Aspen, Colorado

When I Went: June 12-16

Was That the Best Time of Year to Go? This is most definitely the best time of year for a visit. In fact, there is quite possibly no better time to be in Aspen than during the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. Despite the crowds—the very classy and polite crowds, I might add—everyone is there to have a good time and soak in the phenomenal summer mountain air while drinking, eating, and mingling with some of the biggest names in the culinary world. For the food and wine lover, it’s an event that has to be experienced at least once in his or her lifetime.

Why I Went There: Aspen Food & Wine Festival

Who Went With Me? Just me and my camera!

We Stayed Here: I stayed at the Hotel Jerome, an Auberge resort. Up until recently, this hotel has been an untouched mainstay in Aspen since 1889 (it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the mid ’80s), but it recently underwent a very sexy renovation with modern/rustic touches and an ambiance entirely Old World. The hotel opened as the crown jewel during Aspen’s silver-mining era, and even after the renovations, the hotel still carries an authentically, silver-lined historic vibe as it did when it first opened during Aspen’s silver-mining era. Staying in character as an understated luxury hotel, each of the 93 guest rooms received a tasteful face-lift to keep up with the times while paying homage to the past. My gigantic junior suite included an in-suite iPad, a plasma screen TV, cashmere curtains, a leather writing desk, and particulars like truly amazing local art mixed with locally-made products throughout (from soap to wine!). I loved staying at this hotel, as it offered that small-town sense to make me feel like I was very much a part of the local scene, and I really didn’t have to sacrifice any onsite guilty pleasures during my stay (i.e., late night cocktails at the bar, fitness room, Jacuzzis, etc.). The hotel is dog-friendly, and along with a new restaurant and a new living-room-style lounge concept in the lobby, they also added a brand new spa that offers treatments incorporating local minerals and medicinal plants that have been used by the Ute Indians for generations. Not only was this hotel in the middle of everything for the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, but it was also the host for many of the events, making it easy to enjoy the festival’s late night events without worrying about huffing through the streets in heels.

You Won’t Want to Miss: Obviously, the purpose of my visit was so I could experience the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, so I’d be crazy not to mention how worth it is to attend even one event or tasting at this festival. Just walking through the Grand Tasting Pavilion, I had to stop and take it all in a few times. When else can you say, “Thanks for the offer, Thomas Keller, but I can’t eat another bite,” as he signs your copy of his latest book?

Eat Here: The Aspen Food & Wine Classic, of course! I can’t even begin to say how much I ate on this trip. (Not that I’m complaining!) When Tim Love is marinating a steak right in front of you, and a bartender is pouring you another glass of rare Rioja wine, calories just seem like an absurd concept to consider. But for a non-food or wine splurge, I’d have to recommend Matsuhisa Aspen, Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s amazing Japanese fusion restaurant in the heart of the town, where I just so happened to run into a few Dallas people splurging on some spectacular sashimi (hi, Kent Rathbun!).

Play Here: There’s just something about embracing the altitude while in Aspen, so I feel like it’s only right to experience the true heights of this city while in town. I’ve always dreamed of taking an early morning hot air balloon ride to see the sun rise over the mountains, and I finally made that dream a reality on this trip. I went with Above It All Balloon Company out of Snowmass, who provided a traditional ballooning brunch after arriving back on solid ground, complete with champagne, pastries and chocolate-covered strawberries. It was truly remarkable to be completely at peace while so high in the air and to be sipping champagne with the captain at our final landing spot. While the seminars and Grand Tastings at the Food & Wine Classic are remarkable in-and-of themselves, the after-party events offer insanely memorable experiences. From indulging in the Wines of Spain with Jose Andres and sneaking sweet bites off trays with Johnny Iuzzini to winding the trip down on top of Aspen Mountain for the Food & Wine Best New Chefs Party with Thomas Keller, John Besh, Daniel Boulud, and David Chang, the after parties are the peak place to play while in town for this mouth-watering weekend.

If I Went Again: Even though I made sure to show up a few days before the festival, I would definitely give myself more time before and after to chill out and enjoy the town a bit more. There are so many hiking trails and so much to do outdoors and in (kayaking, brewery tours, etc.) that there’s no way you can fit it all in and feel “Aspen relaxed” by the end of it. I’d also make sure to make a trip out to see the Woody Creek Distillery, where you can show up either by car or by kayak since they’re located right off the Roaring Fork River. I didn’t believe there was such thing as a sipping vodka until I tried their premium spirit while in town. Not only did they convert me into a vodka connoisseur, but I heard their facility is totally worth the trip.

How Did You Get There From Dallas? Flights are actually incredibly easy from both Dallas International Airport (DFW) and Dallas Love Field (DAL) to Aspen (ASE), assuming a 16-hour road trip doesn’t appeal to you. With just a quick stop in Denver, most airlines (United, US Airways, American, etc.) will have you there in as little as four hours.

Other Tips For Fellow Travelers: The only other thing I would mention would be to make sure to plan on not planning. Half of the fun of the Aspen Food & Wine Classic is following the foodie friends you just met at the Grand Pavilion to an underrated event just down the street. “When in Aspen, do as the foodies do!”

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