By Sarah Ivens
Texas, I know, isn’t a state one usually associates with phrases like ‘less is more’ or ‘it’s the simple things that matter.’ Texas, stereotypically, is all about big hair, big boots, and big horns – well, longhorns. After living in the Lone Star state for six months I was getting used to this mindset – everything was sold to me as bigger and better in Texas and, as for a Brit whose upper lip is always stiff and tongue is permanently wedged in my cheek, I kind of admired the brash, bold, bootilicious OTT-ness of it all. But then the nights drew in, the amplified humidity dialed down to a bearable degree, and I longed for the comfy, cozy, low-key creature comforts of my European heritage. I needed to nestle.
The concept of Hygge is having a moment in my motherland right now. This festive season in the UK alone, ten books are being published on the art of it – how to Hygge, when to Hygge and how to out-Hygge your friends. Overwrought, wrung-out, over-loaded and ready to simplify, Brits in their droves are looking for the Hygge experience at home, on their dining table and in their wardrobes. But what is it, you may wonder?
A Scandinavian concept meaning to enjoy the ritual of life’s simple pleasures – family, friends, graciousness and good food. It means to create a warm atmosphere – warm hearts talking in the glow of candlelight, hot chocolate mysteriously appearing from a warm stove and placed in your hands. This coziness of the soul was what I was craving, but in Texas? 6,000 miles from my extended family and old friends in London? How could I possibly get my Hygge on here?
Thankfully, tucked away in Spring Branch, a picturesque village in the Hill Country (70 miles from Austin, 30 miles from San Antonio) I found my soul solution: the Texas Bell, a glamping experience designed by Leslie Shurbet, a reiki healer and holistic health coach who – having always enjoyed hosting and cooking for friends and family – decided to erect a designer tent, 20’ diameter and 12’ tall in the center, in her back garden. Set upon a custom deck capturing long distance views across the glorious landscape, the Bell comes with A/C and a fireplace (plus a fire pit just outside for serious s’mores action), and a full bathroom with an instant hot water shower and linens. Leslie would deliver hot coffee to the tent at sunrise, before guests could traipse at their leisure uphill past her clucking chickens and roaming deer, for a fine breakfast in her kitchen overlooking a fish pond. Wowzers. Why camp when you can glamp? And what could be more Hygge-y?
“The important thing to me when people walk through the door is that they feel like they have arms around them,” Leslie told me over a slice of her warmed apricot jam-stuffed French toast on my first morning at the Bell (and yes, that is as divine as it sounds). “I want everyone to leave here relaxed and unburdened.”
Relaxing is difficult when you’re traveling with a five and three year old as I was. My five year old was so excited by the assortment of games offered in the tent, and collecting still-warm eggs from the hen coop, that he was a pleasure to be with but my threenager was having a rough time of it. I was embarrassed but Leslie was having none of it. She enticed me and Matilda into her ‘healing room’, me for some lavender oils that would help with the headache that was fast developing and Matilda for a concoction called ‘Peace.’ “I call this my ‘Toddler Oil’,” Leslie said, as she lightly rubbed it into Matilda’s palms and showed her how to breathe deeply. The air filled with a sweet and delicious aroma, and my dramatic daughter suddenly became a bit more inviting too. Leslie found her a sparkly gold bottle, poured her some oil, and gave it to her a gift. Matilda was thrilled – “a fairy bottle, a real fairy bottle” – and my headache lifted. We returned to the Bell for a nap as rain lashed down in a rhythmic pitter-patter around the Bell, the glow from the fire warming our toes as we wrapped up under piles of woolen blankets and embroidered throws. We all regrouped for a family supper on the deck, before tucking in for the night at 8pm. Fresh country air does that to you. No television? No Netflix? No problem.
Time does stand still at the Texas Bell. And don’t we all need that occasionally? The two cities that sit either side of her are bustling metropolises, filled to brimming with great dining choices, unique entertainment experiences and shopping malls. But here, just over an hour from the hip hub that is Austin and half an hour from the history mecca that is San Antonio, I found my Hygge. I already can’t wait to get back there – just to lie down and let the wind blow around me, while Leslie’s hospitality holds me tight.
The Texas Bell accommodates up to 4 people. Weekend price $150 per night for the entire tent, included breakfast.