AUSTIN was a tiny community on the verdant banks of the (Texas) Colorado River when Mirabeau B. Lamar, president of the Republic of Texas, suggested in 1839 that it would make a better capital than swampy and disease-ridden Houston. Early building had to be done under armed guard, while angry Comanche watched from the surrounding hills. Despite this perilous location, Austin thrived.

Today the city wears its state capital status lightly. Since the 1960s, the laidback and progressive city – an anomaly in Texas – has been a haven for artists, musicians and writers, and many visitors come specifically for the music. And while complacency has crept in – its “alternative” edge being packaged as just another marketing tool – artists hungry for recognition are still attracted to this creative hotbed.

Due to a tech-fuelled population leap, brand-new towering condo complexes have shot up to threaten Austin’s small-town vibe. Still, it remains the best city in the state for cycling, and the presence of the vast and pretty University of Texas campus adds to the pleasant atmosphere. Within the city limits a great park system offers numerous hiking and biking trails, plus a wonderful spring-fed swimming pool. In addition, Austin makes a fine base for exploring the green Hill Country that rolls away to the west.

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