Experience Summertime In Aspen

Experience Summertime In Aspen

April 18, 2019

Known as much for its world-class culture and cuisine as its pristine, majestic surroundings, it’s easy to nurture mind, body and spirit in Aspen. The best- summer event is likely the Aspen Music Festival, which draws renowned classical musicians and top students for eight weeks of daily concerts, recitals, operas, master classes and other events.

Under the guidance of new music director Robert Spano, who previously oversaw the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the festival’s focus this year is “Made in America,” highlighting works by American composers and European immigrants. On Thursday nights, join Roaring Fork Valley locals who convene on Fanny Hill at the Snowmass ski area for free concerts programmed by Jazz Aspen Snowmass. The regional and national acts range from folk to funk. Pack a blanket and a picnic, and plan on buying a bottle of wine at the concert.

The Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival brings world leaders in politics, science, technology, the environment, health, education, and the arts to town for lively discussions and seminars on today’s current issues. Passes generally sell out in advance, but your Destination Concierge can likely snag an individual event ticket. And keep an eye out for familiar faces around town during the fest. You might spot Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton dining at an outdoor patio.

Aspen’s budding restaurant scene is continually evolving, with classics like Cache Cache, Matsuhisa, and Pinons joined by at least one newcomer each year. Among this year’s freshmen is Justice Snow’s in the Wheeler Opera House. The Colorado-inspired menu reflects the current trend for local ingredients. The extensive vintage cocktail list is part history lesson, part inspiration.

Finbarr’s Irish Pub has quickly become a local’s favorite since opening in late 2011, with updates on traditional pub fare like shepherd’s pie and fish and chips as well as specialties like curried prawns and potatoes. The Ajax Tavern at the base of the Aspen Mountain gondola has a well-earned rep as the see-and-be-seen place to lunch. A hip alternative is poolside dining at 39 Degrees at the Sky Hotel, one block away. Pair the tuna wonton tacos with a Corpse Reviver 39 and while away an hour or so on a warm, sunny afternoon.

This summer’s hottest table—and most intriguing new concept—will be at Chefs Club by Food & Wine magazine, the brand-new restaurant at the St. Regis Aspen slated to open during the annual FOOD & WINE Classic. The seasonally-inspired menu will be created by select recipients of the culinary magazine’s annual Best New Chefs awards.

The town’s casual dress code extends to all facets of the town, as locals bike to Music Festival concerts, sip a margarita on an outdoor patio after rock climbing near Independence Pass or grab an early dinner on the way home from a hike. Classic Aspen hikes such as the ones to American or Cathedral Lakes or to the base of the Maroon Bells are justifiably popular. A favorite locals’ workout is to hike up the lung-busting Ute Trail, which starts off Aspen’s Ute Avenue and switchbacks up 1,700 vertical feet in the first mile, then snakes across Gentlemen’s Ridge on Aspen Mountain before connecting with ski-area service roads. Acclimated hikers reach the summit in about an hour and a half, though there’s no shame in taking longer. Save your knees and ride the gondola down for free. (Dogs are allowed, too.) For a mellower workout, take the gondola up to join one of the thrice-weekly yoga hikes—downward dog at 11,212 feet, anyone?

After hiking, Aspen’s biggest summer sport may be road biking. A veritable peloton heads up daily to the Maroon Bells and the Ashcroft ghost town, two of the most popular rides. To really get in your mileage, hit the Rio Grande Trail, a 42-mile multi-use path from Aspen to Glenwood Springs; other than a few-mile packed dirt section near Woody Creek, it’s paved.

With stores like Gucci, Fendi, Burberry and Louis Vuitton—along with longtime favorites such as Distractions, Nuages, and Pitkin County Dry Goods—Aspen can cater to the most sophisticated fashionista. But there’s more than designer labels to hunt down among the many boutiques within the town’s historic core. Two Old Hippies combines a comprehensive selection of guitars with an eclectic mix of home décor and fun clothing and accessories for the whole family—even the dog. Many of them embody the store’s motto: peace, love, and rock ‘n’ roll. 

Aspen women in the know go to Harmony Scott to stock up on delicate handmade jewelry with colorful gemstones and pearls. Don’t miss Souchi, which offers gorgeous women’s knits in silk, cashmere, linen, cotton and bamboo. All are hand-loomed in Portland, Oregon, where designer Suzi Johnson lived until recently when she relocated to the Roaring Fork Valley. A few blocks away, Danemann-Pure is the only U.S. outpost featuring the fresh, modern looks of German women’s wear designer Petra Danemann. The Little Bird has a carefully curated selection of vintage women’s clothes and accessories from every A-list designer you can think of, plus some new items.

