Vail, Colorado Review - Perfect, Heavenly, Like Nothing on Earth

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Recently an invitation to enjoy Vail, Colorado, whose slogan, is "Like Nothing on Earth," arrived in my email and after a breakfast vetting meeting with the city's PR rep, the dates for my visit was set for July 2019.

Before leaving Los Angeles I received several follow up emails including a list of outdoor activities of which I would participate so to fully immerse myself in the feel of life in this magical place. With an itinerary that included each of my chosen activities, White Water rafting, the Alpine Pass Bike hike, Epic Discovery Mountain Obstacle course, Vail was also including an evening at the Bravo! Vail Music Festival.

Arriving at the Eagle International Airport the spirit of the location is evident immediately. The layout, while completely modern, has a rustic charm. Freestanding fire pits, beamed ceilings, lounging and rocking chairs, along with all the expected airport amenities.

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Transportation to Vail, was provided by Epic Mountain Express, and took about 45 minutes along the highway bordered by towering mountains, and various rivers. The escape to nature, from Los Angeles even with all its offerings, was welcome, new and breathtaking.

Arriving at the Hotel Talisa, my host hotel, which as I arrived was in the final days before the re-branding having been purchased by Hyatt Hotels Corporation and would be renamed Grand Hyatt Vail.

(**) Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Vail

From the brochure Grand Hyatt Vail is nestled at the base of Vail Mountain and located on the picture-perfect Gore Creek. The Luxury Collection's first North American ski resort, it is Vail's preeminent luxury hotel offering top of the line luxury accommodations and an equally luxurious experience. Located in the heart of Vail Valley, just minutes from the world-famous and picturesque Vail Village.

(**) Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Vail

Designed by the acclaimed LEO A DALY firm, Grand Hyatt Vail completed an extensive multi-million-dollar renovation in 2018. Influenced by the area's surrounding mountains and history, the hotel's contemporary guestrooms and common areas offer an elevated modern retreat with clean lines, gentle curves and subdued patterns with rich wood, stone and leather textures.

(**) Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Vail

The hotel's artwork and unique interior design touch points pay homage to the Southern Ute Native American tribe through local artists and artisans. Striking floor-to-ceiling windows and thoughtful use of lighting and natural materials beckon travelers to pursue their inner adventurer.

With more than 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meetings and event space, as well as a 30,000 square-foot exhibit hall, the property provides a great venue for everything from an intimate leadership retreat to theatrical events, weddings and more.

(**) Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Vail

The property also features Vail Residences at Cascade Village, comprised of 84 multi million-dollar rental homes and condominiums which will be managed by Hyatt. Prior to becoming Grand Hyatt Vail, the hotel was branded as Hotel Talisa.

With 285-rooms Grand Hyatt features exclusive amenities including one-of-a-kind spa treatments like the High-Altitude Adjustment Ritual and body scrubs infused with botanicals and Colorado wildflowers. There also are three dining venues, inventive après offerings, curated alpine experiences and a 58,000-square foot athletic club.

(**) Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Vail

As Vail's only true ski-in/ski-out luxury resort with a 20-chair lift on property, its location offers visitors easy access to world-class skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, golfing, music festivals and more. The property is listed among the best hotels in the world as part of the 2018 Conde Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards

As in most small towns, big news travels fast and the buzz of the day of course, the sale and re-branding of my host hotel. My stay coincided with the final week before the Hyatt corporation took over which  resulted in a few glitches during my stay.

The property itself is lovely, well-appointed rooms, state of the art facilities and amenities. Many of the rooms had direct views of the Gore river and mountains with patios and balconies. I had been given the Mountain View Grand Suite. It was lovely and of course, the most important aspect of any stay, the sleeping accommodations. The mattress was perfect. Plush, luxurious, and very comfortable.

(**) Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Vail

My concerns, as I explained to my host, were important enough to address. There were a few items that remained important throughout the stay and even now two months after departing are necessary to mention.

The window handles, which roll the twin windows open, were missing. It was impossible to open the windows to enjoy the sounds of the rushing river and the fresh mountain air. The last person who stayed in the room possibly broke  glass in the shower, as after showering I had small cuts on the bottom of my feet making it extremely painful to walk. Wearing shower flip flops shouldn't be necessary at any luxurious property.

