Imagine cowboys herding cattle in the wide open spaces of Texas. While you probably won't clash with free-ranging cattle in Washington County, unless they have escaped around a downed fence somewhere, this part of Hill Country is considered the birthplace of Texas.

With its fertile soils, the Brazos River Valley -- halfway between Austin and Dallas-Ft. Worth, has retained its connection with the land and its rich history.

"There is so much room to roam in Texas," says former California resident Ashley Quick. "I don't miss San Jose at all."

I had a chance to connect with my inner cowgirl at The Inn at Dos Brisas, a 313-acre ranch near Washington, Texas. Driving through the gated entrance my eyes were drawn to the larger-than-life Adirondack chairs settled on the grass next to the first of three fish-stocked ponds. But don't let the slow pace of this family-owned resort fool you -- this Relais & Chateaux property is home to Texas' only Forbes 5-star restaurant. The private haciendas and casitas are ideal for relaxing after a day of sporting clays, fishing or riding, and are surrounded by nature.

Foodies and gardeners will appreciate the chance to tour the organic farm or take a cooking class at the restaurant. I learned to create the perfect cocktail during a class with Dos Brisas sommelier and mixologist Thomas Perez.


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Southern roots run deep in Oxford, Miss.

It takes two planes and a rental car picked up in Memphis, Tennessee to reach Oxford, Miss., but once there, sit back and soak in the Southern hospitality.

This collegiate town has more independent book stores than anywhere I have traveled; perhaps out of respect to authors William Faulkner and John Grisham, who both called Oxford home. With its prewar antebellum houses, brick buildings and legendary Grove at Ole Miss, this town knows how to pair architecture and entertainment.

There's no lack of restaurant choices in this part of the state. This California food snob was introduced to shrimp and grits for the first time and was pleasantly surprised with both the flavor and texture. Boure and Snack Bar restaurant had my family coming back for more southern cuisine, while Big Bad Breakfast keeps the college students well fed.

Lafayette's Evan Brown, an Acalanes High School grad set to start classes at the University of Mississippi next fall, enjoyed the stateliness of Oxford Square and looks forward to experiencing football tailgates at the legendary grove. He won't be the only Mississippi-bound Lamorinda graduate, as several Campolindo High School seniors have also selected to attend Ole Miss.

What is the appeal of the southern school experience?

"The south has a unique culture completely different from the San Francisco Bay Area," notes Brown. "I'm looking forward to discovering what the world has to offer beyond California."

Former Walnut Creek resident and Mississippi native Cam Smith said, "The biggest two differences for us are found by inserting a 't' or a 'b' into the same word to describe the people: li_eral.

"Literal: We found 'Creekers' take comments, rules, regulations, signs, etc. as if they were facts and nonnegotiable. It's in a Southerner's nature to question what is presented to our senses. We weren't brought up to take everything at face value.

"Liberal: The use of this word could easily have a political connotation. We found the definition applicable to much more when we moved to California. Not bad, just different. After three years and much exploration in Contra Costa County, my wife and I agree we'd move back in a heartbeat. After all, variety is the spice of life, and in the South we're raised to live for the spice!"

Ducks march in Memphis, Tennessee

Cameras flash, smart phones record the action and John Philip Sousa's "King Cotton March" plays in the background as a drake and four hen mallards waddle the red carpet, skillfully followed by the only Duckmaster in these parts of Tennessee. Where am I?

The historic Peabody Hotel in Memphis has been hosting this unique duck march through the grand lobby, morning and night, since 1933.

If watching ducks paddling in a fountain doesn't float your boat, you might like the history tour of The Peabody. This elegant 464-room hotel, with three ballrooms and a Grecian-style indoor pool and spa, is a member of Historic Hotels of America. The Peabody Memphis is located in the heart of "Blues City" and a couple of blocks from Beale Street, the Gibson Guitar Factory, the National Civil Rights Museum and the Orpheum Theatre.

Where have your travels taken you lately?

Read Lamorinda-based Nancy D. Brown's blog at www.Nancydbrown.com

ONLINE RESOURCES
Inn at Dos Brisas: www.dosbrisas.com
The Inn at Ole Miss: www.theinnatolemiss.com
The Peabody, Memphis: www.peabodymemphis.com
Oxford Visitors Center: http://visitoxfordms.com