Hiking the South of France Is a Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience

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Hiking the South of France Is a Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience

April 15, 2019

We were up early enough on a June morning that the doves hidden in the cypress trees across the street were still cooing when we made a quick stop at the Boulangerie Alais in Bonnieux, one of the prettiest villages in the magnificent 30-mile long Luberon Valley east of Avignon in Provence in the south of France. A bath of puffy fougasses garnished with black olives had just come out of the oven. They were cooling on the counter and filling the air with a mouthwatering  scent of herbs de Provence before joining other freshly baked versions of the same bread garnished with lardons (chunks of bacon), tomatoes and goat cheese in the display case of this friendly little shop.

As a longtime American-in-Paris who’s been lucky enough to spend many happy hours hiking the Luberon over some 25 years, I’ve learned that these delicious brioche-like flatbreads, the French cousin of Italian focaccia and a typically Provençal food, beats trail mix by a mile. Why? Not only are they delicious, they give you an energy boost and some needed salt after you’ve been walking for a while on a warm day.

There are very few places in the world that offer a setting more charming for hiking than the Luberon region. A superb web of well-marked public access trails, paths and farm roads makes it easy to discover on foot its mesmerizing landscapes of forests; fields of wheat, lavender, sunflowers and other crops; vineyards; and orchards of apple, olive and other trees. A good walk is also a great way to build up an appetite for an impromptu picnic shopped from one of the weekly markets held in the Luberon’s delightful villages or a relaxing meal in one of its friendly bistros.

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There are very few places in the world that offer a setting more charming for hiking than the Luberon region. A superb web of well-marked public access trails, paths and farm roads makes it easy to discover on foot its mesmerizing landscapes of forests; fields of wheat, lavender, sunflowers and other crops; vineyards; and orchards of apple, olive and other trees. A good walk is also a great way to build up an appetite for an impromptu picnic shopped from one of the weekly markets held in the Luberon’s delightful villages or a relaxing meal in one of its friendly bistros.

I hadn’t decided which of my preferred hikes I’d take Kit and Alice, friends visiting from Hartford, Conn., on until I was sipping a second cup of coffee just as the sun came up that morning. They had said they were keen to get up close to Provence, to really hear it—bird song, the wind in the trees, rushing water, a distant tractor, a dog barking, maybe even a donkey braying—and smell it—thyme, rosemary, lavender, arbutus, pine and wildflowers, among other scents—the way you can only do when you go for a walk. But, I suspected that like many people at the beginning of a vacation, they were doubtless more tired than they realized. Also, in good shape though they both might be, I was aware that this pair—he’s the vice president of an insurance company, she’s an architect—probably spend most of their time at their computers.

So on our first day out, I wanted to give them a good time without running them into the ground, which is why I settled on a relatively gentle three-hour circular walk from Goult, one of my favorite Luberon villages because it hasn’t been completely gentrified by Parisian weekenders, and it’s just a five-minute drive from the house we were staying at in Bonnieux. In Goult, we met Jutta, a delightful German woman who’s my regular hiking pal, and after running through the checklist necessary for any hike in Provence—map, compass, sun- tan lotion, hats, well-charged cell phone, water, small first-aid kit, plus snacks of fougasses and oranges—we were off.

Our first stop was the Moulin de Jerusalem, a windmill that once belonged to the Marquis de Donis, the last seigneur of Goult. Restored by the village of Goult, this circular stone windmill is a rare surviving example of the many windmills that were once strategically placed on ridges in the region to grind grain.

Following yellow arrows, we began our walk and 40 minutes later reached two beautifully preserved bories, or igloo-shaped dry stone huts. Bories are found all over southeastern France and the oldest date back to roughly 600 B.C. In the Luberon, the earliest bories date to the 13th century, and they were still being built by farmers and shepherds up to the beginning of the 19th century. Archaeologists attribute the development of this building style to the necessity of clearing stones from fields and the fact that few other building materials were readily at hand.

A half-hour later, we made a detour into the little village of Lumieres to stop at Château de l’Ange, where Edith Mézard, one of the most stylish and best-known home furnishing designers in Provence is based in a handsome old château next to a stream. As I suspected, Alice loved the beautifully embroidered sheets, tablecloths and other goods on sale here and immediately decided she’d come back later for some proper shopping. After a snack in the shade of the century-old chestnut trees outside Madame Menard’s château, our walk took us through a mixture of forests and fields for the next hour or so.

During this part of the ramble, Kit was fascinated by the dry stone retaining walls we occasionally came across. “These old walls really give you a sense of what an ancient and settled land this is,” he observed, adding, “They make New England’s stone walls seem brand new.”

Returning to Goult around 12.30 p.m., we arrived at the Café de la Poste, a simple restaurant in the heart of the village that’s popular with the locals and offers good, solid Provençal cooking at lunch- time, when the outdoor terrace is almost always full. I ordered a bottle of chilled local rosé and translated the chalkboard menu.

