If you’ve ever wondered what it must have felt to be Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz all you’d have to do is make a pilgrimage to Vail, Colorado, to get that “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” kind of feeling. To set the record straight, there is no Munchkinland, wicked witches or yellow brick road to follow. But Vail certainly boasts a Technicolor wow factor and sense of enchantment. Vail feels very much like Europe. To be more precise, it takes on the air of an Alpine village with architecture, cuisine and terrain to match. The village is a labyrinth of meandering walkways, A-framed and gabled chalets, cobbled paths, and a heady dose of bistros and wine bars. It’s as if a snow globe has come to life.
Of course, those arriving during the winter season do so for one reason and one reason only: To ski (or snowboard). And maybe to do a little stargazing as this town draws its share of celebrities, from Hollywood heavyweights, like Cameron Diaz and Goldie Hawn, to politicos from both sides of the aisle, including Dan Quayle and Al Gore. But, even if you’re not a skier or snowboarder and don’t know Katy Perry from Matthew Perry, there are still plenty of reasons to put Vail at the top of your travel list. There is some serious spa hopping to consider as well as snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and sipping hot toddies by the fire. Why spend hours en route to Europe when you can experience an über holiday stateside?
WHERE TO STAY
If Hansel and Gretel were living large, we’d expect to find them holed up at the luxe Sonnenalp staying warm by the fireplace instead of an oven. And, by all accounts, the mostly all-suite Sonnenalp (112 luxury suites and 15 hotel rooms) has all the trappings of a happily-ever-after existence. The German-run resort features a posh chalet-style vibe with breathtaking views of either the village or Gore Creek. Sequester yourself behind the door of a contemporary Bavarian chamber oozing with cozy appointments. Gas fireplaces and heated floors prove to be thoughtful touches when the temperature dips. Swing open your balcony door for an invigorating blast of fresh air. The newer two and three bedroom condominiums, located just steps from the main building, offer a roomy alternative for families and larger groups with gourmet kitchens and designer baths. While the resort certainly caters to skiers with its convenient ski-in/ski-out access and ski concierge, the Sonnenalp also offers an indoor/outdoor pool, an incredible European spa, and some excellent dining and après-ski opportunities. Once the snow melts, skiing gives way to golfing on the resort’s pristine fairway. Another reason to hunker down at The Sonnenalp is the hotel staff, which has been schooled in the art of hospitality. Best of all, the only transportation needed when staying here are your two legs – everything is within walking distance. www.sonnenalp.com
WHERE TO EAT
THE SWISS CHALET
The name might seem a bit kitschy, but make no mistake that The Swiss Chalet is the real deal. There are plenty of good restaurants in Vail, but you won’t have to venture far to enjoy traditional European fare and the ultimate alpine dining experience – it’s located at the Sonnenalp. The Swiss-style ambiance complements the hearty menu of Käse Spätzle, homemade Swiss dumplings crowned with cheese and crisp onions, or Wiener Schnitzel. Raclette, which is derived from the French word racler, meaning to scrape, offers an interactive culinary experience where a special hibachi-looking grill is placed in the middle of the table. Each guest is given a small spatula to melt their Raclette cheese below the grill, while cooking their accoutrements on top. When finished, diner guests scrape their gooey cheese onto their potatoes, gherkins, cornichons, sausages and so on. Traditional fondue is also a popular item and the restaurant’s sommelier can help pair any meal with an exceptional bottle of wine. Dress code? Mountain casual of course! www.swisschalet-restaurant.com
WHAT TO DO
How you choose to spend your time is up to you. If you want to be active, hit the slopes, head to the spa when you feel the need to be kneaded, or simply explore the village darting in and out of the many boutiques. It’s all Downhill from Here…Touted as the single largest ski resort in the U.S., Vail has more than 5,000 acres of diverse terrain with some epic back bowls to conquer. Aside from skiing and snowboarding, there’s also tubing, snowshoeing and even zip lining.
Get the Spa Treatment
With more than 100,000 square feet of space
devoted to spa services, Arrabelle’s Rock Resorts Spa features 11 treatment rooms and an incredible menu of treatments. Of course, convenience is always a plus and guests staying at the
Sonnenalp can saunter down to its sanctuary in robe and slippers before draping themselves across a massage table.
Wine On Down
Get your drink on at Restaurant Kelly Liken, where you’ll discover that Colorado is as much about grapes as it is about goggles. Wines made in these parts are actually quite tasty and are listed alongside better known wine producing regions, such as Napa Valley and Washington State. There are some 50 or so vintages available by the glass. It doesn’t hurt to sip and swirl in a lovely setting either. www.kellyliken.com
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