If your image of a Bed & Breakfast is a fussily decorated Victorian house heavy on dried flower arrangements and porcelain figurines, it’s time you saw the Rio Grande Valley’s refreshing, site-specific take on B&Bs.
A dozen B&Bs cater to Valley visitors who love both comfort and the outdoors: birders, anglers, naturalists, beach walkers. In urban and rural settings, these retreats provide privacy and high levels of service at unique getaways. Most opened between 1999 and 2001, but all create memories of being in the right place for a great time.
The largest B&B is the Alamo Inn, located in the heart of Alamo and occupying the town’s oldest building, which was previously a bank and a drug store. Keith Hackland and his wife bought the 1919 building in 1999 to transform it into a Bed & Breakfast. Alamo Inn started out slowly and has grown to 16 themed suites, such as Inca Dove and Hummingbird, spreading over two adjacent buildings on the town square. Hackland admitted the hospitality field was new to him and required hands-on learning.
“The key to our success is seeing ourselves as a service organization,” the innkeeper said. “We really listen to our guests and are always looking for ways to improve our level of service. Being in the richest birding spot in the U.S. is incredible in itself. Meeting all the wonderful people who come here to bird is the most fun work I’ve ever done. The birding aspect kind of dropped in our laps.” Hackland, who grew up in South Africa chasing birds and bugs, said about 90 percent of his guests are birders.
While Hackland wondered if the downtown location would deter birders, just the opposite holds true. The Alamo Inn is sold out solidly from October to April. “After being out in the field all day, they like to walk across the street to El Dorado to have dinner and a couple beers,” he said. The restaurant’s owners have become good friends and really appreciate the business from the B&B.
Alamo Inn is customized to suit birders, whom Hackland describes as self-sustaining. Birders typically leave for birding sites before dawn, so Hackland provides a self-serve, grab-and-go breakfast, along with coolers for bag lunches. He added an in-house Outdoor Store, which he said stocks the region’s best quality birding binoculars and scopes: Alpen and Brunton. Other than the optics, the store is self-service and carries birders’ hats and clothing in the de rigueur colors of sage green and khaki. The store also has the largest selection of birding books in the region. Birders are known for spending more money than other types of tourists.
Alamo Inn has a resident artist, Grover Terry Beaman, whose art is on this month’s cover. It provides or recommends guiding services along with providing birding maps and hot spot lists. Evenings, birders are found chatting in the lobby and at the breakfast tables, going over what birds they saw and where. South Texas birders are noted for being extremely friendly, Hackland noted, although they do shut down early, because “birders are not night owls.”
The B&B gets about 15-20 tour groups annually with a Swedish group due soon. Alamo’s guests now come from 20 countries, with the number of European birders up twenty-fold from in recent years. That’s due in part to the South Texas Nature Marketing Coop (supported by Valley chambers of commerce) which markets Valley birding internationally and nationally. Hackland is an active member of that group and the RGV B&B Association as well as president of the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, which advocates for the National Wildlife Refuges.
“We have such a unique natural heritage here in the birds and butterflies,” said the innkeeper, who stays in B&Bs when he travels. This summer Alamo Inn is starting a series of workshops and fieldtrips, that will enable Hackland to be out in the woods and fields which he enjoys.
Along the Arroyo
Larry and Fran Wolpin built Atascosa Outlook from scratch along the Arroyo Colorado in 2006. At the Arroyo City B&B, the retired teachers thrive on teaching people about the area’s birds and wildlife. “We absolutely love it. There’s nothing greater than seeing a young face catch their first fish from our fishing pier,” Fran Wolpin said. “Most of our guests are families here to have fun together and relax, and 90 percent are from the Valley. They don’t have to travel so far to get here.”
The main lodge and the four-plex are equipped with kitchens. “It’s a relatively new approach for a B&B,” she said. “We serve breakfast in the lobby or for early risers, put out food baskets that include our homemade breads and fruit platters. Families come back again and again for reunions or weddings or to go hunting and fishing. Laguna Atascosa next door is the largest National Wildlife Refuge in the nation,” she added. Guests, who find they have much in common, congregate in the lobby and along the sea wall of the Arroyo.
Evolution of a B&B
Thirteen years ago, the Breedlove family transformed a neighbor’s house fronting a resaca into the luxurious Inn at Chachalaca Bend. Originally marketed to birders, the B&B has transitioned to a premier venue for special events, weddings and business retreats.
“With any business, your priorities change as the years go by,” said Jesse Breedlove, a geologist turned innkeeper. “Most of our business now is group functions. We have 25 to 30 weddings a year. Sometimes couples get together and arrange to have the inn to themselves for a weekend. And we have a lot of business people who stay with us during the week, because it’s quiet and luxurious.” It’s only a 10 to 20 minute drive to Brownsville, Harlingen and the Island where they are working temporarily.
Now promoted as a luxury inn, the B&B added casitas and a honeymoon lodge to accommodate additional guests. Full country breakfasts include farm fresh eggs from their own chickens. “It’s a lot of fun running the inn. We’ve met so many neat people over the years and made so many good friends.”
For more information, see www.rgv-bedandbreakfast.com.
March cover story by Eileen Mattei.