A Sense of Story
When Michael Bradbury first laid eyes on 80 acres for sale in the Sam Houston National Forest, he was looking for a place in the country, not a hotel project. But the rundown 1885 farmhouse that stood on the property seemed to speak to him. “I instantly knew we were going to do a boutique hotel,” he says.
A resident of Creekside Park along with his wife and three children, Michael owns another business in The Woodlands, and he says the serial entrepreneur in him took over.
He envisioned the kind of hotel property he and his wife gravitated toward—a boutique lodging where guests get to know the staff, a place of quiet luxury with great food and the tranquil countryside as a backdrop.
When The Historic Hill House and Farm opened to guests in 2018, accommodations consisted of seven rooms. Since then, the number has expanded to 16. Whether it’s a couple’s getaway, a wedding, or a corporate retreat, Michael believes people are looking for a sense of story, a connection with the past, so every new structure is intended to add texture and nuance.
The original farmhouse has a quaint B&B feel, homey and authentic down to the squeak in the screen door, says Michael. Other rooms include airy cottages with a more modern décor and a handsome lodge constructed using an early-1900s barn.
An interesting recent addition is the hotel’s yurt -- a roomy, luxury tent that has a/c and heat, a full bathroom, and a fun, cozy décor. He says it’s been a hit with adventurous guests. “You don’t know what to expect, but somehow, you know you’re going to love it.”
Under the helm of Texas-born-and-raised Chef Chase Reid, the seasonal dinner menus offer elevated Southern and hyper-local cuisine. The hotel also offers a full breakfast and lunch service to hotel guests only.
Hill House is popping up on the radar of a wider audience since appearing in an episode of “The Bachelor” last year. “When we started out, our reservations were coming from Houston-The Woodlands, ” says Michael, but now guests are coming from across Texas, and a company recently booked the entire hotel out of New York. A three-year plan for the hotel envisages more on-site amenities, including a full-service spa.
Michael considers the hotel to be his fourth child. “I’m not objective,” he laughs. “I love this property -- the attention to detail, the character of the buildings, and the passion of our staff.”
Things of Beauty
Theresa Pham has always been captivated by Old World roses. “The very first rose that did it for me, that propelled me and created the passion that has driven us, was the Earth Angel, a cabbage-y rose with an 85-95 petal-count, a light pink center with cream outer petals, and an apple-citrus-pear fragrance with a hint of champagne,” she says.
Her husband, Shaw Nguyen, even started growing some of her favorites in the backyard of their Houston home. It was 2009, and each of them was working a corporate job. “Our careers gave us stability and financial freedom, but they didn’t give us the meaningfulness we were looking for,” she says.
The couple began buying and renovating houses -- move in, remodel, then sell and move to the next house. In the spring of 2020, as the pandemic unfolded, Shaw was ready to make one last move—out of the city and into the countryside of Montgomery County.
“No way!” Theresa remembers saying. “There’ll be lots of bugs, and it’ll be dirty!” But the idea came to them that they could grow roses commercially. Theresa did the research, and by September, they were moving into a home on 15 acres in Magnolia and planting their first 300 European roses.
“Surprisingly, there isn’t a single cut rose farm in the South dedicated to European roses [widely known as garden roses],” says Theresa and COVID was only making it harder for florists to source them. Before the roses were even ready, their Life in Rose Farm was fielding orders from across Texas. By winter, florists in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and New York were calling. Soon people were asking to buy rose plants to grow at home. So she and Shaw started growing plants to sell bare root, which makes for easier shipping. Now bare root sales have surpassed those of cut flowers.
A steady trickle of visitors often appears at the entrance gate on pleasant mornings — some are there to pick up bouquet purchases, others to soak in the ambiance. Shaw conducts informal tours while Theresa prepares for holiday tea service in The Glasshouse (the farm’s greenhouse} or a flower arranging class in the cottage. Photographers and wedding planners have started to take notice, and this past summer the couple began renting out the greenhouse for events.
Life in Rose will continue to evolve, says Theresa. “What we do is extraordinarily hard, but it’s meaningful. We believe it’s going to be a beautiful thing.”
Peace, Love, and Wine
Jerry Bernhardt did a little bit of everything before starting Bernhardt Winery. He realized soon after graduating from Texas A&M that he was not meant for a desk job. (“I did not have enough Velcro on my rear.”)
He worked for a while as a builder, earned a Masters in vocational education, and then took a job teaching design and graphic arts at McCullough High School in The Woodlands.
It was 1976, and wine consumption in the U.S. was just taking off. Jerry says his conception of wine back then was one of swirling glasses and sipping with “pinkies lifted.” He knew nothing about winemaking or the industry. But he wanted to.
So he set a goal to learn all there was to know about wine before he turned 50. “And that’s how the whole thing got started.” Soon he was making wine at home and knocking on winery doors across the Texas Hill Country until he found a winemaker in Stonewall who was willing to apprentice him. (There were all of about three dozen wineries in the entire state at the time.)
Jerry planned to build his winery along the burgeoning highway 290 wine corridor near Fredericksburg. But driving past Lake Conroe one day, he had a paradigm shift: Why not create that same experience close to home?
He and his wife found 20 acres near Plantersville in Grimes County, and Bernhardt Winery was born in 2005, a gracious, Mediterranean-style villa set amongst centuries-old pecan trees which frame the views of the gently rolling terrain – as Jerry describes it, a sanctuary, a “Houston Hill Country winery.”
Over the years, Bernhardt Winery has produced a repertoire of small-batch wines with a loyal following that’s grown along with the accolades -- most recently, the 2023 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show for its 2020 Antiquity Chardonnay Reserve, Danube Plain, part of Bernhardt’s Antiquity Series of wines made from indigenous grapes of southeastern Europe, harvested for millennia from the same fields which produced wines enjoyed by Alexander the Great and Aristotle.
Weekends at Bernhardt are filled with wine and music, including Sunday evening concerts, spring through fall, and the annual Chocolate, Strawberry & Wine festival in April. Working side by side with his nephew, winemaker Jonathan Schrock, Jerry is enjoying the fruits of the journey. “Wine is a relationship and an artistic endeavor. You have to love it to nurse it along.”