LuxeGetaways Magazine – Fall/Winter 2017 | When it comes to the Holidays in the United States, there are the exciting destinations such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago that are guaranteed to put you in the Holiday spirit while shopping and eating your way through each of these cities. For me, these metropolitan areas are ideal to visit early in the season to complete the majority of the holiday shopping, take-in a show or concert, and settle-in for a seasonal afternoon tea at one of my favorite hotel lounges. However, when it comes to the official Holidays, and that magical time that extends into the New Year’s Eve celebrations, there are three destinations in the United States that are simply extraordinary places to unwind, relax and enjoy the epitome of luxurious hospitality.
Colorado is home to all three destinations, and though each getaway is very different in many ways, the level of services, accommodations and dining available among Aspen, Telluride and Vail cannot be beat. Beyond the personalized services that often exceed expectations, it is that unmistakable feeling of magic in the air that makes these mountain retreats so desirable to international visitors each Holiday season. The ski conditions have been excellent these past few years, which only adds to the attraction of each of these ski towns.
Since 1940, Aspen has continued to grow and prosper while maintaining the vision of community, which is referred to as “The Aspen Idea”– a focus on mind, body and spirit. This community is proud of their mountain town, and they encourage everyone to come discover “The Aspen Idea” personally; and the Holidays are an ideal time to see Aspen in all its glory.
Beyond the natural beauty of the town, there are more than 100 restaurants, snow skiing, ice skating, cross country skiing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, boutiques and numerous luxury spas. Each December Aspen hosts the “12 Days of Aspen,” which features a variety of events around town such as family skating, caroling, reindeer visits, cookie decorating, and more.
Ready to dine around town? I suggest a visit to Aspen Kitchen for farm-to-table menu options, Jimmy’s for a variety of menu items when trying to satisfy a group, and Prospect for a fine dining option with that American bistro flair.
Hotels, condos and mountainside homes are available around Aspen. The St. Regis Aspen Resort is a favorite for its location, and for their level of services and amenities. During the Holidays, the hotel is known for the signature Gingerbread House on display in the lobby, Annual Tree Lighting Ritual with a visit from Santa, Carriage Ride with Santa, Ornament Crafting, and celebratory meal options for the entire family. Other favorite hotel options that provide numerous room configurations, Holiday events and exceptional service are Hotel Jerome for a traditional hotel option filled with local history and flair; and Limelight Hotel for a fairly-priced and modern alternative to the other more stately and formal options.
Telluride has a unique position in Colorado as it sits along the scenic San Juan Skyway, and is known for the incredible mountain landscapes, vast amounts of ranchland just outside of town, and picturesque mountain passes. When planning your vacation, you will hear references to “Telluride”and “Mountain Village,”and it is important to know the difference. Only a short 13-minute gondola ride or drive separates Telluride from Mountain Village, but it is a world of difference to be staying in Mountain Village. Telluride is home to numerous shops and restaurants, and has a rich history that reminds you that you are walking the streets of an old Western mining town, whereas Mountain Village is a modern-day ski resort village with a touch of refined elegance.
I prefer to stay, play and dine in Mountain Village, while allowing time for a few excursions down to Telluride for lunch and some Holiday shopping. Each December, Telluride celebrates with its “Holiday Prelude.” During this time, there are a number of activities for kids of all ages, such as cookie decorating, card making, ornament making, ice skating lessons, a hot chocolate bar, and ending with the signature New Year’s Eve Torchlight Parade and Fireworks.
The Madeline Hotel and Residences is a beautiful place to call home while visiting Telluride, and is a favorite destination for the level of service, variety of on-site amenities and the luxurious spa. This Four-Diamond property offers ski in/out services and larger one- to four-bedroom residences ideal when traveling with family at the Holidays. Much of the dining in Mountain Village is found within the hotels and lodges, but do not miss out on trying these favorite options. Black Iron Kitchen and Bar offers a menu that is designed around some of the freshest ingredients available thanks largely to their partner farms and ranchers; and Crazy Elk Pizza is located in the core of Mountain Village, and ideal for a family-friendly casual option with games for the kids and a variety of menu items to satisfy everyone.
Town of Telluride:
Hotel Columbia is just a few steps from the Gondola, and provides that quintessential locally owned and operated boutique hotel experience (and a great breakfast as a courtesy to guests). Element 52 is part of the Auberge Resorts Collection, and provides a very modern take on luxury mountainside residences that can be rented during your stay (or fall in love with the property and purchase your very own one- to five-bedroom residence). In town, The Butcher and The Baker is a popular spot for their bakery and deli items – especially the incredible pastries and breakfast burritos in the mornings, and La Marmotte is a great bistro that happens to be in the oldest building in town, and full of charm and history.