“Boy, does that taste good,” Kit said after a first sip of wine, and then we tucked into roasted cod with ratatouille, steak tartare with salad, tagliatelle with cep sauce and salad and a daily special, les petits farcis (baby vegetables, including onions, tomatoes and zucchini, stuffed with ground veal and bread crumbs and a specialty of Nice). Equally enjoyable was the high-contrast people watching offered by a place where a table of local farmers in overalls sat next to a quartet of ladies in carefully ironed linen dresses and designer sunglasses.

Back at the house later in the afternoon, I wasn’t surprised to find Kit and Alice pouring over my three favorite French hiking books—Le Parc Naturel Regional du Luberon à Pied by Topo Guides, Dans le Luberon by Glenat and Balades Nature dans le Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon by Dakota. All three of my guidebooks offer detailed maps and descriptions of some of the region’s best hikes, but I also always take along the appropriate map from the series published by the Institut Geographique National et Forestière (IGN), a French association that pub- lishes 350 hiking maps to France. The three books, which are useful even if you don’t speak French, can be ordered through Amazon, while the IGN maps are widely available at stationer’s shops, bookstores and cafés throughout the region.

The next walk we did together, the PR 12 from Le Parc Naturel Regional du Luberon à Pied, is graded moyen (medium difficulty) by the guide, which estimates that it takes four hours. It’s poetically dubbed “The Circuit of the Cedars,” since this 5-mile hike is a long, fragrantly scented up-and-downhill meander in the shade of forests punctuated by these feather-shaped dark green conifers. Before we actually hit the trail, though, we visited the Château de Lacoste, a spectacular 11th century stone castle perched on a crag over the village of Lacoste. I knew Kit and Alice would better appreciate the gorgeous views of the château we’d get later in our walk if they’d seen it up close first.

As I explained to the couple, the dramatically ruined château was originally built in the 11th century by the Simiane family but passed into the hands of the de Sade clan in 1627 when Diane Simiane married Jean-Baptiste de Sade. “Assuming there’s a connection between the Marquis de Sade and this château, I hope it’s not your way of telling us something about the walk we’re about to do,” said Alice. I assured her that despite the fact the Marquis de Sade had indeed spent time at the château—and wrote about it as ‘Château Stilling’ in several books—there was nothing about our impending hike that might be remotely construed as sadistic.

Today the Château de Lacoste is owned by French fashion designer Pierre Car- din, who has been meticulously restoring it for many years and who also sponsors a prestigious annual summer arts festival, Le Festival de Lacoste, in a theater created in a nearby quarry (festivaldelacoste.com). To further reassure Alice of my good intentions, I bought a small wooden box of juicy apricots from Lacoste’s intimate open-air market to take along with us.

If my friends were fascinated by the charbonnieres, the ancient and now abandoned stone charcoal-making kilns we came across during our earlier walk, per- haps the best moment of today’s walk were the superb views from the belvedere de Portalas, a look-out on the crest of a mountain. It was an exceptionally clear day; to the southeast we saw majestic Mont Sainte-Victoire, the mountain that so fascinated the painter Cézanne; Les Alpilles, low mountains where Saint-Remy- de-Provence and Les Baux de Provence are located; and to our surprise, a thin azure band of the Mediterranean sea on the edge of the horizon.

During a hearty lunch of a beets and feta cheese salad dressed in walnut oil, roast rabbit with olive polenta and licorice-flavored crème brûlée at one of my favorite local restaurants, Le Fournil in Bonnieux, I was about to tell Kit and Alice that they shouldn’t feel obliged to walk anymore during their holiday if they didn’t want to. After all, they’d come here to relax. But before I could let them off the hook, Alice chimed in with a desire to do a walk in the countryside around Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt the following day, and Kit asked if we could do a longer hike on Saturday after visiting the busy weekly Saturday morning market in Apt. With very little effort on my part, I realized I’d enlisted another pair of foot soldiers, but then the beauty of the Luberon when you get up close to it and make it personal is pretty hard to resist.

5 Places You Need to Add to Your Travel Bucket List

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5 Places You Need to Add to Your Travel Bucket List

March 26, 2019

The Galápagos Islands

It’s one thing to describe a trip to the Galápagos; it’s something entirely different to experience these islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean firsthand. One of the most protected wildlife sanctuaries in the world, this Ecuadorian archipelago has called to explorers since Charles Darwin visited in 1835. Ecologically speaking, little has changed.

Sailors will see penguins, iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, flamingos, crabs, dolphins, and maybe even hammerhead sharks, all while enjoying the ship’s amenities and staff. The latter includes naturalists, photography experts, biologists, oceanographers, and historians. Pictured below, a seal in Galápagos sun bathing.

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Phinda Game Reserve in South Africa

A family adventure in Africa will create a bond like no other. In addition to scoping out the “safari big five”—lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, and Cape buffalo—you might also see a cheetah or leopard. 

Thanks to its unique location near the Indian Ocean coastline, Phinda benefits from a coastal rainfall pattern, which creates a lush landscape that is home to seven different ecosystems and earns Phinda its nickname, “Seven Worlds of Wonder.” From Phinda, you can also do kid-friendly beach safaris where you might see fur seals and more than 400 species of birds.

