Telluride is a quiet hideaway, legendary for its old miner’s can-do spirit and for being the rare resort area with a down-home feel—as well as the majestic views of the jagged San Juan Mountains piercing the often-bright blue sky. Where the rich and famous—and hangers-on—crowd out Aspen and Vail, Telluride offers a refined alternative to the other bustling hot spots of Colorado with its tight-knit, small-town vibe from its independent shops, hotels and restaurants.
The hilly hamlet (it’s only eight blocks deep and 12 blocks long) is a favorite among celebrities — Tom Cruise and Laura Linney have homes here, and Ralph Lauren owns a sprawling 17,000-acre ranch right outside of Telluride — but the atmosphere is casual and unpretentious. Denim and snow boots are de rigueur in even the most upscale of restaurants, and locals cheerily greet you on the way to a brewpub or coming home from a great day of skiing.
Two parts make up the area. The charming historic town of Telluride sits in a canyon surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks on three sides and is filled with clapboard-fronted shops and restaurants as well as Victorian homes. A National Historic Landmark District, the old mining town was where Butch Cassidy began his bank-robbing career in the 1890s. Then there’s the modern Mountain Village, which sits 9,500 feet above the valley and whose cobblestone streets are lined with ski stores and hotels. Mountain Village gives you prime access to Telluride Ski Resort. The free gondola — the only public transportation of its kind in North America — connects the two areas (the 13-minute ride gives you beautiful vistas).
Where to Stay
Check into Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Lumière Telluride, a prized gem among the city’s offerings. Located on a quiet cul-de-sac away from the skiers in the upscale Mountain Village area, the European-style boutique hotel is still only minutes away from all of the action. You’ll easily feel at home in the ski-in, ski-out hotel’s spacious residences, which come with LED smart televisions with Bluetooth sound bars, gas fireplaces, separate dining rooms, one and a half bathrooms, washers and dryers, and kitchens decked out with Sub-Zero refrigerators and heavy-duty Wolf stoves. The warm, contemporary spaces exude mountain chic with exposed dark wood, hardwood hickory floors, sand-colored marble, stone touches and a palette of cream, dark browns and pops of orange. Tip: Book the five-bedroom penthouse for the best mountain views in Telluride, which you can admire from your own outdoor hot tub.
Aside from the great rooms, wife-husband team Clare and Bas Afman make it feel like home, too. You’ll be greeted with a flute of crisp Saint-Hilaire (ask Bas to tell you how the sparkling wine inspired Dom Pérignon), and the attentive staff is always at the ready to assist with recommendations, provide medicine for the high altitude or help you navigate the airports and shuttles should a snowstorm hit.
What to Do
In the winter, Telluride is an unbeatable outdoor playground teeming with options—snowmobiling, ice climbing, heli-skiing, ice skating and more. But skiing tops the list with more than 2,000 acres for all levels, 127 trails (the longest run is the 4.6-mile Galloping Goose), 18 lifts and, as far as we could tell, rarely a wait on lift lines. Plus, the rugged Rockies make for a breathtaking backdrop. If you need gear, head to BootDoctors. There was a snafu with our rentals, so we wandered there and the friendly staff outfitted us in no time. And if you want to hone your technique, consider booking a private lesson through the ski resort. Our instructor, Neville Leel, was patient, encouraging and gave solid advice.
Another must-do winter activity is snowshoeing with Eco Adventures. (Parents, be sure to check out the store’s happy hour, where you can drop off the kids for arts and crafts while you escape to Madeline Hotel & Residences‘ new Black Iron Kitchen & Bar to sip on a Mile High Mule — Woody Creek vodka, Gosling’s ginger beer and fresh lime — at one of the outdoor fire tables.) Snowshoeing gives you a unique perspective on the mountains. With a group of about four to five people, take a two-hour walk in a forest among 40- to 70-foot-tall Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir and Aspen trees. During the trek, our knowledgeable naturalist guide Dalen Stevens easily fielded questions about the local flora and fauna (he even pointed out various animal claw marks on bark) and we were lucky enough to spot a snowshoe hare up close. Strolling in the hushed forest with snow softly falling is both serene and invigorating (when it doesn’t snow, you can get picturesque mountain views, too).
When your limbs need relief from all of the rigorous activity, book a treatment at The Spa at The Peaks, the area’s go-to spa and one of the largest in Colorado (it has 32 treatment rooms). Our pick is the new Aromasoul scrub and massage. Your therapist will slough away dull skin with SpaRitual’s Infinitely Loving Sugar Scrub in a fragrant jasmine, and after you rinse it off, you’ll be treated to a relaxing hour-long massage.
Another off-slope to-do is shopping. Chain stores are notably absent in this fiercely independent town. Instead, peruse fine jewelry and regional art at Elinoff, soft Scottish cashmere clothing (the build-your-own sweater is a fun option) and accessories at CashmereRed, books about Telluride at Between the Covers Bookstore, custom-fit ski boots at BootDoctors, and Alice + Olivia apparel, Marc Jacobs bags and Bobbi Brown makeup at Two Skirts boutique. For a delicious souvenir, stop into Telluride Truffle, whose distinctive triangular chocolates mimic the surrounding mountains. Also try the Black Diamond, a tequila-infused dark chocolate truffle covered with milk chocolate and topped with a sprinkle of salt, and Mud Season, hazelnut milk chocolate enrobed in a marbled white and milk chocolate shell.
When the snow melts, Telluride transforms into a festival destination with a different event popping up seemingly every other week. The most popular of the bunch is Telluride Bluegrass, which draws up to 18,000 music fans. This year, the fest runs June 18 to 21 featuring artists such as Kacey Musgraves and Grammy Award-winning Sam Bush. Keep an eye out for the Telluride Wine Festival (June 25-28), which offers tastings, seminars, cooking demonstrations and more; Shakespeare in the Park (July 18-25), with works like A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival (Sept. 18-20), where you can hear live blues while tasting beer from 56 microbreweries.
Where to Eat and Drink
Telluride may be small, but it goes big with the culinary offerings. A unique experience is at Alpino Vino, which claims to be North America’s highest elevation fine-dining restaurant at almost 12,000 feet. To dine at this rustic European-style hütte, you have to take a gondola ride and then a 20-minute snowcat trip up to the restaurant, where a well-dressed waiter is standing outside with a glass of prosecco for you. There are only two seatings per night in the 27-seat Italian restaurant, which has a roaring fire in the center of the room and mellow jazz playing. Among the five-course menu, we enjoyed housemade crab ravioli with a creamy saffron sauce and a grilled rack of lamb with mushroom polenta.
You don’t need a snowmobile to find excellent food, though: head into town for the Cosmopolitan—order anything with the excellent lobster; visit Allred’s at the top of the gondola for unrivaled sunset views alongside a cut of tender elk; or take a seat at Brown Dog Pizza for the Brooklyn Bridge, a Detroit-style pie (Sicilian that isn’t as bready with a caramelized lattice cheese crust) with pepperoni, sausage and dollops of ricotta that is among the best in the country.
When it’s time for a nightcap, go to Arroyo, a wine-bar-cum-art-gallery. If you prefer to try Colorado’s famed microbrews, follow the locals into the New Sheridan Hotel’s bar for Telluride Brewing Co.’s Face Down Brown, a dark amber with a nutty flavor.