IT’S RARE TO FIND A SMALL TOWN WITH THE ABILITY to cater to travelers seeking modern, plush amenities. Sure, there are towns that are quaint and cozy, full of bed-and-breakfasts (think Napa or Aspen) that satisfy. But there’s a small, charismatic town nestled just outside of Austin that truly combines charming small-town hospitality with outdoor adventures, pristine scenery, easy access to a major airport and modern venues and hotels that are pros at accommodating everything from families to large groups of professionals.
The historic town of Bastrop delivers on all those aspects. Established in 1832, it’s one of only 14 Texas cities to earn the Scenic City certification. While there’s no direct airline service, it’s easy for visitors to get to Bastrop after flying into Austin, a mere 25 minutes away.
"Bastrop is so close to Austin and yet feels so far-plus it doesn’t have the traffic issues Austin does. It’s known as the most historic small town in Texas, with more than 130 historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places," says Kim Britton, director of sales and marketing at Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa.
"Our county has a tagline: ‘enjoy our friendly nature.’ I think that’s exactly what happens when folks come here," explains Adena Lewis, the tourism coordinator for Bastrop County. "We are known for being very historic, rural and hospitable. There are lots of mom-and-pop shops and restaurants, and the people are warm and welcoming."
While Bastrop’s charming Main Street is bustling with boutiques and art galleries, Bastrop also caters to those seeking outdoor activities.
"We normally brag about our weather and how we can play golf on our four different courses all year long," says Lewis. "We have a very mild winter climate. And in the summer, people enjoy kayaking and canoeing on the Colorado River."
There are also two state parks-Bastrop State Park and McKinney Roughs Nature Park-for hiking and biking trails. It’s factors such as these that make Bastrop such an alluring destination for companies to plan conventions and large meetings.
"We have biking events that occur; and the X Games are going to be in Austin this year, so there will be lead-up events that occur in Bastrop," says Lewis. "We’re also close to the Circuit of The Americas track where the Formula One race takes place, and it’s actually easier to access that track through Bastrop than Austin. There are filming projects happening constantly. Filmmakers like Bastrop because it’s different from an urban setting. There is this casual atmosphere that allows people to relax but still get a lot of work done."
And with about 1,200 available hotel rooms in town, you can bet there are a handful of notable venues ideal for hosting conventions and association meetings-most notably, the Bastrop Convention & Exhibit Center and the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa.
Since opening in 2011, the Bastrop Convention & Exhibit Center has hosted such organizations as the Texas Downtown Association, the Texas Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, the Texas Department of Public Safety and more within its 26,000-square-foot, full-service facility. Catherine Sak, a meeting planner with the Texas Downtown Association, says Bastrop was selected because it is a central location. "The community size is less than 8,000, but I think the downtown is one of the best in the state as far as retail, dining and nightlife options," she says. "Our conferences are usually less than 300 people, so in the larger cities we can get lost in the shuffle."
"We’re a brand-new convention center right in the heart of the historical district of downtown Bastrop," says Kathy Danielson, executive director of Bastrop Convention & Exhibit Center. "You wouldn’t think that it would be such a selling point, but the fact that we have 316 free parking spaces is always popular for larger groups. When you are meeting in a larger city, you have to pay for parking, but we have it free."
Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa is also one of the most popular spots to host a meeting or event. The only resort in Bastrop County, it’s located about 15 minutes from downtown. "We’re situated on 405 scenic acres, and that gives business travelers a breath of fresh air, along with high-level service and amenities for small meetings and large conferences alike," says Britton. "We offer more than 60,000 square feet indoors-that’s in one wing and on one level, which makes it easy for meeting planners and attendees to navigate sessions. We also have more than 240,000 square feet outdoors, a riverside amphitheater, and the chance to blend spa and golf into the program."
Some of the notable associations and groups that have met at Lost Pines include Texas Agriculture Aviation Association, British Petroleum, St. Jude’s, State Farm and the American Akaushi Association, the latter of which is the official breed association for one of Japan’s highly marbled beef brands.
"2014 will be the third year we’ve held our convention at Lost Pines," says Janie Bain, meeting planner for the American Akaushi Association. "We looked at several meeting spots in the Austin area, but we liked the location [of Lost Pines]. Plus, we were blown away by the service. The facilities met all of our needs and were beautiful."