Living in Santa Fe, I have a great appreciation for cities and towns like the City Different – those special places that combine the beauty of nature with a sophisticated art and food scene. This past weekend, my mom and I drove to Aspen, Colorado. It’s about a 5 1/2 hour drive and we made a leisurely stop in Salida, Colorado to eat lunch beside the Arkansas River at the Boathouse Cantina. The river is currently roaring from winter snowmelt. Decent food combined with the sound of the river beside you is magical.
Once in Aspen, we stayed the first two nights with Don and Norma Stone, college friends of my late father. Don served as Vice Chairman of Federated Department Stores and is now on the board of the terrific watch company, Fossil. He has been involved with many nonprofits including serving as Chairman of the Board for both the Cincinnati and Dallas Symphonies. Norma has a doctorate in education so is no shrinking violet. Exploring Aspen with two powerhouses such as the Stones was very entertaining. It reminded me that no matter where you live or where you vacation, it’s the people who can turn a nice place into a charming place, full of character.
My mother and I started each morning with a walk through the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival grounds, and then hiked down to the Roaring Fork River which was true to its name this weekend, with whitewater rushing down the mountain.
The wildflowers and gardens in Aspen are spectacular, with delphiniums, peonies, poppies, columbine, flax, and bunches of other flowers, more lush and taller than any I have ever seen before. A must stop for breakfast is Main Street Cafe and Bakery which bakes the most divine low-fat blueberry bran muffins I have ever eaten. I left a note requesting the recipe. We shall see if they’ll share it. (If they do, and you’d like a copy, let me know in the comments.)
We attended a performance of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet – a cultural treasure that we in Santa Fe are fortunate to share with our neighbors in Aspen and vice versa. Three dances were performed, all modern, intriguing and fun. Afterwards, an ice cream cone and cookie is a must from the Paradise Bakery in the heart of downtown, which had more people lined up to get inside than a Lady Gaga concert.
If you’re in Aspen for more than a day, a worthwhile drive is to the Pine Creek Lodge for lunch. Thirty minutes from downtown is a lovely restaurant, seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, but it is grand central station for road bikers in the summer and cross-country skiers in the winter. The road dead ends into the mountains just a bit farther than the lodge, and the road is dotted with hiking trails and fields flush with wildflowers as far as the eye can see.
If you’re a runner like me, you’ll want to try the Rio Grande Trail, which follows the Roaring Fork River. I started the run downtown and then ran towards Woody Creek, back via the Cemetery Lane Trail, which loops back into downtown Aspen. It is around a 7 mile, lovely loop, mostly along the white water of the Roaring Fork.
Looking for another enjoyable place for dinner? We spent one evening at Plato’s Restaurant, in the Meadows Resort, which is on the Aspen Institute Grounds. As Plato said himself, and the restaurant enjoys quoting, “The first and greatest of necessities is food, which is the condition of life and existence.” The view from the deck, overlooking Buttermilk ski area, the river below and mountains in each direction, is awesome. And surprisingly, the food stands up to the view.
A new, interesting and clever casual restaurant in the heart of downtown is called Junk. It serves salads in Pyrex 4 cup measuring bowls, tacos served flat on a cutting board, and the Asian noodles I ordered were served in a Chinese takeout container. The food was delish and the restaurant design and service was fun, new and very inventive and the prices (for Aspen!) are not bad.
And of course, since I’m in the hotel business, we had to check out the historic Hotel Jerome, dubbed the “crown jewel” of Aspen. The service was gracious, warm and friendly. Our room was impeccable, beautifully furnished and like La Fonda, each room is individually decorated. If you enjoy historic hotels (and how could you be a fan of La Fonda and not love historic hotels?) Hotel Jerome is sure to delight you on your next trip to Aspen.