Colorado: big sky country

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To be honest, what draw could Colorado, this square state carved out of middle America, offer that would warrant a trip all the way there? You’d be surprised. It will be a trip that will turn your prejudices on their head and make you realise that they were based on the fact that you simply weren’t in the know. This is one destination with everything to offer, starting with three hundred annual days of Coloradan sunshine lighting up the biggest sky you’re ever likely to see.

The big draw, of course, are the Rockies and all the treats that lie hidden amongst their crevasses. Before heading to the hills, spare some time for Colorado’s capital of Denver, dubbed the Mile High City due to the fact that it’s exactly one mile above sea level. Its relaxed atmosphere makes it a pleasant place to acclimatise to the altitude. Take in an ice hockey game and support the local team, the Denver Cutthroats, and finish the night off with a steak at environmentally friendly Duo whose entire menu is locally sourced, one of Denver’s multitude of international foodie haunts. In fact, Colorado’s food outlets and restaurants are incredibly ethically minded. There is barely a Starbucks in sight and they are very concerned with supporting local producers and small businesses, which makes a refreshing change from the corporate America we are more familiar with.

Colorado’s Flatirons and Rockies are easily accessible. Renting a car means that this entire area can be explored in good, old-fashioned American road-trip style. If you’re visiting in the winter, skiing should definitely feature big on the itinerary, even if you’ve never skied before. Colorado is, after all, the skiing Mecca. Val d’Isère, they say? The Colorado Rockies are studded with some of the most sought-after ski resorts in the world and it’s where you’ll earn your bragging rights.

After a short pit stop at Boulder, a kitschy college town and tourist favourite, the first major resort you reach is Copper Mountain, which hosted the Alpine Skiing World Cup in 1976, and Winter Olympic athletes still train on its hallowed slopes. “Copper”, as it’s known to the locals, caters for all levels, and their ski instructors make even the most nervous newbie comfortable on the snow. Just half an hour on from there is Breckenridge, also a world-class ski resort, which is attached to the enchanting and adorable working town that it’s named after. Stay at the Blue Sky Lodge for fantastically indulgent suites decorated with Native American antiques, which open onto a complex of open air hot tubs and a heated pool, and a ski lift on your doorstep. The town itself offers a wide range of shopping, from the latest ski gear to cowboy (and cowgirl) boots, and a wide choice of small eateries. Start your day with a hearty black bean breakfast burrito or a plate of “gravy and biscuits” and a mug of tea at the old-fashioned Amazing Grace where friendly locals stop to chat and throw a log on the wood-burning stove.

Glitzy Vail completes Colorado’s must-do ski resort trio and does so in style. The most recent host of the Winter Sports World Cup in 2012, it is the mother lode of ski resorts and the largest in the US. With its attached town geared solely towards the skiing industry, it offers everything you could need and is a veritable skier’s paradise. Just 15 minutes east of here is Avon where the plush Beaver Creek Lodge, nestled in a pretty valley, is a lavish treat after a gruelling day on the slopes. Each room is individually decorated by the room’s “owners”, diehard skiers who buy shares in the hotel and can personally decorate “their” room with personal artefacts and the aid of the hotel’s interior designer. For those determined not to ski, the hotel also offers decadent spa treatments and even has its own golf course.

An hour and a half south of “Brecks” is quaint Salida, a bohemian little town that seems to have changed little in the last century and was witness to the original gold rush. Today it is an artist enclave in the heart of Chaffee County, filled with independent shops and restaurants. Check in at the Palace Hotel, a boutique hotel-cum-art gallery complete with resident artist. Established in 1909, and with a façade straight out of a Western, this grandiose hotel exudes elegance. High ceilings and sweeping staircases lead to thoughtfully designed rooms with an attention to detail, and homemade breakfast muffins and muesli await outside your door in the morning. Just around the corner, The Fritz tapas bar entices with its eclectic take on classic dishes and a good stock of local microbrews. Burn off the calories with a short hike up Tenderfoot Hill for great vistas of the town and beyond.

Not far away, tucked away in the mountains near Nathrop is the Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, a stop that no trip to Colorado should be without. Even the most jaded city slicker will fail to resist the charms of the log cabins that sit on the banks of Chalk Creek and its geothermal waters. Soaking amongst the cosy rock pools at dusk under the stars and the mountains is truly sublime, no matter how cold the outside temperature.

Finally, finish your trip with at least a few days’ stay at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash. Built almost entirely of reclaimed wood, it oozes country ambience. All the corridors, with their low-beamed ceilings and original photographs of early settlers and native Americans, make for an atmospheric experience as they lead you to the almost cavernous dining room and bar with its towering central fireplace that rises up to span two floors. Quite spectacular. The ranch itself is far removed from its closest neighbours and offers a real sense of space. Activities here abound, with horse riding in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. You can even zip line, bask in the hot tubs or simply take in the jaw-dropping scenery.

At the end of a week you will marvel at the heady, easy mix of adventure and luxury, and realise what an absolute gem this state is. And as you fly off and look down at the slowly disappearing Rockies below, you’ll probably realise that you’ve left a bit of your heart there. What better reason, then, to return?

by Aaron Trinidade  
all photographs by Aaron Trinidade  

British Airways offer return flights from Heathrow to Denver from £684.79 per person based on March 2013 departures. For reservations visit For planning a trip to Colorado visit here

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