The other issue, housekeeping or someone with access to the room removed an item which I had tried unsuccessfully to have returned. The mini-bar was empty, which I was told was standard, intended to be used for personal refrigeration. Also, there were no in-room snacks which may be a feature of the new owner as I noticed with the images sent.

I want to say those were minor issues. And with the change-over I felt the staff, in several departments were feeling a bit uneasy about the future and reacted with brisk disregard and even in a few instances were quite rude and really in need of reprimanding.

I really don't want to get bogged down in the attitudes or glitches as the hotel was breathtaking, the grounds lovely and scenic and on my first night, as I took an evening swim, the stars brilliant, and the region very beautiful.

(*) Courtesy of Jeff Affleck for Kristin Yantis

Other then the minor issues, the room was incredibly luxurious, detailed, with all the amenities one would expect of a five-star property.

With Vail as my host, the city, location, people, activities were warm and welcoming. My trip included a sampling of outdoor, cultural and culinary opportunities available in the picturesque Vail village.

Hotel Eateries – Gessner and The Market

As my host, the city of Vail ensured every aspect of my stay was attended to and on my first evening, Gessner, the house restaurant, provided dinner. My server was well versed on the menu offerings with recommendations on wine, appetizers and the main course.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

Courtesy of the chef she brought a sampling of a delicious sweet corn soup, tabled poured. The bowl arrives with a delicious mixture of Blue crab, corn relish and Jalapeno coconut cream and the hot liquid base is poured over. It was very, very good. I also chose Grilled Baby Octopus paired with chorizo and chick-peas along with a cucumber salad and Harissa Aioli, which was also delicious.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

The entree was disappointing. I chose Bison Flat Iron Steak served with Potato Bacon Terrine, Broccolini, with Peppercorn-Berry Jus. Bison, was my second choice I had originally thought of the Rocky Mountain Trout.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

The Bison, which was a first, was very tender, flavorful and the Peppercorn-berry jus, really enhanced the flavors. The overwhelming disappointment was potato bacon terrine, a layered scalloped potato wrapped in bacon. The bacon was raw. It was obvious the chef must have believed the recipe called for a high heat sear serving side up, as the top was appealingly crispy. It was only seared and crispy on top. Unfortunate.

The meal did have bright spots. The corn soup, the appetizer all delicious and of course, I did venture into the dessert menu and had the most perfect Chocolate Mousse cake I have ever tasted. Resting on chocolate crumb base, the chocolate mousse dome is encased in chocolate glacage glaze with hazelnut, raspberry sprinkles and fresh strawberry with fresh crème.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

During my stay I also had opportunities to sample the Breakfast Buffet at Gessner. No complaints, the offerings, a combination of hot and cold traditional breakfast offerings, as well as health conscious choices.

With al fresco dining options, the river views and morning sun coming up over the mountain the outdoor seating created hypnotic morning views. Unfortunately, as I was hoping for a refill on my coffee, my waitress disappeared without leaving the check which left me to hunt down the manager to settle the tab.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

The Market, a less formal coffee shop that offered quick bites to go and necessities, also had most breakfast needs. The attendant's attitude was so discourteous and concerning that I remember remarking out loud while I waited my turn to be insulted while I ordered coffee, that she needed to adjust her attitude. Rude and impolite would be generous.

As media, with a hosted stay, I expected some negativity, and simply chose to tolerate the bad behavior. And if my possessions had been returned, I wouldn't have said anything.

Venture Sports 25 Mile Alpine Pass Bike tour

The outdoor activities begin the next morning with 25 mile Alpine Pass Bike tour in the morning followed with the Epic Mountain Discovery Obstacle course. Vail is stunning and the recreational activities are available for every season.

As to experience Vail, and a taste of the offerings the region has to offer, in every season, I had been given a list of possible activities to participate in during my trip. On day one, I chose the ½ day guided Vail Pass Bike Tour offered through Venture Sports.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

Along with a representative from the Vail's PR agency and the guide, we were driven to the top of Vail Pass, an elevation of about 12,500 feet. The bike hike sounds daunting and 25 miles is 25 miles and yet it is nearly all downhill except for the four mini climbs toward the end, ribbons really, a quick uphill and then back down. The main concern was controlling the downhill speed and watching corners.

