- Distance from Denver: 97 miles
- Best time: Year Round
- Best for: RomanticOutdoorShopping
When it comes to American ski resorts, it's hard to top Vail. The Rocky Mountain resort is the biggest in the US, encompassing 5,289 acres of skiable terrain spread across three mountain faces that absolutely rake in the snow. But Vail is more than a ski mountain. The car-free village area is modeled after the Tyrolean villages of the Alps, and filled with notable restaurants, grand hotels with European-style architecture, and one-of-a-kind boutiques. For couples, Vail is pure romance—stunningly scenic, sophisticated, and serene. Browse the shops and galleries that line the cobblestone streets, enjoy a gastronomic extravaganza at one of the best restaurants in the West, and soak up unforgettable mountain views during a private gondola ride, among the town's many indulgences. –by Jayme Moye
1 Start the weekend in the natural splendor of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, the highest public botanical gardens in North America at 8,250 feet. It's free to stroll through the six gorgeous gardens, a fairyland of colors containing more than 3,000 varieties of high-altitude plants and flowers. The gardens are open from dawn to dusk. Leave a couple of minutes to browse the kitschy gift shop—a little old schoolhouse with nature-themed mementos—located behind the whimsical children's garden.
2 Get instantly acquainted with Vail's swanky nightlife with a cocktail at Matsuhisa, owned by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Choose seats at the bar at the back of the sleek, modern restaurant, where you'll face soaring two-story high windows showcasing Vail Mountain in all its sunset splendor. Order the Matsutini, Nobu's creative interpretation of a martini made with exotic fruits and soju—a distilled Korean beverage similar to vodka.
3 From Matsuhisa, it's a four-minute walk though the Village to Sweet Basil, Vail's best—and arguably most romantic—restaurant. The vibe is traditional with dim lighting, white linens, and intimate tables for two, calling to mind an era when a man always pulled out a lady's chair. But the contemporary American-style cuisine is anything but old-fashioned; Executive Chef Paul Anders is known for his creative—and at times, daring—combinations of the freshest seasonal ingredients. A new outdoor patio opens up the restaurant to even better mountain views and a more visceral connection to Gore Creek.
1 In the winter, the skiing at Vail Mountain is world-class, and ditto on the hiking in the summer. But there's a more extraordinary way to experience Vail's rugged mountains, in any season, with Vail Valley Paragliding. You and your sweetie will each launch tandem with a qualified instructor (no experience required) from the top of 8,800-foot Bellyache Ridge. The flight, enabled by an inflatable nylon wing, is a surreal 15-minute soar over the serpentine Eagle Creek and the aspens and pines 1,000 feet below. You'll share the air with eagles and hawks, and get a bird's eye view of Vail Mountain, the four peaks of nearby Beaver Creek Ski Resort, the craggy Gore Range, and the Continental Divide.
2 Before driving back to the Vail, head a bit further west for lunch at the Wolcott Yacht Club. The shabby-chic establishment alongside the Eagle River is a popular haunt for kayakers and rafters, and a revitalizing contrast to the glitz of Vail Village. Get a table outside on the patio and enjoy the fresh air, live music, and eclectic local ambiance. Dishes are served tapas-style, with the fish tacos leading the lunch menu.
3 Make your way back to the Village and hit the cobblestone for some top-notch shopping and browsing. The Golden Bear has become a symbol of Vail, quite literally. The boutique's golden bear pendant (on necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings) is recognizable worldwide. Gorsuch is a village shopping landmark, selling an unmistakably Vail combination of luxury clothing (think cashmere and buffalo hide) and high-end ski resort wear. New retail hotspots in the village include Perch and Luca Bruno, both locally owned and operated.
4 Vail Village also has its fair share of notable galleries. Plan to peruse the Vail International Gallery, located across from Sonnenalp Hotel, an impressive collection of contemporary American, European, and South American art, as well as Russian Impressionism. Vail Village Arts, a two-minute walk away, represents more than 50 painters, sculptors, and photographers, and ships its wares anywhere in the world. Further down, the Vail Fine Art Gallery, located in the Solaris building, is a must-see, displaying museum-quality paintings by master painters. Meander among the oils, watercolors, pastels, and cast bronze sculptures, a celebration of French Impressionism from the 1870's to the present.
5 No afternoon in the village is complete without a stop at the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame. Even if you're not a skier, the exhibits on the history of the Vail Valley and the 10th Mountain Division (the famed ski troopers of World War II), are worth a walk-through. And the price is right—it's free.
6 Make Saturday night a Vail-style date night at Böl, a sexy upscale restaurant and bowling alley. With 21 wines by the glass, an ultra-modern dining room, and giant flat-screens over the lanes, Bol is unlike any bowling experience you've ever known. Eat dinner first, to allow time for the families to clear out of the bowling alley. The menu is a playful gourmet spin on American pub-style food and the pizza is excellent, with creative selections like the "Pampered Duck," featuring taleggio cheese, apple butter and truffled duck mousse.
1 Brunch is an adventure at the Game Creek Restaurant, a Bavarian-style chalet perched 2,000 feet above the village. You can get there by foot (four miles up Vail Mountain on the Berry Picker Trail), or by riding the Eagle Bahn gondola up from Lionshead Village, then taking the restaurant's four-wheel drive shuttle the final half-mile. Reservations are required.
2 Walk off lunch at the Vail Farmer's Market and Art Show, which takes over Vail Village every Sunday from mid-June to late-September. In addition to the dizzying array of booths jam-packed with locally grown produce, fresh-baked goods, and specialty food items, you'll find dozens of local artists' stands. Browse their unique wares—everything from custom dog bowls to antique jewelry—while listening to live music.
3 For a romantic grand finale, get a couple's massage at the Spa at the Four Seasons Resort Vail. Besides the sanctuary-like locker rooms complete with whirlpool, sauna, and eucalyptus steam room, your private couple's massage suite contains dual massage tables, a whirlpool, fireplace, and outdoor terrace. Splurge on an 80-minute treatment, instead of the 50-minute version—it's worth it.
Where to Stay
Vail's newest luxury accommodations, the Solaris Residences (rooms from $525/night), are located in the Village's new town center area. The 79 residences range from studios to six-bedroom penthouses, each the epitome of Vail extravagance. Don't be misled by the term "studio," these digs are 900-square feet and include full kitchens. Similarly, the one-bedroom is 1,400-square feet with 1.5 bathrooms and a den. Every unit has spectacular mountain views, a gas fireplace, organic cotton towels, and Aveda toiletries.
The Sebastian (rooms from $149/night), is a favorite for couples and one of the best boutique hotels in Vail. The lobby is part art-gallery and part cocktail lounge, featuring the work of Mexican abstract artist Manuel Felguérez and The Frost, one of the Village's sexiest bars. The hotel's Classic room is the best value, but feels small, fitting only a queen-sized bed. Reserve the Deluxe Plaza room, a step up in size. Be sure to check out the hot tubs. With four to choose from, there's a good chance the two of you can get one all to yourselves.
When to Go
Despite it's reputation as a ski resort, Vail is a year-round destination, seeing nearly as many visitors in the summer as in the winter. May and October to mid-November are considered shoulder season in Vail, and not all amenities, like the gondola, are running. But those are the best times to get killer hotel deals, as much as 75% off holiday season rates, and restaurant reservations. The shops are open year-round.
How to Get There
By car (from Denver): Vail is just under two hours from Denver. Take US-6 west to I-70 west toward Grand Junction. Get off at the Vail exit (176).