To enter the quaint town of Castroville is to feel like you’ve stepped back in time. With a nod to its French and German ancestry, the town with a population of less than 3,000 is filled with historic sites and homes, Alsatian restaurants, and beautiful pecan and cypress trees. Perched atop 13 acres of hilltop overlooking this historic town, and the Medina River Valley, is the newly renovated, family-owned and -operated Hillside Boutique Hotel (formerly the Hotel Alsace). This 38-room Hill Country modern property provides guests with a place to slow down, connect and step off the grid while enjoying modern amenities and artisan touches that rival the finest destination retreats in Texas.
“It’s just a 20-minute drive from downtown San Antonio, but it feels like it’s worlds away,” says owner Joseph Winkler, an architect whose eye for detail and aesthetic is at the heart of the recent renovation. “We wanted to create a safe, family-friendly place where people don’t have to leave the site for what they need.”
The Best Kept Secret
Often referred to by guests as, “the best kept secret in Texas,” the Hillside Boutique Hotel has been a labor of love for Winkler, his wife Jana, and their partner Pete Markwardt. Each one brings a background of talent, skill, and a passion for design, craftsmanship and luxury that work together to create a harmonious, organic relationship between the property, its furnishings, and the landscape surrounding it.
“We very much embrace the small-town atmosphere, and hire and train locally,” says Joseph, adding that many employees have been with them for a decade or more and have developed a familiar rapport with guests.
“We have people who come here because of Jennye, our front desk/concierge who has been with us for 12 years,” he says. “We value our employees and give them a great work environment. Because we aren’t corporate, we can put our own stamp on things and do things the way we want.”
When the Winklers purchased the hotel in 2005, only 80 percent of the rooms were in use and the former restaurant had been shut down. Neither Joseph nor Jana had any experience in owning and operating a hotel or restaurant, but what they did have was a dream.
Joseph, who obtained his degree in architecture at the University of Texas, left his job as project coordinator at one of Austin’s most progressive firms, Jana left her position with the Mecca Gym and Spa, and the family relocated to Castroville where they set about the first of four renovations that would result in the Hillside Boutique Hotel. Along the way, they brought in partner Pete Markwardt, owner of the Casa 1810 hotel in San Miguel, Mexico. Markwardt brought his hospitality expertise along with his extensive background in antiques, retail and custom furniture design, and together the three owners worked closely together to create a place they describe as a fresh and modern interpretation of Texas Hill Country charm.
The most recent upgrades were completed in spring 2018 and include all new custom furniture, fixtures, shiplap, crown molding and landscaping. The restaurant, bar and patio areas were given facelifts that included the addition of glass and black rod iron walls and bi-fold doors in the tasting room, ballroom and boardrooms. Custom created in Markwardt’s own warehouse, the glass walls and doors were made to mimic the vintage industrial warehouses from the 1880-1920 era, with randomly seeded glass panes and a clean, modern, long vertical pane design. Floor to ceiling windows were added in the boardroom for unobstructed views of the property.
Creating a room where guests can feel pampered, yet comfortable, is no easy task. The owners worked with designer Hillary Walker of Courtney and Company to tie everything together. Together they selected paint colors and art pieces for the rooms, with Markwardt handpicking the blankets on each bed from Mexico, and shipping in rugs from Turkey. The hand-woven pillows on the beds were carefully selected by Walker and together with the rustic furnishings, the rooms took on a luxurious, yet comfortable feel that invites guests to kick back and relax.
“We never wanted to leave the Texas feel,” describes Markwardt, adding that the Hillside collection of blankets, pillows, rugs, bath products, robes and even all the beds and furniture is available for purchase, the hotel accepts inquiries at the front desk and certain items are available for immediate purchase in the lobby store.