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For anyone who has not been to Vail or Colorado it is difficult to explain. It is a total one with nature experience. The views are panoramic, mountaintop to mountaintop, seeing the valley, and allowing gravity essentially to handle the work. It is an easy to moderate 25-mile ride downhill along a paved bike path.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

The path, which at one time, the only vehicle access, was once a two-lane highway. When the government decided to build the interstate, the city petitioned to keep the highway and turned it into a well-maintained bike path.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

The tour of Vail Pass, which also included biking through the city of Vail, ended at the hotel.

Epic Mountain Discovery

With the Vail Pass completed, and time limited, the activities provided had to be completed. Granted, if my stay were longer, I probably would have lounged for the remainder of the day. As it was, the afternoon was scheduled for Epic Mountain Discovery, the summer children's activities park at the top of Epic Mountain.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

Epic Mountain access, located in the center of Lions Head, which is a secondary smaller village before arriving at Vail, proper. The only ride to the obstacle course is the Eagle Bahn Gondola.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

The Eagle Bahn Gondola, which in Ski Season is the ride that ferries skiers to the top of the mountain also offers panoramic views, as the six-seater carriage slowly moves up the cables, with limitless views of the surrounding villages and mountains. At the top, in summer, the grounds become a children's playground with several mini mountaineer obstacle courses along with, climbing walls, tubeing, and a gravity roller coaster.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

Of course, at 10,300 feet, the views were phenomenal. Lookout points along the trail pointed out the surrounding mountains. Also, at 10,300 feet the weather changes in an instant bringing the gondolas to a halt. When the all clear is given everything starts up again.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

On the ride down the mountain, the trails are filled with BMX riders. The trails are utilized all year with every recreational activity one can imagine. After a full day of biking, hiking, and absorbing the breathtaking beauty I was exhausted.

Dinner at Up The Creek

So, it was time for dinner. My host has suggested several local eateries in Vail. She had made reservations at Sweet Basil for the next evening after the Bravo! Concert Series. So, on this night, I was left to my own to decide. I chose Up the Creek, located on E. Gore Creek Dr., with Ala carte dining on a patio that faced the Gore Creek.

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I realized after being seated, how exhausted my day of activities left me. The menu was filled with delicious entrees, Colorado Lamb Sirloin, New York Strip, seasonal delights, Pan Roasted Ruby Red Trout, Pan Seared Scallops, and sumptuous desserts, Brownie Sundae, Crème Brulee, Gelato & Sorbet.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

I decided to keep it simple and had ordered from the appetizer menu. Delicious crispy golden pan-fried Brussel sprouts, a Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, with Brussels Sprout Slaw and Blackberry-Serrano Coulis, and an order of Up the Creek's famous Truffle Frites served with Maytag Blue Cheese Fondue and Shaved Parmesan Reggiano.

After a few bites and the leftovers boxed up, I ordered a Cappuccino.

It was an incredible day.

Sage White Water Rafting

The next morning, after a deep and restful sleep, my day began with White Water Rafting! I must admit, as much as I have wanted to experience the thrill of rafting, it was unnerving. Even as I had prepared, watched the videos, ordered the proper water sandals, made sure I knew all the safety measures, I still had a bad case of the nerves.

Picked up at the hotel by the Sage Outdoor Adventures team, we made the rounds picking up other adventurers and headed out to the "put" point, a small pop up location where the teams put or load the rafts in the water.

The trip, a half-day, ride on the Lower Eagle river with three Class III rapids with names like Devil's Falls is one of Sage's favorite rafting trips. The Lower Eagle River is one of the few undammed rivers still left in the west. It is fed purely on snowmelt from the rugged Gore mountain range.

(**) Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Vail

The team at Sage provides everything, wetsuits, booties, life vests, and splash gear. The water even in July was about 43 degrees. Quite chilly.

My main objective, to stay in the boat, I found out, was also the main objective of the company. As they prepped the group of about 70 rafters, the checklist included "stay in the boat." And then what to do if one were to fall out of the boat.

After all the rafters were seated, safety precautions explained how it is virtually impossible to fall out of the rafts. One foot is essentially locked between the side and the bottom, almost like a vacuum and the other foot is planted firmly under the seat in front.

So, once you're locked in, you can lay back flat and still not fall in. After that, the only concern, of course, were the rapids. Our instructor, who shouted commands, of which we, a group of six rafters, were supposed to follow to keep the raft in line. He explained as we continued, he was hoping we would see some "air" at the next rapid. I was not ready for "air."

