Telluride – Colorado, U.S.A.

Festival Capital of the Rockies

Isolated in a box canyon surrounded by the highest concentration of 14,000- foot peaks in the United States, Telluride has a well-earned reputation among high-octane vertical ski buffs, vacationing celebs seeking a low-profile hiding place, and Victoriana-seekers looking to experience the charm of its gold-and silver-rush days. It’s one of the best preserved of the old Western ski towns, with a smattering of dirt roads, a laid-back local population, and a main street that seems little changed since the day when Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank here, on June 24, 1889.

Still, things are happening in Telluride. For one, the town is known as the festival capital of the Rockies, with more than twenty-five events planned between May and September, including the Bluegrass Festival (June), the Jazz Festival (August) and the Film Festival (Labor Day weekend). For another, the budget for ski improvements and maintenance year-round is obvious everywhere. Of the eighty-five ski trails and 2,500 acres of gorgeous Rockies terrain, more than two-thirds are given over to beginners and intermediates, while experts rank the steeps among the toughest in the country. The See Forever trail (the name may not be completely accurate, but close enough) is Telluride’s longest, with views of Utah from its 360-degree starting point. For the town’s (and maybe America’s) best freebie, take the breathtaking 12-minute ride aboard the Gondola, connecting Telluride with neighboring Mountain Village.

Outside town, the Wyndham Peaks Resort & Golden Door Spa offers unmatched views of southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, as well as of the hotel and spa’s own 42,000- square-foot mountain enclave. The latest in lap-of-luxury comfort tempts guests to just stay in and skip the slopes, or at least to rush back happily at day’s end.


Rocky Mountain National Park – Estes Park, Colorado, U.S.A.

A Natural High

Rocky Mountain National Park boasts 191 craggy peaks within its 415 square miles—113 of them more than 10,000 feet and 78 above 12,000 feet. The granddaddy of them all, Longs Peak (14,255 feet), most likely inspired the well-known lyrics that celebrate America’s purple mountains’ majesty. Views of these peaks are unsurpassed on the Trail Ridge Road, billed as the highest continuous highway in the United States, raising to over 12,000 feet at its apex. Built in 1932 along the route of an old Indian path across the Continental Divide, this is a road trip extra­ordinaire, offering unsurpassed, sometimes dizzying vistas.

More than 350 miles of gentle nature trails give visitors the opportunity to get off the always busy Trail Ridge Road and into the solitude of the park’s splendid backcountry, with its cool, dense forests, rushing streams, glacier-gouged lakes, and alpine meadows. The entire park is a wildlife refuge, with some creatures proving to be elusive (like the bobcat and mountain lion), while others are more commonplace—like elk, mule deer, and the bighorn (or Rocky Mountain) sheep, which has become the park’s emblem.

There are no accommodations within the park, but 3 miles from the eastern entrance is Estes Park and the well-known Stanley Hotel, inspiration for Stephen King’s spine-tingling thriller The Shining, much of which was written by the vacationing author in room 217. Built in 1909 by F. O. Stanley, who coinvented the Stanley Steamer automobile, this neoclassical-Georgian member of the National Register of Historic Places is all about its gorgeous setting, rich historic ambience, and sweeping views of Lake Estes and the Continental Divide.


The Million Dollar Highway and the Durango and Silverton – Durango, Colorado, U.S.A.

Heaven via Road or Steam Engine

In this southwestern pocket of Colorado, where desert meets mountain, the goal is the mountaintop panoramas, but getting up there is half the fun. Many roadsters herald the San Juan Skyway as the most beautiful drive in the continental United States. An officially designated scenic byway, it links the old boom-or-bust mining towns of Ouray and Durango, the latter a charming caught-in-time place that makes a great base for exploring the area. Besides exceptional, non­stop Rocky Mountain panoramas, the trip offers a nostalgic journey back to the early years of Colorado’s statehood, and its gold-mining days: A section of its length is known as the Million Dollar Highway, alluding (some say) to the value of the low-grade gold ore present in its road bed.

Train fans should hop on board the Durango and Silverton’s puffing, vintage steam locomotive, which makes several trips a day (in season) along the 3½-hour, 45-scenic-mile route from Durango to Silverton, climbing a 3,000-foot ascent through glacier-carved valleys, along narrow canyon ledges, and through impassable stretches of the dense San Juan forest and mountains (the “newest” of the Rockies). After a two-hour layover, it makes the return trip to Durango. The Silverton once hauled mine workers, supplies, and precious ore along its narrow-gauge tracks (36 inches apart, versus the standard 56.5 inches) from one isolated mining camp to another. But today’s precious cargo is wide-eyed visitors, the lucky ones getting off halfway at a designated flagstop in dense evergreen wilderness.