The 38 available rooms range from a 375 square foot Classic King, to 425 square foot Classic Queen, Deluxe King, and Superior King styles. For an even more luxurious experience, guests can enjoy a 620 square foot, two-bedroom Premier Suite complete with one king and one queen bed, along with a sleeper sofa and a few little “extras” like robes and slippers. For those who want the feel of “home,” the two-bedroom Luxury Suite offers more than 1,100 square feet of Hill Country living with vaulted ceilings, floor to ceiling windows, full kitchen, living area, washer and dryer, and a large private balcony overlooking the Medina River Valley. All rooms are outfitted with 50-65 inch state of the art televisions as well as complimentary Wi-Fi service, and guests may choose from a menu of “enhancements” including welcome drinks, spa services, and more when booking to customize their experience.
The Spa and Amenities
With a degree and background in theatre which led Jana to a career in cosmetology, creating a destination spa is a dream come true for the mom of three. She oversees the development of the 1,000-square foot facility that offers four treatment rooms in which guests can enjoy customized facials, massages, body treatments, and nail services. A soothing raindrop shower enhances the experience.
Jana carefully selected the product lines she uses including Malin + Goetz, a fragrant, unisex line of bath and body products, and Rhonda Allison skincare, another Texas company.
A hilltop swimming pool area complete with private cabanas is perfect for relaxing following spa treatments and unwinding amid the natural Hill Country panoramic views. As part of a complete wellness experience, events including Yoga on the Hill and a Hillside Concert Series with live music, both take place in the outdoor Arbor under the big Texas sky. A Hillside Wellness Retreat package offers guests even more opportunities to live their best lives with a menu of fitness classes and guest lecturers.
Eating and Meeting
A modern twist on comfort food is what guests will find at the Texas Bistro. With breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch menus there is something to tempt every taste bud. The 1,100-square foot space is light and airy with Hill Country views from almost every angle. Rustic European-style oversized chandeliers custom made in Turkey offer ambient lighting that enhances the modern aesthetic.
For pre-gaming or just unwinding, sink into one of the deep leather chairs or couches in the Barrel Room and enjoy drinks and appetizers. This unique 800-square foot space is a throwback to old Castroville with photos from the town’s early days lining the walls, and shelving made by Joseph himself using reclaimed wood off of the original property. Once an open-air loft, the curated space can accommodate up to 40 people and is ideal for informal meetings or gatherings. For larger events up to 250 guests, the multi-level Texas Bistro offers space for 60 people in the upper-level Tasting Room, while the ballroom can accommodate up to 145 guests, making it perfect for parties, weddings, reunions and more. Additionally, the entire property can be booked for weddings or corporate events.
With so much to offer guests, the “best-kept secret in Texas,” won’t stay a secret for long, and that’s just what the owners have planned.
“We are trying to build a legacy for our family,” says Joseph. “There is so much more that I want to get into on the other 9 acres of property. In my brain, this is just the beginning.”
About Hillside Boutique Hotel Hillside Boutique Hotel is located on a 13-acre hillside in Castroville, Texas. Renovated in 2018 by local owners, the 38-room hotel boasts a Hill Country modern design with custom artisan touches and panoramic views. Just 17 miles from SeaWorld and 26 miles from downtown San Antonio, Hillside Boutique Hotel offers visitors a relaxing retreat conveniently close to area attractions. Amenities include a full-service spa with an array of customized services, a hillside swimming pool with panoramic views and poolside cabanas, and the outdoor Arbor – home to the Hillside Concert Series, Yoga on the Hill and more. Guests can enjoy a modern twist on comfort food with indoor and outdoor dining at the 2,600 square-foot Texas Bistro, or relax and enjoy drinks and appetizers in the rustic Barrel Room. Hillside Boutique Hotel offers 4,500 square feet of indoor event space with additional acreage outdoors. A perfect wedding venue, the hotel offers a two-bedroom, two-bath suite with outdoor living and dining areas. With luxury amenities, artisan decor, and event spaces for up to 200, the hotel is ideal for both business and leisure. Visit hillsidetexas.com or call (830) 538-3200 for more information.