I must admit that I am always a bit biased towards Vail when it comes to the pure charm of this quintessential ski village. With Vail being one of the most preferred winter vacation destinations for more than 50 years, it is obvious that I am not the only person who remains addicted to the Vail lifestyle. For those who want to ski and board, Vail is one of the largest ski resorts in the world with more than 5,200 acres of skiable terrain. Because of the design of the area, there are very few opportunities for ski in/out accommodations, but with all of the lift options once you take that initial gondola ride in the morning (Vail’s Gondola One and Eagle Bahn are heated with WiFi), you can ski/board the entire day without needing to return to the village. The Northwoods Express Lift (#11) will also debut this year, offering a six-passenger lift to further reduce wait times on the slopes.
In recent years, Lionshead (only a 5 minute shuttle ride, or 10 minute walk) has become more developed, and a great addition to Vail. Combined, the hotel, restaurant and shopping options are plentiful while maintaining that priceless European charm. Dining is a true international collection of opportunities. I suggest making reservations 30-60 days in advance to confirm you can get into the restaurants at the time and date of your choosing since reservations are a very hot commodity during the Holidays.
Several popular restaurants include Lancelot that has been a local favorite for more than 40 years, and worthy of this distinction (request a table in the lower area along the windows to have a view of the creek side ice sculptures while you dine); Matsuhisa by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa is nestled into the award-winning Solaris development, overlooking the ice skating rink, and serves Japanese cuisine with Chef’s influences from Peru, Argentina and around the world; and Game Creek Restaurant is a true five-star gourmet dining experience out of the village, and enjoyed at the Game Creek Club on the mountain in the scenic Game Creek Bowl.
Despite heavy snowfall by day and night, Vail’s pedestrian village features heated streets and sidewalks, keeping them free and clear of snow and ice and allowing for a comfortable walk through the village, primed for the Holidays with perfectly decorated hotels and storefronts. Vail Holidaze is an annual event during December that provides a lot of activities for the entire family, including the tree lighting ceremony, lantern walk, Torchlight Parade and fireworks. The idyllic Swiss-styled chalet options are preferred when selecting a hotel in Vail, and my favorite properties include Sonnenalp, Austria Haus, Hotel Gasthof Gramschammer and The Arrabelle at Vail Square, a RockResort.
Sonnenalp is family owned and operated by Johannes and Rosana Faessler, who make it a point to have guests feel like they are right at home during their stay. The Holidays are special here with activities for the kids and a comfortable lounge to gather with friends and family – and a favorite place for the beloved Dickens Carolers who make a nightly appearance here during the Holidays. Many of the staff members at Sonnenalp are from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, which provides additional charm, and exceptional service from this professional group of young men and women. Breakfast here is a time honored tradition, and one not to be missed– as are the savory Truffle Tots that prove to be the perfect combination of tater tots, truffle oil, red chili flakes, fresh herbs and parmesan cheese! Austria Haus provides a very intimate stay in a boutique hotel setting with only 25 rooms and suites. Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer is a Vail icon that provides comfortable rooms and suites with European flair, and the Austrian-themed lodge is clearly one of the most photographed structures in Vail for obvious reasons. The Arrabelle at Vail Square, a RockResort is the heart of Lionshead Village, and provides an opulent, yet inviting, accommodations and amenities.
Aspen, Telluride and Vail each provide an intimate destination during the Holidays where you can venture onto world-class ski and snowboard trails, browse high-end village boutiques, and discover a world of international restaurant cuisine. And among the three, you are sure to find the perfect destination to fit your own unique travel style: whether that be Aspen’s larger town feel with a Western flair, Telluride’s historic mining town with a distinct rugged elegance, or Vail’s beautiful Alp-inspired mountain village. Regardless of the destination you decide to visit, you are sure to enjoy the Holiday season in scenic Colorado.
Don’t Forget Denver:
Though there are additional airport alternatives when planning your visit, many choose to fly into Denver International Airport simply because of the number of flight options. So, whether you arrive to the airport, or directly into Union Station Denver with Amtrak, consider taking a night or two to enjoy Denver before escaping to your ski town getaway. Union Station is a surprisingly refreshing place to fully experience and call “home” while in Denver – complete with dining, shopping and even a local hotel favorite, Hotel Crawford. This property offers a unique boutique hotel experience with large rooms, expansive bathrooms and exclusive views down into the heart of Union Station. Personal favorites here include the Thirsty Lion Gastropub & Grill just outside of Union Station for amazing hamburgers and their Classic Rueben; Milkbox Ice Creamery for their delicious shakes, malts and cones; and Pigtrain Coffee for their espresso masterpieces that never disappoint.