“Surprise, you have won a holiday to Fort Worth!”

That email from Escapism magazine, telling us that my London family of four was heading to Texas was just the first of a week of amazing surprises.

We landed into the unrelenting Texan heat and immediately immersed ourselves into ‘cowboy country ‘ at the plush Stockyards Hotel. “Howdy y’all!”

Our room, appropriately named “Davey Crockett” was adorned with information about the Alamo – the perfect introduction to the history of the famous U.S. region and all that we were about to experience.

Fort Worth’s historical Stockyards precinct is where Hollywood’s great Westerns became reality for us. The thrill of seeing ‘real life cowboys on their daily cattle drive through the street’ was just as infectious to us grown-ups as it was our two young children.

With so many great horsemen and women about, it seemed almost mandatory that we tried our own mounts at Stockyards Stables – thank goodness for the patience and calm of our very experienced instructor. Let’s just say, the horses did the work and we enjoyed a gentle meander along the well-worn trail. Phew!

The parades of shops are as much a part of the Stockyards attraction as Billy Bob’s Texas – which is of course the world’s largest Honkey Tonk! Shops such as Maverick, Fincher’s and M.L. Leddy’s offer any unsuspecting tourist the intoxicating opportunity to ‘buy-in’ to the cowboy dream. Needless to say, all four of us have a Stetson and the boots are on order!

Away from the Stockyards precinct, we stayed downtown at the luxurious Omni Hotel – the perfect base to explore many of Fort Worth’s family-friendly features and restaurants. The fountains of Sundance Square provided entertaining relief from the scorching August sun for the whole family – in between visits to the awesome Fort Worth Zoo plus the inspirational Museum of Modern Art, the Kimbell Art Museum and the Cowgirl Museum in the cultural heart of Fort Worth.

We ventured beyond the city limits to the Texas Speedway – where we were given a grand on-track tour of the breathtaking 1.5 mile circuit. We didn’t quite hit the speeds of the Nascar drivers – but first hand experience of the 24 degree banking was enough to set the pulses racing!

Speaking of pulses, the restaurants of Fort Worth were consistently brilliant if not challenging for a family from a big European city. From the ‘Rattlesnake and rabbit sausages’ at the Woodshed to buying BBQ meat by the pound at Coopers or a knock-out Margarita from Reata – the flavours were vibrant and portions were certainly Texan size.

The hidden gem of Fort Worth is its people. Whether it was a shop keeper with a friendly smile, a waiter with a personal anecdote of sourcing Texan wine, the ever-present driving staff at the Omni hotel or a complete stranger passing down the street – the openness and warmth of the locals helped create lifelong family memories and a positive impression of the country.  My daughter is certainly unlikely to be wished “Happy Birthday” more times in one day, as she did the day she turned 5 in Texas.

Finally, without doubt the most exhilarating and surprising experience of the entire week was the family visit to the Fort Worth Rodeo. The daring skill and bravery of the riders on the bucking horses and bulls made for a most gripping evening. The locals and tourists sat side by side in the stands – all passionate and excitable. It was addictive and certainly makes us want to return to Fort Worth for another Rodeo and cowboy experience!

[Unable to render content]