the perfect place to learn about Texas history. The 293-acre state park has three main attractions. Independence Hall marks the place where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed in 1836. Barrington Living History Farm is an 1850s era, working cotton farm. Visitors learn from staff, dressed in period costume, about driving oxen, spinning, planting crops and making soap. The Star of Republic Museum tells the story of the Texas republic from 1836 to 1846. Exhibits are hands-on and entertaining for the whole family. George Bush Presidential Library and Museum (www.bushlibrary.tamu.edu) is located just up the road from Brenham in College Station and certainly worth a visit for the whole family. The state-of-the-art library is a loving tribute to our 41st president, as well as his wife, Barbara. Sure, everyone remembers Bush served as president, and also vice president, under President Reagan. But did you know at the tender age of 18, Bush served in the South Pacific as a Navy pilot? Notable artifacts include a massive section of the Berlin Wall and a fully-restored World War II Avenger Torpedo Bomber. Don’t forget to read the tribute letter to daughter Robin, who died at the age of 3 of Leukemia. It will make you cry. Grover Findley has worked at the Burton Cotton Gin (www.cottonginmuseum.org) for the past 40 year and is an excellent tour guide. Did you know when cotton was king there were 4,000 gins in Texas? Open Tuesday-Saturday, the oldest operating cotton gin in America processed three bales of cotton the week I was there. Since 1981, the Poor Clare nuns at the Monastery of St. Clare Miniature Horse Farm (www.monasteryminiaturehorses.com) in Brenham have been raising miniature horses. Self-guided tours are offered Tuesday-Saturday from 1:30 to 4 p.m. for a nominal fee. The nuns maintain a herd of about 60 adorable miniature horses. Don’t forget to pack a picnic lunch and a camera. Accommodations – I was surprised at the number of impressive lodging options in Washington County. I stayed at the Ant Street Inn (www.antstreetinn.com) in their spacious San Antonio room. Located in downtown Brenham, the 1899 building has been tastefully renovated into 15 guest rooms filled with museum-quality antiques. A full hot breakfast is included at the Capital Grill which adjoins the inn. If B&Bs are more your style, and Washington County has many, try the Knittel Homestead Inn (www.knittelhomestead.com) in nearby Burton. Innkeepers Carmen and Steve Finn have lovingly restored this historic Texas homestead which dates back to the late 1800s. Of the six bedrooms, my favorite is the elegant Isabella room. Another option is Lillian Farms Country Estate (www.lillianfarms.com) 8 miles north of Chappell Hill. The 230-acre working cattle ranch has six luxury suites in their spacious main house. Breakfast is touted as country and includes homemade scones, muffins and breads baked fresh each morning. Texas Ranch Life (www.TexasRanchLife.com) is located in nearby Bellville. The B&B is rated “5 Star” by Frommers and offers luxurious accommodations and fun for the whole family. Activities such as horseback riding, cattle work, day fishing, bald eagle tours, and dove hunting are extra. Dining – Washington County offers lots of dining options from good old Texas barbecue to gourmet, and everything in between. A couple of my favorites are Must Be Heaven in downtown Brenham. It is the perfect casual sandwich shop and open for breakfast and lunch. Trust me, don’t skip dessert. It will be difficult to choose between the homemade pie or a scoop of your favorite flavor of Blue Bell. Funky Art Café & Catering, also in downtown Brenham, serves up funky salads, soups and delicious hot and cold sandwiches. With menu items named Caravan Couscous and French Provincial Pot Pie, how could you go wrong? Gardener’s Delight – For those with green thumbs, Brenham has several unique opportunities that should not be missed. The Antique Rose Emporium (www.weAREroses.com) is an 8-acre retail garden located on an early settler’s homestead featuring fragrant antique roses, native plants, old-fashioned perennials, herbs and wildflowers. They are truly a “destination garden” where theme gardens abound. My favorite was the Children’s Garden which includes a yellow brick road. Ellison’s Greenhouses (www.ellisonsgreenhouses.com) celebrates 40 years in business this year. They sell the highest quality potted, blooming and foliage plants in their state-of-the-art greenhouses. Check out Ellison’s vine-ripened tomatoes grown year-round in their greenhouses. Customers are free to pick … for a price. One lady drives from Houston once a month and picks 20 pounds of tomatoes. Ellison’s is also a rooting station for poinsettias, providing more than 500,000 cuttings last year and hosts a Poinsettia Celebration the weekend before Thanksgiving. Summertime is the probably the best time to visit Chappell Hill Lavender Farm (www.chappellhilllavender.com), the largest lavender farm east of Austin. Cut your own lavender for just $5 dollars a bundle, or purchase everything lavender in their quaint gift shop. If you happen to be in the area on Saturday, Aug. 9, be sure and check out the annual Chappell Hill Lavender Fest. Brenham/Washington County is located 70 miles west of Houston on Highway 290. When planning your visit, contact the Washington County Convention & Visitor Bureau at 888-BRENHAM (273-6426), or visit www.BrenhamTexas.com. Photos by Dixie Frantz

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