As it went the trip was over too soon. The first rapids were the most frightening. My raft mates included a family from Texas, whose exuberance really broke through my fear, and once we were on our way, it was like, let go and have a great time. If you fall in, someone will rescue you. As it was, no one fell in, the rapids were fast, and for us novices rafters a bit breathtaking, and on the final rapid, we hit air, and somehow everyone stayed in the raft.

They only thing I would do different on the rapids is keep my eyes open.

Another great start to the day.

Bravo! Music Festival at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater

My final evening in Vail was filled with the intoxicating, enchanting sounds of the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Alexander Joel. They were the guest orchestra closing the season at the Bravo! Music festival performing at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.

The Amphitheater, which has recently had a few touch ups that included a new outdoor greeting center houses a plaque of former President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford with the signage "They brought The World to Vail." During the Ford Administration, Vail was the destination the president and family would travel to escape the snares of Washington politics.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

On this night, the Amphitheater was packed. The seating is divided into stadium under the covering and the grassy hill for others. Tonight, many arrived early even the hill was filling up fast. We found a spot in front of a small rock wall.

The PR rep, Kristin Yantis, arranged to have small boxes of fruits, cheese and crackers from the local caterer, The Grazing Fox. Just enough to hold us over to dinner.

The philharmonic under the director of acclaimed British maestro Alexander Joel, presented an evening of music that spanned the generations beginning with Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walkure 1854-1856, followed by fanfare and love scene from the Adventures of Robin Hood 1938, suite from Vertigo 1958 and ended the first set with George Gershwin's, An American in Paris.

The music was hypnotic, the final nineteen minutes of An American in Paris was mesmerizing, I was entranced. There was a moment when I realized that I had become lost in the sound, and the sights also, as the Amphitheater faces the mountains, and with an occasional Eagle flying overheard, it was magical.

The second set paid homage to Hollywood and the iconic John Williams. The Overture to Lawrence of Arabia, Sunset Boulevard, Superman's March, Rey's Theme Star War: The Force Awakens and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It was incredible, mesmerizing, memorable, captivating evening.

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Dinner at Sweet Basil

After the philharmonic, my host had made reservations for dinner at Sweet Basil. As Vail is a vehicle free zone, we walked from the Amphitheater to the village of Vail. When explaining the restaurant culture in Vail, my host said, "Sweet Basil began the culinary rush so to speak and is considered the restaurant if you are looking to impress."

Courtesy of Janet Walker

As I plan to review separately, I want to say, it lives up to its reputation. It was a culinary experience. Beginning with the appetizer, Whipped Feta, Calabrian chili, garlic honey and carta di musica, which is crafted so it is a large ball and hollow on the inside. It arrives at the table, toasted and tapping with the knife edge it shatters into wedges and pieces that are used to dip into the sauce it rests on. Exceptional.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

The food was delicious, and as we split the full-size portion of Saffron Linguine, each dish was equally proportioned with chunks of Maine lobster, shrimp, scallops, San Marzano tomato and lobster cream. and a delicious thick bisque style reduction. It was very tasty. We also ordered the Colorado Wagyu Beef, flavorful, appetizing, buttery. It melted at first bite.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

We couldn't leave without dessert, so we ordered two: The Sweet Basil take on Strawberry Shortcake, cool whipped strawberry sorbet atop a hard-shell cake with whipped cream, and Hot Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake, brown sugar rum ice cream and peanut brittle. Both were so very sinfully delicious.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

With an early flight, a long day that had begin rafting nine miles, an incredible zen moment with the music, and scenery, I was tired. Two glasses of wine later, and we were standing at Checkpoint Charlie, a small turnaround circle in Vail, that allows for vehicles to discharge passengers before heading back to the hotel.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

Vail is stunning, breathtaking, magnificent. It offers every imaginable recreational activity for every season. The trip was incredible, an awe-inspiring beautiful picturesque delightful. The seasonal changes, from the greenery of summer to autumn's golden seasons must be magnificent producing waves of stunning colors. It is exquisite.

Photo credit:  (*) Courtesy of Jeff Affleck for Kristin Yantis


Photo credit: where noted (*) are courtesy of Jeff Affleck for Kristin Yantis, used with permission and protected by copyright; where noted (**) courtesy of Grand Hyatt Vail and used with permission and protected by copyright. All others are courtesy of Janet Walker, used with permission and protected by copyright.

Courtesy of Janet Walker

Article and photographs are protected by copyright. ©

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