The New York Times selected Houston as one of its 52 places to see in 2019. The fourth largest city in the country offers an abundance of cultural attractions, shopping and restaurants.

For our 36-hour Houston weekend, we stayed at Hotel Granduca, the only hotel in the city that is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. Designed to feel like a northern Italian villa, the luxury hotel in the heart of the Galleria District is a relaxing private retreat in the middle of a metropolis

Houston a weekend escape - Exterior the Hotel Granduca in Houston

Exterior the Hotel Granduca in Houston

Accommodations with a unique ambiance

The valet welcomed us to the Hotel Granduca, a full-service property with 122 rooms and suites. Our Junior Traditional Suite contained one king bedroom and a living room/kitchenette separated by French doors. A dining table for four sat next to a kitchenette stocked with pots, pans, dishes and utensils.

Two upholstered chairs and a cozy sofa created a gathering spot around a large coffee table stacked with magazines. The arrangement provided a view to the small television tucked in a large armoire. Two bathrobes hung on the bathroom door and Aqua Di Parma toiletries were displayed on the granite countertop. Amenities we appreciated included coffee, a daily newspaper, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Houston Weekend -Junior Traditional Suite at Hotel Granduca Houston

Junior Traditional Suite at Hotel Granduca Houston

Houston Weekend - Our kitchenette at Hotel Granduca

Our kitchenette at Hotel Granduca

We joined other guests gathering in Bar Malatesta where there’s live music and complimentary appetizers every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening.

Lucky to be visiting H-Town (as locals call it) during the final days of spring, we stepped outside to enjoy our cocktails. The lushly landscaped veranda and pool with shaded tables encourage conversation and mingling. The staff left the doors to the hotel open so we could hear the pianist play Cole Porter tunes. Alfresco dining among the gardens and fruit trees is available for lunch and dinner at Il Giardino. 

Outdoor dining at Hotel Granduca Houston

Outdoor dining at Hotel Granduca Houston

The hotel’s fine dining restaurant, Ristorante Cavour, serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. A selection of more than 600 wines from nearly a dozen countries complements the northern Italian menu.

Other amenities include a billiards room, an on-site fitness room with views of the pool, and complimentary transportation within a 3-mile radius in the Granduca’s Maserati.

Inviting pool area at Hotel Granduca

Inviting pool area at Hotel Granduca

Rejuvenating is easy at the hotel, nestled in Uptown Park, a walkable European style shopping center with boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. Before an evening at the theatre, freshen up with a blowout at Drybar. Indulge in a sweet treat from Crave Cupcakes—try a seasonal favorite like Margarita.

While you’re there, go for van Gogh

The only venue where you can see Vincent van Gogh: His Life in Art is the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). Tagging along behind a group of international travelers, we walked through the four stages of Vincent van Gogh’s career: the early years in the Netherlands, the Paris period, searching for light in southern France, and finding inspiration from nature in Saint-Rémy and Auvers. The collection, with more than 50 pieces including sketches and paintings, draws primarily from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands.

Houston weekend Tour group standing in front of a van Gogh painting at MFAH

Tour group standing in front of a van Gogh painting at MFAH

The exhibit runs through June 27, 2019. Daily 45-minute tours begin at 2 pm. An optional audio tour delves deeper with commentary from the curators. The audio devices are included in your admission, based on availability.

houston weekend: van Gogh exhibit at MFAH

At the fun van Gogh exhibit at MFAH, it’s okay to touch the paintings, giving visitors a tactile experience.  

After strolling through the dimly lit exhibition reading descriptions and snapping photos of van Gogh’s works, we thought the experience was over. Instead, we turned a corner and found the stand-alone companion exhibit, Van Gogh Up Close. Designed for children, the activities are equally engaging for adults. Step inside life-size replicas of van Gogh’s paintings to become the art, draw a self-portrait and hang it on the wall, and use your fingers to change the composition of an electronic version of Starry Night. The photo-ops are endless.

Houston weekend escape - Author/photographer Jim Twardowski awakes in a van Gogh painting

Author/photographer Jim Twardowski awakes in a van Gogh painting

The MFAH is one of the ten largest art museums in the country.  Upcoming exhibits include “Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography” and “Shooting the Moon: Photographs from the Museum’s Collection 50 Years after Apollo 11.” 

Dining and shopping

The largest shopping mall in the entire state of Texas is The Galleria. Home to more than 375 stores, 30 restaurants, two hotels, and an ice skating rink—spending a day here is a treat. Anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Macy’s department stores, the mall offers more than 2 million square feet of shopping. We loved the window displays and seeing the latest fashions from Louis Vuitton to Kate Spade.

Houston weekend: Glass roof emits light onto the skating rink at the Galleria in Houston

Glass roof emits light onto the skating rink at the Galleria in Houston

Houston Weekend: Window shopping the latest fashions at the Galleria.

Window shopping the latest fashions at the Galleria

For lunch, we dined at the one-year-old Fig & Olive. The chic eatery serves food inspired by the coastal regions of the Mediterranean. The wine selection includes bottles from the south of France, Spain and Italy, along with handcrafted cocktails.

The bar at Fig & Olive Houston

The bar at Fig & Olive Houston

The restaurant’s curated olive oils change every few months. Obviously, oil is a main ingredient in most of the recipes. Patrons begin their meal dipping homemade focaccia bread in oil and vinegar. Large bottles of oil and vinegar can be purchased for less than $30.

Houston weekend Sampling the olive oil at Fig & Olive

Sampling the olive oil at Fig & Olive

While we sipped on refreshing Rossellinis made with passion fruit vodka, blood orange juice, and fresh lime, our server described the specials of the day. I chose the paella with shrimp, clams, and scallops on a bed of saffron rice. My husband Jim couldn’t pass up a risotto made with four varieties of mushroom. He enthusiastically declared the dish to be the best he has ever eaten.

houston weekend: Paella lunch at Fig & Olive

Paella lunch at Fig & Olive

Fig & Olive is filled with natural light streaming from the floor to ceiling windows. There’s ample outdoor seating under umbrellas. The contemporary decor sparkles and carts of live rosemary grow beside the tables. The service was exceptional. We took home two bottles of olive oil—one as a gift for the house sitter and the other for us to enjoy. Every time we taste the oil, we will be reminded of our oh-so-relaxing metropolitan sojourn.

What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • The 50th anniversary of the moon landing will be celebrated this summer. Plan a visit to Space Center Houston, Houston’s first Smithsonian Affiliate museum.
  • Houston’s Museum District is made up of 19 institutions. Eleven of the museums offer free admission all the time. From the Rothko Chapel to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, there’s always something interesting to discover during a Houston weekend or longer stay.
  • Houston is home to professional theatres, a ballet company, opera, and a symphony. Culture hounds can always find a performance to attend.

Take note

  • The MFAH encompasses 14 acres in the heart of the city’s Museum District and is closed on Mondays. General admission to the museum is free on Thursdays, which draws the crowds on that day.
  • Tickets for the van Gogh exhibit may be purchased online in advance of a visit and include entrance to the museum. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $20 for seniors (age 65+), as well as, military members. Youth (13-18) tickets are $20 and children (12 and under) are free.
  • At the time of our visit, we learned that there are plans to renovate Bar Malatesta at Hotel Granduca.

All photo credits, unless otherwise noted: Jim Twardowski; lead photo Pixabay, Pinterest photo provided by Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)


The authors’ stay at Hotel Granduca was hosted by the property and they were invited to lunch at Fig & Olive, but any opinions expressed in this post are their own.

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Houston Weekend - Van Gogh