Irish Independent, January 26th 2013
America’s highest state is a winter wonderland with the finest fare, says Thomas Breathnach
The bears may be snowed under but as soon as the season’s first powder falls on the Rockies, the state of Colorado seems to revel as America’s winter playground. Aspen, Telluride and Vail remain the main mountain magnets but I downed my boots in the gateway Denver region to see what’s on offer for the après-ski crowds.
Rising 1,609m into the heavens, “Mile-High” Denver lies where the Front Range dramatically collides into the Great Plains. Far from shunning its prairie pedigree however, Denver (aka Broncoville) has been embracing tradition of late. A farm-to-fork food scene has exploded in the city, the landscape is inspiring an arts renaissance and even a musical roots revival has seen local folksters The Lumineers top the Irish charts.
Denver Art Museum, (something of Titanic Belfast meets the Guggenheim), was my first stop, where Native American historical art and artefacts joined modernist watercolour exhibitions of bison in the wilds. Later, I would see the real deal, grazing along the highway.
To experience Denver’s finest fare, I took a tastings tour with Culinary Connectors (€75) who offer guided moveable feasts across the city’s top restaurants. Meandering through ambient canopy-lit streets, we sampled delectable dishes including confit of duck, Colorado lamb and a ‘bourgeois creamytime’ crème brulée.
If Denver is in a state of self-acceptance with its new sash of cool, Boulder, just a thirty minute drive down the highway to Hippyville, has long been sweeping up the yearbook accolades for American-living for decades. The mecca of eco-consciousness which appears to top every lifestyle quality index is a fervently liberal enclave of America’s West, famed for its preponderance of PhD graduates, farmers markets and Subaru Outbacks.
I began my visit there at Ranger Cottage, on the bast of the Chautauqua trailhead. Boulder prides itself on its outdoorsy mode de vie and due to a rather unique eco sales-tax, Boulderites enjoy ownership of thousands of acres of protected parkland for them to sled, ski and cycle away their woes. Little surprise then that this is also America’s fittest city (and as a visit to that farmer’s market might infer, one of the nation’s worst dressed). “It basically means we look better naked than dressed” joked my guide Katelyn, an ebullient blue-eyed beaut whose life in the Rockies had bequeathed her a look of Heidi meets Lara Croft.
Through meadows of spearmint and camomile, we hiked together along Boulder’s landmark Flatiron peaks before descending into a creek of wild cherry bushes. “They attract so many bears in the spring time, we have to close off this route” Katelyn explained.
Downtown Boulder is peppered with earthy eateries straight from the Jamie Oliver book of restaurant design. At The Kitchen, I lunched on a delish ranch steak with fresh-from-the-herb-garden rocket for €14; Colorado dining prices would generally leave a New Yorker foaming at the mouth.
But it’s not all a tale of heirloom tomatoes and organic granola. Being a hotbed of hipsterism, Boulder also has its fair share of kooky watering holes, like 303 Vodka; a Polish micro-distillery-slash-block party on 47th Street. I whiled away my evening there, bending elbows with Pickeltinis while trendy locals lounged with their Macbooks, Americana classics cranking out of the jukebox. This was still Colorado however – we’d all be hiking it off in the morning.
Aer Lingus (0818 365 000; aerlingus.com) flies from Dublin and Shannon to Denver (via Chicago O’Hare with partner airline Jetblue) from €538 return.
The Mile-High City’s Warwick hotel makes a plush uptown base, five minutes from the Downtown Denver buzz. For a further altitude kick, enjoy the hotel’s skyscraper-kissing pool terrace. (€65pps B&B; 001 303 861 2000; www.warwickdenver.com). For a suitably eco-friendly stay in Boulder, try the city’s first solar powered hotel located in a leafy quarter of Downtown (€51 pps; 001 303 449 7550; www.qualityinnboulder.com).
For more information, visit colorado.com