Destination Aspen: Where to stay, eat, shop and enjoy a cool Colorado getaway
Ah, Aspen in the summertime — there couldn't be a more perfect locale to get lost in the mountains, the roaring rivers, the cuisine or any number of activities. Every year, thousands of Texans migrate from the heat to the Maroon Bells and find just what the doctor ordered — perfect relaxation.
I recently spent a long weekend, hosted by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, which was designed to show off all that Aspen has to offer — not that it really needs all that much help. As one would expect, the area is filled with deluxe accommodations, cool things to see and do, and an assortment of restaurants, ranging from high end to laid back — but still scrumptious.
My trip began, as all adventures should, with a personalized airport greet by my host, The Little Nell. This cozy property at the base of Aspen Mountain, often called by its former name of Ajax Mountain among locals, boasts the only five-star rating in the area, as well as ski in/ski out services. It has a number of restaurants and fantastic locations for events. The culinary team just pulled off a fantastic high-end wedding at the top of the mountain.
The property is also known for its concierge service, called Adventures with the Little Nell, where unique adventures are the specialty — specifically, helicopter rides to the Roaring Fork River for "glamping" (glamorous camping). Needless to say, this is not for those on a limited travel budget.
Rafting trips and Aspen Meadows
For a more affordable option, several tour companies offer rafting trips on the Roaring Fork, Arkansas and Colorado rivers. I attended a Level Three trip with a company called Blazing Adventures (which also puts on a fun scavenger hunt around Aspen and nature walk/talk at the Maroon Bells Lake). There are many options to get in touch with Mother Nature, including fly fishing, camping, bike-riding and yoga atop the mountain.
The Aspen Meadows is a surreal and thoughtful property that is the home of the Aspen Institute, an idea think tank designed in Bauhaus style, known as German Modernism. Throughout the property are a number of locations to host events and dine, including some gorgeous sculpture gardens.
One of the newest additions is the Herbert Bayer gallery, a permanent installation that constantly changing as more collectors donate or loan art. Bayer is the architect behind the institute as well as designer of the space. The institute is also home to a number of festivals including the Aspen Music Festival and the IDEAS festival, which both occur during the summer.
Where to stay
The Limelight Hotel is an adorable boutique property that boasts among other things a great beer and food pairing dinner. This can be done on a terrace over looking Aspen Mountain. Between the amazing libations and the view, the evening is spectacular. The award-winning Aspen Brewing Company, which partners with the Limelight, goes all out to make sure that beer and food pairings are top notch.
At the base of Aspen Mountain lies the St. Regis Aspen. This property has a lot to offer, including stunning room renovations. My favorite is the Chef’s Club restaurant, boasting carefully crafted menus from top chefs from around country. This apogee of food and wine is a joint venture between Food and Wine Magazine.
The Hotel Jerome is one of the oldest hotels in the area and dates back to late 1800s silver mining days. The décor is a throwback to that era but recent renovations make sure it has modern amenities and comforts. Belly up to the bar and order an Aspen Crud, a unique concoction of milkshake and bourbon and was the drink of choice during Prohibition.
Where to eat, drink and shop
For a unique gift idea, the Blues Jean Bar is an interesting concept that allows guests to receive a gift of blue jeans, chosen from a wide selection and setup in a relaxed atmosphere with cocktails and appetizers. A wide assortment of jeans in sizes, colors and styles can be tried on at onsite dressing rooms. This is a great option for a corporate event to wow clients and customers.
The Caribou Club, Matsuhisa from famed Chef Nobu and Pinons are must-go-to restaurants that can be utilized for private events. Cap the night off with an after dinner cocktail at Casa Tua, which has amazing selection of Amaro port. Dessert wines that have a host of secret ingredients and are produced by Italian monks are crazy good.
The T Lazy 7 Ranch is another beautiful venue with views and settings that will blow you away. This is a perfect locale for a wedding in the Ceremony Meadow. For a more corporate environment, the Chuckwagon Grounds is perfect for a closing-night dinner or teambuilding event.
Or just walk around downtown Aspen to find a number art galleries and, of course, world-class shopping. Visit the John Denver Sanctuary, a quiet respite next to the river.
Aspen also boasts some incredible festivals, including the Food & Wine Classic every June. It sells out in March, so get your tickets and accommodations early.