St. Kitts and Nevis, West Indies

The neighboring islands of St. Kitts and Nevis are hidden gems of the Caribbean. Separated by a channel less than 2 miles wide, the islands constitute a country (the smallest in size and population in the Western Hemisphere) that is home to about 50,000 people. 

The islands, pictured below, abound with black and silver sand beaches (find the former on St. Kitts and the latter on Nevis), rainforests crisscrossed with hiking and riding trails, a crater lake, green vervet monkeys, and mountains, including the 3,792-foot-tall Mount Liamuiga volcano, which last erupted 1,800 years ago. It’s not difficult on either island to find a beach you’ll have all to yourselves.

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Mougins, French Riviera, France

Travelers have long flocked to the sun-drenched South of France, where days revolve around strolling hand-in-hand through a medieval town, lounging on a beach, or lingering at a seaside café where you can relax with an order of escargot and French bubbly.

Sonoma County, California

Euripides once said, “Where there is no wine, there is no love.” Sonoma County has wine reserves in abundance, so it follows that love should—and does—thrive here, alongside gorgeous countryside, a vibrant dining scene, and countless wineries to explore. 

Explore the Magic of Maine

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Explore the Magic of Maine

March 25, 2019

In winemaking, vintners frequently talk about the terroir of a wine. This French term refers to the interaction of landscape and beverage, the influence that the soil, the topography, and the geography have on the final product. The only real synonym for terroir is somewhereness. Neither term is perfect, but they both describe something important, something essential—how place and land exert a subtle influence on everything that grows and lives there. And I am convinced that there is no place in the world that has more somewhereness than Maine.

Located at the northeastern corner of New England, Maine is a richness of wilderness. It is the most heavily forested state in the union, and, thanks to the many finger-like peninsulas that jut into the Atlantic Ocean, has more miles of coastline than California. There’s a saying in Maine: “You can’t get there from here.” Travelers to the state quickly learn its truth. Maine is made of winding roads and small towns, scenic byways, and hidden treasures.

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It’s a place where you want to get lost, because getting lost means discovering a secret beach where bioluminescence glows under the nighttime stars. Getting lost means stumbling upon a pine forest with trees that were once used as masts for the Royal Navy, tall and straight and regal (known fittingly as “King Pines”). Getting lost means finding a tiny harbor where you can buy lobsters from a fisherman out of the back of his pickup truck. Maybe he’ll invite you home for dinner. Stranger things have happened.

Although Maine has entered the 21st century alongside the rest of the world, there are elements of traditional New England life that persist here. People continue to make their living off the land and to reap the benefits of the sea. It’s not uncommon to meet a fisherman who also harvests timber and makes his own furniture from fine-grained black locust wood. There are still lumberjacks in Maine, and there are hundreds of small family farms and fragrant apple orchards, places where people submerge their hands in the dirt on a daily basis, coaxing forth golden potatoes, leafy dark green lettuce, and huge orange pumpkins from the loamy earth.

Often, on a country road, you’ll come across an unmanned farm stand with a sign that reads, “Fresh fruit and eggs.” If this happens to you during your visit to Maine, always stop and slip a few dollars into the can, for the honor system is alive and well here, and few experiences bring such pure pleasure as eating a handful of blueberries, fresh-picked by a trusting old farmer (or just as likely, her barefoot children).

Whether you’re taking a stroll on Ogunquit’s iconic Marginal Way (which runs above the rocky coastline) or climbing to the top of Mount Agamenticus in York, the coast of Maine is where you’ll most strongly feel the somewhereness of this land. But you can still find evidence of the primal, rugged landscape even in the cities and small towns that pepper the shoreline. There are charming little hamlets, such as York (a quintessential New England village located right on the border with New Hampshire), Wiscasset (the prettiest town in Maine, according to those in the know) and further north, Bar Harbor (a famous escape for the 19th-century elite), not to mention the vibrant metropolis of Portland.

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While this city has more James Beard Award-nominated restaurants than it has any right to, you can also find great eateries in Kennebunkport, Ogunquit, and Old Orchard Beach. After a day exploring tiny hidden beaches, there’s nothing better than finding a restaurant right on the water where you can sample fresh-caught seafood and farm-to-table fare. Maine’s famous for its lobster, but I taste the essence of Maine most poignantly when I slurp down an oyster. Eaten with french fries made from locally grown potatoes and you’re actually devouring Maine’s clear water, mineral-rich soil, clean air, and northern sunlight. It’s a gift, but that’s what coastal Maine is: a place of freely given gifts, honor system delights, and wilderness, unbound.