This is Tall Timber Resort, an all-but-hidden forest retreat that can only be reached by the steam engine train (or its 21st-century alternative: helicopter). A river runs through the secluded resort’s 180 private acres—virgin territory that knows no roads. Here in the middle of nowhere, Tall Timber provides both an extraordinary setting and impeccable service. The hotel’s heli­copter whisks guests even farther aloft to an 11,000-foot meadow for a high-altitude picnic that gives new meaning to haute cuisine.


Mesa Verde National Park – Cortez, Colorado, U.S.A.

Cliff Dwellings of a Mysterious People in the Four Corners

Of the more than 300 national parks in the United States, 52,000-acre Mesa Verde (“Green Table,” so named because of its pine and juniper forests) is the only one devoted exclusively to archaeology. Here, the Anasazi people (recently rebaptized as the “ancestral Puebloans”) flourished from approximately A.D. 600, reaching the apex of their culture between the 11th and 13th centuries, by which time they’d begun building intricate multistoried dwellings of adobe or stone within the shelter of the rocky canyon walls. By the 14th century they had deserted the area for reasons that remain unclear. White men weren’t widely aware of their dwellings until the 1870s, but within ten years the area was being mentioned as a potential national park. Exploration began in 1888, and to date more than 4,000 archaeological sites have been identified, of which approximately 600 are cliff dwellings. Only a few have been excavated, among them the park’s highlights: the 156-room Cliff Palace and Balcony House, both on Chapin Mesa, and Long House on Wetherill Mesa. Admission is tightly con­trolled, and many sites (in­cluding these three) can only be visited in the company of a park ranger guide. The two 6-mile Mesa Top Loops (until recently called Ruins Road Drive) pro­vide a motorist’s tour with dozens of overlooks.

Mesa Verde is located in Four Corners country, where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona come together; from Park Point, the park’s highest elevation (8,572 feet), you can see all of them. The only place to hang your hat within the park is the modest but aptly named Far View Lodge, which is remarkable only for the fact that all its rooms offer Four- Comer views of up to 100 miles.


Home Ranch – Clark, Colorado, U.S.A.

How the West Was Wonderful

If you have more of a hankerin’ to be a cattle baron than a cowpoke, and gourmet grub and wide-open vistas of a million acres of cedars, aspens, and pines fit the picture (the Routt National Forest is just next door) then there’s no place like Home. Here you can spend a few (or many) exhilarating hours in the saddle, riding though open meadows of wildflowers and deep valleys, then happily mosey back to marinate in your cabin’s private outdoor Jacuzzi before an award-deserving dinner. You can choose from a long roster of year-round activities or just laze about and commune with nature. But you’d better be friendly, because this place is all about Western hospitality, something the gregarious owner (who writes, sings, and plays cowboy music) has raised to an art form.

Repeat guests come back for the camaraderie and family-style atmosphere, where superb but laid-back meals are served at communal tables, or occasionally around the campfire. There are no more than fifty other guests, whom you may choose to see or not to see during the day. Guest quarters are aspen-shaded cabins paneled in wood and tastefully decorated with western antiques, woven Indian rugs, and wood-burning stoves— stylish, but in a cozy and comfortable way. You almost forget that this is an authentic working cattle ranch, until the sound of the triangle on the porch rings out across the valley. “Come and get it” never sounded so good.


Aspen – Colorado, U.S.A.

The Place to Ski and Be Seen, with a Stimulating Cultural Life to Boot

Colorado is Rocky Mountain ski central, with more than two dozen resorts. Among them, Aspen is inarguably the most famous and sophisticated, and is the wintertime destination of choice for Hollywood celebs and those that follow them. The 11,000-foot Aspen Mountain (“Ajax” to the locals) is a strong skier’s mountain and no place for novices, but the area’s 12-mile span of summits also known for three other, less challenging resorts: Snowmass, Buttermilk, and Aspen Highlands as well as for its lively apres-ski nightlife. In total, they offer 281 trails over 4,315 acres of terrain and generally excellent skiing conditions, all linked by free shuttle service and a transfer­able lift ticket.

You can match the beauty of the great out­doors with that of the great indoors at the Little Nell, Aspen’s unpretentiously elegant (and only) ski-in/ski-out hotel, located on Aspen’s flagship mountain. Reminiscent of a European ski chalet, it’s located a snowball’s throw from the sleek Silver Queen, the world’s longest sin­gle-stage gondola, which hoists skiers up 3,257 feet in just thirteen minutes. The Nell has a busy bar and award-winning restaurant that are a scene both in winter and during the snowless months. When the skiing life quiets down, Aspen’s other charms come to the fore: a rich sense of community, and beautifully preserved late-19th-century gingerbread homes built dur­ing the town’s silver-mining boomtown years, all set against the natural splendor of the Colorado Rockies. Paramount among the year-round array of cultural and performing arts events is the summertime Aspen Music Festival, an eight-week mini-Tanglewood known for the variety and breadth of its musical activity.


