It was such a dream to be home to Texas for the summer. There’s my home, the one my family’s lived in since we moved back to Dallas when I was in the fourth grade, following a stint abroad. The minute we turn into our neighborhood on the drive in from the airport, I feel home in that sense.
To feel home in the Texas sense, though, I have to leave the city. Markus always says he feels home in the German mountains, that things have always made more sense when he’s living in them, feeling small in a good way in comparison to their stature. That’s me and the Texas sky, I think. Driving into the Texas Hill Country on I-35-S from Dallas under a bright blue, white popcorn cloud highway sky, I feel too little to need to worry myself with much of anything. And with nothing but all the space and rolling hills to be seen around me, it’s like all that sky is just for me. I love being something’s best girl like that.
That was really the point of my two nights at the Shady Villa Hotel in Salado, Texas. The sky did a lot to remind me that, on the other side of a few big years of change, I’m the same girl under the same sky.
Shady Villa Hotel in Salado
I’m fortunate enough, as many Texans are, to not only have the sky to call home but special places to sleep under it that feel familiar. Like many lucky Texans, I have great family memories from Shady Villa Hotel.
My grandparents took their kids to this same hotel when it was the Stagecoach Inn in the 1960’s, as an accountant and his wife who had just relocated their three children from Scranton, Pennsylvannia, to Texas, where they had never been and had no family. This was the tour of Texas to indoctrinate them into the Wild West, and singing waitresses and hush puppies were on the itinerary. My Mom had the family stop when we were in high school. The hush puppies, still served in the restaurant today, were there and the “singing” waitress became a second generation core family memory, mostly thanks to my sister and I’s suppressed church giggles. In February 2021, I needed to be near Austin while keeping pandemic space and got to share a night at the property with my daughter, making that four generations of family who have stayed here. I always feel close to my ancestors looking up at the sky, but throw in the same trees, same sweet 1950’s motor hotel rooms and the swimming pool in the middle and I start feeling mega-good, like there’s a purpose and season for everything in life.
I’m not the only guest who feels this way. According to Mike, who has been with the hotel since 2017 and helped me with my reservation and then came out to say a personal hello when he heard me checking in, one of the best parts of working for the hotel are the stories.
If you don’t have family ties to Shady Villa, there’s still plenty of history here to feel a part of the past. According to Bell County deed records, the land Shady Villa Hotel sits on today first sold as a hotel property for $100 in 1860. Since then, it has its place in history housing the likes of Sam Houston, outlaw Sam Bass and World War II soldiers returning from war. I feel like things really got started for the place in 1943, though, when Dion and Ruth Van Bibber restored the place and opened it as Stagecoach Inn. With Mrs. Van doing the cooking and Mr. Van hosting, Texas tourists like my family loved the food, the property and the couple’s ideas to pay homage to the old cattle days with touches like having waitresses recite the daily menu. (There’s a story here about how a power couple with hardworking charm and hospitality can turn a Texas small town into a world class destination, right?)
And now the pages of history turn again, as I was so excited to see Stagecoach Inn sell to Bunkhouse Group and change its name to Shady Villa Hotel just weeks after my last stay in 2021. The things that make staying at vintage roadside motels in the U.S. special to me, like attention to detail and the family-like feel of the staff, is part of why I love Bunkhouse hotels. In the town paper’s announcement of the purchase, Bunkhouse promises to “create new cultural programming and retail offerings” for the town as its new community member, which is off to a great start with hotel’s Sunroom Sets concert series.
I did grow up with my Dad’s family in a town of 25,000 people, though, so I know how smaller towns can roll with change (Salado’s population is around 3,000). I had a lot of questions, from both other Texas friends who have family stories with the place or just eyebrows up around town, about how I really liked my stay here after the first round of updates. So I kept my unbiased, journalist eye on the place and I’ll tell you.
What I Loved
The Guest Rooms
My first space to myself after 27 blissful days living in the same home as my parents and daughter was one of the 48 guest rooms at Shady Villa. I love these rooms – they are preserved and restored just right.
I love the Texas morning light streaming in and hitting the wood paneling, how refreshing the clay tile feels on the soles of my bare feet on an August afternoon, the huge marshmallow of a bed and the overhead shower to rinse pool water, creek water and sweat from a nice day in the sun. Like the best American motor hotels, the air conditioning is ice cold.
Type A minus that I am, I brought work with me. It’s so nice to have a standard room with pockets of space to change it up – read a book in the corner, work a little at the tidy desk and watch I Love Lucy in bed with no one around to tell me not to.
The best part of the Shady Villa Hotel in Salado, though, are the bungalow entrances to each room. More than a balcony, it’s another outdoor living area to listen to cicadas and eat chips in silence.
Lush is not a word thrown around Texas much in August, so Shady Villa Hotel’s jungle pool is such a treat. The property is cared for with such love, the grass underfoot before dipping in the cold pool feels so good, even in the hottest month of the year in a drought. It’s those little details for me, like I said.
I love all the little pockets for conversation that make it easy for a day here to feel just for you even when it’s busy with other guests.
And to that point, the pool bar is a feat. There’s a million ways to do nothing here, from the dining area and bar to ping pong, darts, corn hole, games and plenty of places to sit with the paper or a book.
What to Know
Make the Time
The best thing I gave myself at Shady Villa Hotel were little pockets of time to explore.
I’m so grateful for my work break strolls I took from my room to the guest check-in each day for an afternoon Coca-Cola and conversation, where I was able to hear such great stories about Salado from the wonderful local people who are now proudly employed with the hotel.
So often I love to stay at a place with lots to offer and then spend most of my time away exploring. The pace of Salado really lets the people of the town be the treat. I loved sitting in the Stagecoach Restaurant one night, singing along to the radio with employees cleaning up at the bar on the other side of the dining room, naturally a little sparse at 9:00 p.m. on weeknight. I like seeing the young waiters want to impress me with a perfect mix of small town manners and Bunkhouse training, no matter that I’m the last table of the night.
There is coffee in the room. – brewed bags and an electric kettle – but I make the time to jump on one of the complimentary bikes and head to McCain’s or the Strawberry Patch on Main Street too and add even more great conversation to my alone time.
Shady Villa Hotel and its hometown of Salado are the kinds of places that show me the benefit of slowing down, of taking simple things in through my own eyes long enough to remember their beauty. They’re so picture perfect I can’t stop capturing all of the details, but it’s how connected I feel to nature, people and myself when the camera phone is down here that keeps me coming back. I’m so excited for this fresh start for the property and all of its guests who get to experience it again like new.
How about you?