Why Africa Is the Perfect Place for Your Next Family Vacation

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Why Africa Is the Perfect Place for Your Next Family Vacation

March 18, 2019

Helen and Chris Ireland knew they wanted to take their two kids, Caroline and Thomas, to Africa. Now a primary care physician, Helen worked in a hospital in Botswana during her medical school training. “From then I always knew Africa would be a part of my life and, eventually, my kids’ lives,” she says. “But I knew I couldn’t bring them too early.” After chatting with Inspirato co-founder and chief experience officer Brian Corbett on Inspirato’s 2016 Eastern Mediterranean cruise, the Irelands were inspired. “Brian had just returned from a trip to Africa with his kids, and his advice was to just go,” Helen says. Thomas would be 10 and Caroline, 7. “And it happened to be the year both my husband and I turned 40.”

Because the family wanted to stay at Kenya’s Giraffe Manor, the world’s only hotel with resident giraffes (which often books up one year in advance), the Irelands started planning their July 2018 trip in the summer of 2017. Helen worked with Inspirato’s new Bespoke travel team, which, for custom trips to Africa, partners with Rothschild Safaris. Rothschild has more than 30 years of experience planning trips to Africa and has planned more than 7,000 trips.

Helen says her description to Rothschild Safaris of what the family wanted their Africa trip to be was “comfortably uncomfortable and authentic. I wanted it to be different enough to get [the kids] totally out of their comfort zone while still supportive enough to keep us all smiling, and authentic enough to provide education beyond textbooks in as non-touristy an environment as possible.” Beyond this and the stay at Giraffe Manor, neither she nor Chris had specific directions for Rothschild. “We weren’t completely aware of the options, and that was really the value of working with the Inspirato partner. Rothschild was the one who suggested we do Kenya as our primary safari destination because it is family friendly,” says Helen.

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By September 2017 the itinerary was set: Between June 23 and July 11, the Irelands would travel to a couple of different game reserves in Kenya, and also spend a night in Qatar and a few nights in Nairobi before ending the trip at the Six Senses Zil Pasyon in the Seychelles. About the Seychelles, Helen says, “I wanted to end it with just the four of us and feel like no one could reach us. I had always thought of the Seychelles as a honeymoon destination, but it ended up being lovely for the kids.”

Four months after returning home, Helen says of the whole trip, “It was the best travel experience I’ve ever had and exactly what I asked for.” Of one specific location on the itinerary, Ol Malo Lodge, a privately owned game sanctuary on the banks of the Uaso Nyiro River in Kenya’s North Eastern Province and bordering the tribal lands of the nomadic Samburu people, she says, “It was probably the most amazing thing I’ve ever done with my kids. It felt like we were going and living with extended family.”

“One of my big takeaways from this trip was that the kids actually liked the people more than the animals,” Helen says. “That had been my experience being in Africa years prior.” At Ol Malo, Caroline was entranced by one of the women in the family who owns the property. “Chyulu is an incredibly strong female and my daughter had such a reverence for her,” Helen says. To Caroline’s delight, the Irelands shared quite a bit of time with Chyulu, her young children, and Marmite, a baby rescue zebra. “There was this weeks-old zebra wandering around with us,” Helen says. “It was amazing, and for the kids a moment of pure discovery of something that was so foreign and priceless and pure. It was moments like that that made this trip, and, thinking back on the trip now, I can’t believe how many of those moments we had.”

One day on safari in the Mara North Conservancy—a private wilderness area bordering the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where Rothschild Safaris recommended the Irelands go because it is dedicated to low-density tourism—the family saw a lioness kill a just-born giraffe. “It was so young it had not even stood up yet,” Helen says. “We saw the kill completely. My son’s reaction was amazement, but Caroline’s initial reaction was tears. Eventually when she saw we weren’t fearful of it and we talked about the circle of life, it became something amazing for her too. It was straight out of the pages of National Geographic.”

Helen says one of the things that bonded them as a family was a long game drive on which they saw little. They were in the Mara and hidden in bushes from which they could see a tree where their guide knew a leopard had stashed a kill. “Once a leopard has put its prey in a tree, it revisits it over the course of a few days,” Helen explains. But the family had spent a whole morning there without seeing the leopard. They left to eat lunch on a bluff overlooking a herd of hippos and, after lunch, would have been fine heading back to Saruni Mara, their boutique lodge. The guide suggested they give the tree and leopard another chance, though. “Probably at the three- or four-hour mark, my son was starting to act up and came out with the best quote of the trip, ‘Seriously, Mom, I have no idea why we’ve been sitting here for four hours watching a dead animal hanging in a tree.’ I looked at him and just started laughing. And then he was looking at me in total shock and then he started laughing. And then all of us, including the guide, started cracking up. It was such a lesson in perseverance and it just bonded us.” They did eventually see the leopard briefly later that afternoon, and then the next day watched it finish the prey, only to be surprised by the leopard’s year-old cub standing directly in front of their truck.

As excited as that guide was for the Irelands to see the leopard in the tree, he was quick to recognize when the kids had had enough. One afternoon, instead of taking them on a game drive, he hung out with Thomas and Caroline and made a bow and arrows for each. “We carried these with us for the rest of our trip and they’ve become irreplaceable souvenirs,” Helen says.