Yosemite National Park – California U.S.A.

A High Sierra Beauty

No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite,” wrote naturalist John Muir whose efforts led to the establishment of Yosemite National Park in 1890. Most of the millions who converge in high season on this temple of nature head for the awesome beauty of the mile-wide, 7-mile-long Yosemite Valley, the park’s “Main Street,” cut by a river and guarded by sheer granite cliffs and domes that rise 2,000 to 4,000 feet.

Avoid the park’s notorious summertime people-jams by exploring the backcountry—the wilder 95 percent of the 750,000-acre domain, roughly the size of Rhode Island.

Most of the park’s natural attractions have become icons of the American landscape, immortalized by the photographs of Ansel Adams. Who doesn’t recognize the bald image of Half Dome, Yosemite’s 8,842-foot trademark peak? Or El Capitan, the largest single granite rock on earth, rising 350 stories from the valley floor (twice the size of the Rock of Gibraltar) and drawing rock climbers from all over the world?

The magnificent Yosemite Falls are the highest on the continent at 2,425 feet. The cas­cade—divided into Upper Yosemite Fall (1,430 feet), the middle cascades (675 feet), and Lower Yosemite Fall (320 feet)—is at its most dramatic in spring and early summer, but dries to a trickle by the end of summer.

Hiking is a favored activity in the park, with 800 miles of trails that can be covered by horse, mule, or on foot. One of the most pop­ular is the moderately strenuous Mist Trail, offering a close-up view of 317-foot Vernal Fall and the filmy, 594-foot Bridalveil Fall.

For those who prefer to remain in the car, 1% miles of paved roads will get you to Glacier Point for spectacular views of the valley below. In Mariposa Grove, a refuge of 500 massive sequoias, the 2,700-year-old Grizzly Giant is believed to be the oldest.

Yosemite Valley’s 1927 Ahwahnee Hotel, named after the Native American inhabitants of the park (in whose language “Yosemite” means “grizzly bear”), is the perfect park accommodation, and one of the national park system’s most prestigious.

A showpiece of stone and native timber, its views are heart stopping. Inside, decorative motifs reflect Ahwahnee Indian crafts, while the massive chandeliers look as if they were meant for a castle, and the fireplaces are large enough to walk into. Guests and nonguests alike can take lunch in the cavernous dining room, whose 25- foot windows frame the park’s best assets.

South of Yosemite, Erna’s Elderberry House and its exquisite 19th-century-style guest house, the Château du Sureau, offer European sophistication, gracious service, and an air of romance you don’t expect to find in such a tiny hamlet.

Ema, the Viennese-born virtuoso chef (and ebullient proprietor), is so inspired by the local market that she changes the menu almost daily, creating French-influenced meals that draw foodies the way El Capitan lures rock climbers.

napa valley california

California’s Wine Country – California, U.S.A.

Napa and Sonoma – America’s Premier Vineyards

If America has an answer to Tuscany as a locus for wine, food, and the good life, Napa and Sonoma are it. Consistently beautiful and gently landscaped, these fraternal twins, separated at birth by the Mayacamas Mountains and distinctly different in character, produce about 7 percent of the world’s wines, many of them of international caliber.

The 35-mile-long arc of Napa is the better known and more densely populated, with some 280 wineries (up from 20 in 1975) pro­ducing the region’s signature cabernet and many other varieties. Among the more high-profile are the renowned Domain Chandon in picturesque Yountville and the powerhouse Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. The unofficial king of Napa, Mondavi recently opened Copia, a cultural center dedicated to wine, food, and the arts and humanities.

The 250-acre Meadowood resort was built in the 1960s as a private country club and still has that old-money feel, with a hint of country club formality permeating the rambling main lodge and the cottage-style suites scattered in the hills above. A resident wine tutor oversees a cellar with wines from nearly every vintner in the valley. Meadowood is host of the wine region’s most important event, the three-day Napa Valley Wine Auction in early June, the largest and most prestigious charity wine event in the world; events take place valley-wide, but Meadowood is command central.

In addition to the resort’s two dining venues—commonly held to be among Napa’s best—the valley has a dizzying number of excellent eateries, from take-out markets and truck stops to The French Laundry, lauded by many in the food world as America’s finest restaurant. In a simple, almost austere 100-year-old stone cottage, self-trained chef Tomas Keller astounds, taking French-inspired California cuisine to riveting heights.

