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Mr. Harper's Travel Guide

Colorado is the quintessential Rocky Mountain state. With more than 500 peaks exceeding the 13,000-foot mark and a statewide “low” point at a lofty 3,000-plus feet, high-altitude activity is the order of the day. Most itineraries focus on Colorado’s world-class skiing, horseback ...

Colorado is the quintessential Rocky Mountain state. With more than 500 peaks exceeding the 13,000-foot mark and a statewide “low” point at a lofty 3,000-plus feet, high-altitude activity is the order of the day. Most itineraries focus on Colorado’s world-class skiing, horseback riding, fishing and hiking, as well as rambling among the state's myriad national monuments and wilderness preserves. Aspen, Telluride and Vail are the upscale centers of winter recreation. For a change of pace from the state's wealth of outdoor activities, the breweries, ballparks and art districts of downtown Denver combine frontier rusticity with 21st-century urban vigor; nearby Boulder is a lively university town; and in the south-central region, Colorado Springs is home to Western-flavored museums like the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, as well as the United States Air Force Academy.

bird icon Recommended Luxury Hotels in Colorado

All Andrew Harper-recommended hotels offer impeccable accommodations and high levels of personal service. Only the best of the best make our list, so we rate them on a scale from bird icon 90 to 100.

Best Restaurants in Colorado

Part of the Vail scene since 1977, Sweet Basil remains a favorite, offering a vibrant contemporary American menu with international inflections. The space has dark cherry floors, stone walls and a lively bar. Look for appetizers such as salmon tataki with soy caramel, tempura avocado, sesame puffed rice and mustard seed. For a main course, you might find Gold Canyon hangar steak with gnocchi di pane, grilled asparagus, horseradish and a Béarnaise egg jam. 

193 East Gore Creek Drive Vail $60

Tucked off the main pedestrian mall, this charming bistro hits the right notes with linen-topped tables, pleasant lighting and menu options written on big mirrors. The cooking marries the ingredients of France and the Mediterranean in pleasing ways. Look for starters such as a board of fresh charcuteries, or Mediterranean favorites including clams and chorizo with fire-roasted tomatoes and garlic. Among the larger plates, you may find grilled fish of the day marinated with citrus, garlic and herbs; and veal loin scallopini with potato purée, garlic spinach and lemon-caper butter. 

315 East Hyman Avenue Aspen $70

This, the latest restaurant from the Sweet Basil team (see below), offers contemporary American cuisine in a casual, comfortable setting. The look is upscale tavern, with lots of wood, and a menu that features dishes prepared over an open fire. Appetizers include updated classics such as bruschetta with crushed avocado and fava beans, goat cheese, chermoula and preserved lemon, plus a great raw bar with oysters, Alaskan king crab and ahi tuna crudo. Among the mains, consider the Rocky Mountain trout with marinated summer squash, cherry tomatoes, chive gnocchi and citrus butter; and a grilled hangar steak with charred broccoli, new potatoes, “cheese whiz,” olives and garlic croutons. 

193 Gore Creek Drive Vail $55

This former house a short walk from the Hotel Columbia has no view of note, but it ranks as one of Telluride’s leading restaurants. In a cozy space decorated with bright landscapes, we started with a selection of housemade sausages, of which the sweet and savory chicken-cranberry and the Asian-inflected duck-mushroom versions were especially delicious. I also relished my main course of Colorado striped bass, served with meaty mushrooms and crunchy haricots verts.

221 South Oak Street Telluride

At this relaxing restaurant with light mustard walls, soft lighting and white linen tablecloths, co-owner Jodi Larner and chef Chris Lanter are committed to quality ingredients simply prepared. The menu changes, but look for starters such as the mussels in a lobster broth with tomatoes, garlic and Pernod. Main courses might include the delicious rack of mustard-crusted Colorado lamb with potatoes au gratin, all in a veal jus. 

205 South Mill Street Aspen $65

An Aspen favorite since 1988, Piñons has been given a gentle makeover but still has memorable views of Ajax Mountain, and some of the best food in town. Chef Rob Mobilian’s menu features straightforward, flavorful dishes. Among the appetizers might be duck quesadilla with portobello mushrooms, spinach, pepperjack cheese and a zingy chili aioli. A main course could be pan-seared buffalo tenderloin with Boursin potatoes and a huckleberry sauce. 

105 South Mill Street Aspen $80

Attached to the Hotel Columbia, overlooking the gondola to Mountain Village, this contemporary American restaurant incorporates local ingredients in as many dishes as possible. My appetizer of goat-cheese burrata came with heirloom tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, savory pumpkin-seed oil and arugula. The buffalo tenderloin that followed was very flavorful, and was accompanied by risotto studded with foraged porcini mushrooms. A short but well-chosen wine list focuses on California, France and Italy.

300 West San Juan Avenue Telluride

With its prime location and its reputation for serving the best steaks in town, Russell’s can be a difficult reservation — but it is warm, cozy and a must on my Vail dining list. Though it bills itself as a steakhouse, its menu is wider than the usual. Look, therefore, for starters such as lightly blackened tuna sashimi with marinated ginger and wasabi, or spicy homemade sausage wrapped in puff pastry with a wild mushroom sauce. Main courses can include the house specialty: steak Diane — grilled fillet with a mild sauce of shallots, mustard and brandy cream; a fine 12-ounce New York strip steak; or Atlantic salmon, grilled or blackened. 

228 Bridge Street Vail $65

We enjoyed a fine Italian lunch at this classic restaurant on Colorado Avenue, Telluride’s main commercial street. I particularly enjoyed a plate of citrus-cured salmon served with crunchy white cabbage and tangy Borettane onions. The steep $29 price tag of the homemade tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms was less palatable. But I would return just to take advantage of the impressively broad selection of Italian wines. I ordered a sprightly Picollo Gavi di Gavi, and a lush La Cappuccina “Arzimo” Passito for dessert.

114 East Colorado Avenue Telluride
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