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A safari guide and member of the Samburu tribe at Ol Malo brought the Irelands to his house. “He knew my daughter liked dogs and he had a new puppy,” Helen says. Other Samburu invited the family to their homesteads, market, and school. “They even brought me to the town’s medical clinic, where I was sorely tempted to stay and work for a bit,” Helen says. Four months after the trip ended, Helen and Caroline were still wearing around their ankles the beads the Samburu women gave them.

“We’ve been members of Inspirato since the early days, and the majority of my precious memories, or the ones that warm my heart and still put a smile on my face, have Inspirato as part of them,” Helen says. “The memories from this trip are just a bit brighter.”

How Two Men Are Revitalizing a Legendary Fishing Rod Business

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How Two Men Are Revitalizing a Legendary Fishing Rod Business

March 4, 2019

When Joel Doub is fly-fishing one of his favorite rivers near a club property—like the Frying Pan River near Aspen, Colorado, or the Gallatin River near Big Sky, Montana—he enjoys using a fine, handcrafted fly rod. The difference between Doub and other fanatical fly-fishers is that Doub not only owns his fly rod, he also owns the company that built it.  Doub and business partner Matt Barber bought Bozeman, Montana-based Tom Morgan Rodsmiths (TMR) in the summer of 2016, just a year before Morgan, a legendary rod-builder renowned in fly-fishing circles, died of pneumonia. Following the purchase, Barber and Doub both moved their families from Denver to Bozeman, and the two are now taking steps to modernize TMR while still honoring the history of Morgan and his unique rod-building methods.

“We talk a lot about Tom Morgan and his philosophy as a rod designer,” Doub says. “Many rods at other companies have been designed by competition casters, built for distance or for a particular feel. But Tom—because he was a fishing guide first—always designed rods based on watching people fish. And for him that meant fishing on creeks in Montana. So the foundation of our rods is based on small-creek fishing because they are based on accuracy and presentation at shorter distances. They’re not really built with a 70-foot cast in mind.” Barber tells the story of Morgan giving a casting presentation at a fly-fishing show, when the guy standing next to him pulled about 70 feet of line off of his reel before starting to cast. “Well, now we know the reel works,” Morgan said to the man. “Now, why don’t you put half of that line back on the reel. If you’re trying to catch a trout beyond 50 feet, you should get closer.”

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While TMR has been in business for more than two decades, Doub and Barber are keenly aware of momentum in the modern “maker economy”— where the popularity of quality, small-batch products like their fly rods mimics the more general distaste for mass-consumer culture. “Many people are just looking for that throwback craftsmanship as a response to all the fast-paced technology,” Barber says. “It’s the idea of slowing down and getting to know the person who hand-planes bamboo for your rod, or who makes your leather belt. It’s the opposite of walking into a big box store or ordering off Amazon and having it show up on your doorstep.”

Doub feels their fly rods also offer a sense of longevity that’s increasingly rare in our throwaway consumerist culture. “One of our models is essentially the same rod that Tom Morgan designed 22 years ago, and that rod has a permanence to it,” Doub says. “If you buy a fly rod, and you buy it really well, then that should always be your fly rod, and possibly your kid’s fly rod. The idea is that, if you buy from a maker that you know and trust, and they’re making a semi-timeless good, then there’s a connection to history and excellence that maybe you don’t get when you’re buying the cheapest, newest, fastest, lightest thing.”

Practically every fly rod on Earth is built from one of three materials—bamboo, fiberglass, or graphite, with graphite being by far the most common. But Doub and Barber have continued the Tom Morgan tradition of producing rods out of each of the three materials, something rare among even large manufacturers, much less small-batch builders. Roughly 80 to 90 percent of their rods are graphite because it’s the most versatile material. And since it takes about 80 hours to build a bamboo rod, they limit those to just two a month. As for fiberglass? “Fiberglass rods are a niche that’s developed as a response to hyper-stiff rods, and people are nostalgic for the first Fenwick they ever cast,” says Barber. “It’s a fairly small category for us. We sell more fiberglass blanks to at-home builders than we sell assembled fiberglass rods.”

Despite the variety of methods and equipment available to modern anglers, enabling them to chase almost any species of fish, Doub and Barber intend to keep their focus primarily on building the best fly rods for trout. “I grew up on the East Coast and love fishing for albacore and stripers,” Barber says. “And we love going to Mexico and fishing for bonefish and permit. But as a company, we’re not trying to be every rod you own. We both love spey casting and salmon fishing, but we’re trying to do one thing and do it really well: build a single-handed, 2-through-7-weight freshwater rod. We know that the travel market has gotten big, and that saltwater is growing, but for right now, we’d rather not expand into things that may compromise quality because we may have to learn a new skill set.”

