Houston is making waves beyond Texas once again, as world travel guru Samantha Brown showcases the Bayou City in the first half-hour episode of her new PBS series, Samantha Brown's Places to Love.
Via 13 weekly episodes, Brown, a Travel Channel alum who has hosted such shows as Girl Meets Hawaii, Great Hotels, Green Getaways, and Samantha Brown's Asia, takes viewers to both well-known, and little-known spots around the globe, hitting on topics including food and drink, art and design, music, and culture and adventure.
Houston is the star of the first episode of Places to Love. While it airs elsewhere on Saturday, January 6, Houstonians will have to wait for an air date of January 13, due to a holdup at local PBS station, KUHT, caused by a post-Harvey mold problem.
Texans will also want to save the date for February 17, when an episode about the Texas Hill Country airs across the nation.
Destinations featured this season span the globe, from the Lone Star State to several other U.S. cities, including Huntsville, Alabama, and Brooklyn, New York, to the Bern region of Switzerland to Shanghai, China.
Brown was in Texas earlier this year to gather material for the series. CultureMap recently caught up with her to talk about what to expect from her new show.
CultureMap: What can you tell us about Samantha Brown’s Places to Love?
Samantha Brown: Places to Love is about discovering the destinations, experiences, and most importantly, the people, that make you feel like you’re part of a place.
There’s a tremendous move for travelers to experience more local types of things — going where locals go, doing what locals do. The show zeroes in on the locals, connecting the traveler’s experience to the effort it took to create a piece of art or a piece of music.
CM: Why showcase Houston, and why for the premiere episode?
SB: Right away, Houston hit so many marks on why we should go there. I was interested as soon as I found out it’s one of the most diverse — if not the most diverse — cities in the United States, and also the No. 1 refuge city in U.S. Of course, it has a very different reputation for oil and gas, big money, and medical. I love it when a place is a surprise and we have to reboot our understanding of it.
Even though Houston is so diverse, there’s a really strong synergy and it’s palpable. I fell in love with your city and the people there, and the show reflects that.
CM: Where did you visit in Houston and how did you choose the locations?
SB: Being in the travel industry for 15 years, I have a lot of good friends that have visited Houston. You just start talking. They gave me a few things and then I certainly do my own research of what’s happening, from food to art to music.
I really wanted to incorporate more music in my series because I feel like it’s something that’s left behind when people do travel shows. We got The Suffers, which is an amazing band. We went to one of their concerts at the Continental Club and featured them and (lead singer) Kam Franklin. We talked about what it took to go from being a weekend band, with people who had real jobs, to becoming a professional band, dedicating themselves to make it happen.
Another person we focused on is (James Beard Award winning chef) Hugo Ortega and his incredible journey from dishwasher to where he is now.
One of my favorite things we did in Houston is visit The Community Cloth. It’s a wonderful microenterprise initiative that helps refugee women create the arts and crafts from their own country, giving them a strong identity and sense of purpose here in a new country.
Everything I did you can participate in. With Community Cloth, you can buy the goods. With The Suffers, you go to their concerts or buy a record. With Hugo Ortega, you can go to his restaurants. It was important to me that throughout the entire series, everything I do is accessible to the traveler. I am not having VIP experiences. It’s all available to anyone right now.
CM: You also visited the Texas Hill Country. Can you tell us about where you visited?
SB: It's always been my dream to go to the Texas Hill Country during the wildflower season. Americans think that beauty is elsewhere, so we go to Japan to see the cherry blossoms. We go to Amsterdam to see the tulips. And yet we have something just as amazing right here in the United States. It’s tough to time a show around when the wildflowers are going to blossom, let just me tell you that!
We featured John Thomas who owns Wildseed Farms outside of Fredericksburg. He's one of the few farmers to have figured out how to grow wildflowers. He has fields and fields of beautiful flowers. And we just talked to him. He’s a fourth generation Texas farmer. He’s a man who makes something possible that seemed impossible.
We also wanted to show what’s changing in the area. We went to a great restaurant called Otto’s. It’s an upscale European-German bistro owned by a young couple. You have traditional German fare, which you can get a lot of in Fredericksburg, but they’re bringing more of a European twist and it’s very fresh.
Then we featured Pontotoc Winery. Carl Money, the owner, is growing grapes that introduce new flavors. He has a weingarten on the main square of Fredericksburg. There’s a sense of community you have just walking in there. Places to Love is really about these types of places, which make you feel like you belong to the area.
On that note, we ended the show at Gruene Hall. We talked to (co-owner) Mary Jane Nalley. Going to a dance hall in Texas for someone like me, who lives in New York, is another world. A wonderful world!
I was born in Dallas, Texas. Even though only lived there a year of my life, I still feel like I have a bit of a connection. And getting asked to dance with a cowboy … there’s nothing better.
CM: Where else do you take viewers this season?
SB: We go to the U.S, China, Canada, and Europe. In Canada, we went to Montreal and Vancouver. In Europe, we went to the Bern region of Switzerland. We also did Donegal and Northwest Ireland. In China, we did Shanghai and Xi'an.
We spread it out and mixed it up in that not all of the destinations are well known. With Houston, it’s just beginning to see the benefits of being on the travel map. It’s is not on everyone’s radar for a great city, and it should be. The people of Houston know it, and other people are just waking up to it.
CM: Any travel essentials and tips you can share with our readers?
SB: Yes, one piece of advice I give is: whatever the main drag is in a town, always go one to two blocks over and peruse those streets. You’ll find something interesting! Otto’s was not on my scout list and that’s how I found it. I walked in and had an amazing meal. You discover more about the culture of what’s happening now when you’re on a side street.
Another tip is to create a ritual wherever you go. Try to do the same thing every single day at the same time. I go to the same local coffee shop every day. You get the feel the ebb and flow of locality better.
And I like to tell people to slow down. You’ll get a lot more from that.
Samantha Brown’s Places to Love airs in Houston Saturday, January 13, on PBS.