Just outside the limits of Aspen, Colorado, the city’s namesake trees grow in groves that stretch toward the sky and stop at exactly the same height. In the summer, the leafy green branches shade hiking paths and rivers; in autumn the tip tops blaze yellow, a reminder of the sunny days gone by.
As I laced up my hiking shoes in early June to wander along the Hunter Creek Trail, which starts just outside the city and winds its way up through Red Mountain, my hiking guide from Aspen Alpine Guides explained that the trees share the same root system. That makes them for all intents and purposes clones of one another – and one of the largest organisms on Earth.
In many ways, the city of Aspen, itself, grew in a similar manner. It started as a silver mining town around 1879 and flourished until silver was demonetized in 1893. The city sat quiet for half a century until the 1940s when skiing and the mining infrastructure resurged the community. From those second-time-around origins independent industries were born – everything from shopping to adventure – making Aspen at once among the most chic and rustic getaways in the country.
Nowhere is this on better display than at the Hotel Jerome, one of the city’s enviable hotels and an Auberge Resort. It was constructed 125 years ago, but was recently renovated into 93 light-filled rooms that range from singles to a Presidential Suite. Each is outfitted with spa-worthy cosmetics, high-tech gadgets, and come with amenities like a nightly turndown service, pristine soaking tubs, and complimentary transportation anywhere in the area.
The interior of the hotel is stylistically warm and inviting with feminine and masculine aesthetics that echo off one another. Exhibit A. The textures in the room pair like a well-worn outfit: lush cream cashmere curtains on the windows, strapping, sturdy leather on the bed frames. Need exhibit B? The amenities suit everyone – from an extensive spa to the best burger in town at the J Bar where Hunter S. Thompson used to imbibe.
From the Hotel Jerome, it’s easy to see the rest of Aspen on foot. What you’ll take in, of course, could come straight from the fashion wells in glossy magazines –Dior, Burberry, Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Bruno Cucinelli – but somehow when these store fronts are set amidst the spacious, mountainous backdrop, they feel more exotic and lux. I stopped into Cos Bar, a well-stocked beauty store in town to find old friends – Tom Ford, Tata Harper, Chanel, and By Kilian – who help construct most enviable vanities even while on vacation.
After you’ve had your fair share of Fifth Avenue’s best, the Silver Queen Gondola is a short stroll away. In what is roughly a 20-minute (and $20) trip, the gondola summits 11,200 feet to the top of the Ajax Mountain. In the summer months, yogis start their mornings sun-salutations atop the peak in the fresh mountain air.
The great outdoors, are of course, the greatest draw to Aspen. When I landed, I found my head spinning, not from the altitude, but rather all of the decisions to make about which activities to choose. There’s mountain biking, fly-fishing, hiking, kayaking. I chose to go on a rafting adventure with Aspen Whitewater Rafting as my guide.
Because of the unusually wet spring, the rivers were high and the rapids were more intense than normal. When we dropped our raft into the rapids, after having gone over the basics, our first turn brought a splash of icy water. While our course was a Class III or intermediate level, these guys will take you on everything from a mild Class II course to wild Class IV one.
After my rapid adventure, I had one thing on my mind: food. When you eat in Aspen, one of the best-kept secrets in town is the bar menu. Most restaurants offer a limited selection from the full menu at a cut rate, so you’ll get the same plate of food, but just won’t pay as much for it. The farm-to-table Meat & Cheese, for example, does this with their boards of charcuterie, bread, and goat’s cheese, which is all sourced from a local farm.
Back at the Hotel Jerome, Executive Chef Rob Zack uses seasonal items and locally-sourced ingredients to craft his meals at Prospect. The restaurant serves American fare like meatballs and creamy polenta, roasted cauliflower, or Colorado lamb – not to mention an extensive wine selection.
I spent a lot of time asking resident who had lived in the city for many years and even many decades why they decided on Aspen, and the story almost without fail started the same way. “I came for a weekend, and I decided to stay.” Here, three days is all it takes to fall in love.
Trip and accommodations provided by the Hotel Jerome and the Aspen Convention and Visitors Bureau.