There are other reasons for sticking to smaller rods. With much of TMR’s customer base living in cities like New York, Denver, or San Francisco, finding solitude for your fishing is at a premium. And that solitude is most-often found high in river drainages, where longer, heavier rods aren’t practical because the fish are smaller and the space for casting is condensed.

“Being in the Adirondacks as a kid, I fished a lot of creeks,” says Barber. “Then I moved to Colorado, where small water is the key to your sanity. So if you can convince yourself to fish with a 3- or 4-weight rod, and get into small alpine lakes and small spring-creeky areas, you’re better off than trying to battle the masses.”

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This unpleasantness of battling the masses applies not just to fishing but to running a company as well. “As business owners, we talk a lot about waypoints and focus,” Doub says. “When we look around the industry we see companies trying to be everything to everybody, and it can be hard to figure out what they’re about. But for us, we’re still working on building the perfect trout rod. We want to make the best rod in the world for fishing for trout in Montana.”

The Dream Skiing Destination with 8,000+ Acres to Explore

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The Dream Skiing Destination with 8,000+ Acres to Explore

February 26, 2019

North America’s biggest ski area has more than 8,000 acres of terrain that’ll take days to ski. The stats attributed to Whistler Blackcomb boggle of the mind. To wit: an average snowfall of more than 38 feet, a top-to-bottom vertical descent of a mile (on Blackcomb), 2,200 acres of expert terrain alone, 7-mile-long ski runs, year-round skiing on groomed glaciers, and a gondola between the two mountains that carries skiers and boarders 1,427 feet above the valley floor (by comparison, the Empire State Building tops out at 1,454 feet). For skiers and boarders in North America, Whistler is as close to a sure thing as can be found on the continent.

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Superlatives aside, what makes Whistler truly special is its village, a compact, pedestrian-friendly town that handles the influx of winter and summer visitors with charm, elegance, and a good deal of mountain-people authenticity that draws thrill-seekers from around the world.

One could argue that its international vibe, outdoors-minded population—helped, no doubt, by hosting 2010 Winter Olympic alpine events—makes Whistler the closest Canada and the U.S. have to Chamonix, the legendary capital of adventure sports located in the French Alps.

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Both amateur and experienced skiers can appreciate the grandness and variety Whistler has to offer. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, visitors can enjoy snowshoeing, tobogganing, and several other winter activities. Domestic and international travelers alike can seek adventure, relaxation or a combination of both in this versatile mountain town.

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But perhaps Whistler Blackcomb’s most appealing attribute is access: The ski area is little more than a two-hour drive north from the international airport in Vancouver, British Columbia. Rarely does going this big come so easily. With only a flight and a short drive slowing guests down, it’s a wonder this little-known destination hasn’t quickly climbed the ranks in popularity.

Vail and Beaver Creek Welcome Ski Racing’s Best

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Vail and Beaver Creek Welcome Ski Racing's Best Athletes

February 11, 2019

Keep an eye out for Bode Miller or Lindsey Vonn today. Or maybe slalom wunderkind Mikaela Shiffrin. And we don’t mean on television. Over the first two weeks of February, these Olympic gold medalists—two of whom, Lindsey and Mikaela, call the Vail Valley home—will be among the 700 athletes from 70 countries racing at Vail/Beaver Creek in the biennial FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. It’s the first time alpine skiing’s biggest race (outside of the Olympics) has been in North America since 1999.

Other U.S. resorts might try to compete with Vail and neighboring Beaver Creek in grooming, views or terrain, but neither Jackson Hole nor Telluride nor Tahoe can claim the only U.S. stop on skiing’s annual World Cup racing circuit—Beaver Creek can.

“At all levels, Vail is in many ways the center of the ski racing universe today,” says Aldo Radamus, a former U.S. Ski Team coach and 1990 USSA Domestic Coach of the Year and, for the last 13 years, the executive director of the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV), which counts Shiffrin, Vonn and at least eight other Olympians among its alumni. “Ski racing seems to be ingrained in this community’s DNA, and we’ve got two resorts that have the terrain and willingness to make it happen on the highest level.”

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And that’s why you’re here, to watch the best alpine skiers in the world race on some of the world’s most challenging courses. The only other North American resort to ever host the Alpine World Championships is Aspen. And that was back in 1950. 2015 is Vail and Beaver Creek’s third world championships (they previously hosted in 1989 and 1999).

Why does the international circuit come back? To race among some of the country’s most rabid skiing families, families much like Sounia Chaney’s. “This is the chance of a lifetime,” she says about the upcoming World Championships. Chaney, who, with husband Michael and kids Skylar, 18, Cameron, 15, Roxy, 13, and Dylan, 9, all skiers or snowboarders, moved to Vail in 2010 from Reston, Virginia. Roxy, herself an alpine racer, says, “Here I get to see pros skiing a lot, sometimes next to me, and it always makes me feel inspired that I can achieve my goals. I can’t even imagine how inspiring it will be to have all of the world’s best racers here.”