For a multisensory experience, hop aboard the luxury Napa Valley Wine Train, which runs from Napa to St. Helena past twenty-seven vineyards. Guests wine and dine during a blissful three-hour, 36-mile round-trip gourmet journey aboard handsomely restored 1915-era Pullman coaches. You won’t have to worry about drinking and driving.

On looks alone, the smaller Sonoma County appears more rustic and laid-back, but don’t be misled by the folksy, unfussy character of its 200 wineries: Sonoma wines— principally cabernet, chardonnay, and zinfandel —often outpace those of Napa, while its fer­tile orchards and vegetable farms supply the kitchens of the area’s finest restaurants. Sonoma’s many inns and restaurants are as diverse as its wines. Small Healdsburg, on the banks of the Russian River Valley, is the center of the action, its late-19th-century Madrona Manor setting the standard for period elegance. The Victorian dowager’s esteemed  restaurant also sets it apart, with a cuisine based on Sonoma’s cornucopia of produce and wines, with much of the best coming from the gabled inn’s own extensive kitchen garden.

chez panisse restaurant berkeley california

Chez Panisse – Berkeley, California, U.S.A.

The Restaurant That Changed the Way America Eats

In 1971, eating out meant beef Wellington and iceberg-lettuce salads with thousand island dressing-but that was before a young Alice Waters took an enlightening trip through France, where she was struck by the bold flavors of vegetables fresh from the garden, fruit right off the branch, and fish straight from the sea. Returning to the United States, the idealistic Berkeley grad opened Chez Panisse, in the process creating “California cuisine,” turning San Francisco into one of America’s best restaurant cities, and setting off a change in the way America eats. If it weren’t for her, our local restaurants might never have discovered mesclun salad, wood-fired pizza, wild mushrooms, domestic goat cheese, and organic produce.

Identified the world over with pure, superfresh local ingredients, simple preparation, and gorgeous presentation, Chez Panisse (named for a character in a film trilogy by Marcel Pagnol) is still going strong thirty years later. It’s still as difficult to book, still serves a single prix fixe three – or four-course menu every day, and never offers the same meal twice. Some sixty local farms supply the kitchen, and if a farmer’s got a new kind of pomegranate or cheese, it will show up on tonight’s menu and inspire the entire meal. If you want to remember how food should taste, eat here.

Upstairs, the lively, more informal Chez Panisse Caffe offers the same unfussy sensibility in a less expensive d la carte menu. Elsewhere in San Francisco, you can find restaurants whose owners and chefs were mentored by or took their inspiration from Waters, such as the superlative and ever popular Zuni Caffe.

cable car san francisco california

Cable Cars – San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Poetry in Motion

As cliched but charming as the gondolas of Venice and the double-decker buses of London, San Francisco’s cable cars are a key component of the city’s unique character and the only national historic landmark that moves.

With an unmistakable “ding! ding! ding!” announcing their arrival on sunny and foggy days alike, the cars are a throwback to the late 1800s, when they were the best transportation up and down the forty-three hills of America’s most topographically endowed city. Today they still bustle along at a constant 9 1/2 miles per hour (running by cable, not motor), their three lines comprising the world’s only surviving cable car system.

The Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines begin downtown below the busy high-end shopping area of Union Square and climb to the lofty neighborhood of Nob Hill, one of the city’s most elegant addresses and hilltop home to two of its most important hotels, The Ritz-Carlton, widely considered the city’s (and one of the world’s) best, and the landmark Fairmont. Rebuilt in an extravagant manner after the 1906 earthquake, this was where Tony Bennett gave his first public performance of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” back in 1962. The Powell-Hyde line ends at Fisherman’s Wharf, the famous waterfront tourist destination that still holds on to a good dose of charm. It’s worth joining the teeming humanity just to graze on take-away cracked crab and fish-and-chips from the harborside stands, and gaze at the spectacular views of Alcatraz prison—“The Rock”—and the majestic 2-mile-long Golden Gate Bridge, which you can also traverse for an exhilarating, wind-blasted walk and great views. Who knows who decided to paint it orange, but god love ’em.

If it’s Saturday, head for the nearby Embarcadero and the wildly popular Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, the city’s best and biggest. The vibrant markets of Chinatown are no less remarkable, packed with people (it’s the country’s second largest Chinese enclave), fresh vegetables, and things you didn’t know existed (or could be eaten).

In the heart of North Beach (the most enjoyable neighborhood to stroll around), Telegraph Hill offers some of the best vistas in town, particularly from the top of Coit Tower, where you can see the bay bridges, and islands. You’ll want to amble around Haight-Ashbury as well, a kind of retirement zone for ’60s hippies. Angle yourself atop Alta Vista Park, overlooking downtown, for the postcard view of the “painted ladies”-a row of brightly painted Queen Anne Victorians on the 700 block of Steiner Street. San Francisco’s wealth of architecture is one of its myriad treasures.