“When our kids started outgrowing the mountain closest to our home, Vail was a no-brainer,” Chaney says. “We didn’t think twice about selling our house, our ski boat, our RV—everything. Vail offers the best training and the best coaches and challenging academics, and it has 300 days of sunshine. It’s not just our kids who ski. It’s a dream come true for all of us.”

Get back to your own racing dreams on Vonn’s namesake run, Lindsey’s. A groomed ribbon of ice on the front side of Vail Mountain, Vonn has described it as, “definitely the most challenging run on the mountain.” As you look down from the top of the run, its pitch elevating your pulse and slowing your breathing, you won’t be surprised to learn it was the site of the women’s speed events during the 1989 and 1999 World Championships, when it was still named International.

As a teen, Vonn skied the run that would one day bear her name, but, more often, like SSCV racers today do, she did laps on Vail’s Golden Peak. “That’s where we did so much of our training and raced for girls and boys Nor-Am,” says Paula Moltzan, who moved to Vail from Minnesota to train during her junior year of high school and now, at 20, is on the World Cup tech team.

Abby Ghent, an SSCV racer who was 6 the last time the valley hosted the World Championships and this season has a World Cup spot for Super G, suggests you try Centennial at Beaver Creek. “We’d have Nor-Am downhills there. It’s a classic course,” she says.

And then, of course, there’s Beaver Creek’s famed Birds of Prey course and its new women’s course, Raptor. (Before the World Championships, the former hosts its annual World Cup race, The Audi Birds of Prey Men’s World Cup, Dec. 6-8.) The pros own both during the World Championships, but, at other times in the season, the public can ski them. Fair warning, “Birds of Prey is terrifying,” says Moltzan. “I just can’t imagine flying off any of those jumps at the speeds the guys are going. But watching it is something else.”

Skiers to Watch

“The Norwegians have always done well here,” says Radamus, who coached for the U.S. Men’s and Women’s ski teams, and was named USSA Domestic Coach of the Year in 1990, before taking over as executive director at the SSCV. “I’ll be watching for Aksel Svindal, Kjetil Jansrud, and their new young technical threat Henrik Kristoffersen, who exploded onto the scene last year. Past world and Olympic downhill champion Lindsey Vonn, working toward a return to competition following two years of injury, is undoubtedly looking to add to her World Championship medal tally,” Radamus says. At the last FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, at Schladming, Austria, in February 2013, Vonn tore her ACL/MCL and fractured her tibial plateau in a horrific crash. By August, a month and a half ahead of schedule, she was back on the snow. But then in mid-November, she crashed during a downhill training run at Copper Mountain in Colorado and reinjured herself. “Lindsey has something to prove and she’ll be racing at home,” Radamus says.

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“Among the Americans, our six Olympic medalists are medal threats at Worlds. Any one of them could win,” Radamus says. “Julia Mancuso because she always steps up when it counts. Ted Ligety owns this hill (he has won four straight giant slalom events on Birds of Prey) and is working hard to become a threat in [slalom] again; the snow suits him here in Colorado. Bode Miller for his last hurrah. Mikaela Shiffrin to defend her title. Keep an eye on (two-time Olympic Super G medalist) Andrew Weibrecht too. He loves the hill and has done well here.”

Designated Speeding Zones

Unlike pretty much every other resort in North America, Vail and Beaver Creek have runs where going as fast as you dare is the whole point. Vail Resort’s social media/ski tracker app, EpicMix Racing, partnered with Vonn to design a course at Vail and a second at Beaver Creek. Vonn practiced on both until she had them dialed. Then the geeks at EpicMix timed her.

Now anyone with the EpicMix app open can race down either course—the Black Forest Race Area just east of the Avanti Express Lift at Vail or beneath Beaver Creek’s new high-speed combination lift that just opened at the beginning of this season—and measure themselves against Vonn’s time.

Good luck catching her; few skiers on the international stage can come close to her. EpicMix claims that the average racer is about 5-7 seconds slower than Vonn on either course and that it’s a rare skier who comes within three seconds of her.

The Most Scenic Place to Fly-Fish in Southwestern France

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The Most Scenic Place to Fly-Fish in Southwestern France

January 30, 2019

They come for the wine. And for the foie gras, the confit, the scenery, the chateaus and the black truffles. But increasingly, visitors to the hilly, castle-packed department of Dordogne also come to fly-fish its namesake river and its many tributaries.

The Dordogne River, France’s fifth longest, flows west for more than 300 miles from near the hot-springs spa town of Le Mont-Dore through many gorges, valleys, and villages until reaching the Gironde Estuary just north of Bordeaux, in southwestern wine country. It’s a wide, fast river, especially in its upper reaches near the towns of Argentat and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, where it’s more reminiscent of western U.S. fly-fishing destinations such as Montana’s Madison than of France’s northern rivers, like the slow-moving Andelle of Normandy. As the English angling writer Charles Rangeley-Wilson wrote of France’s northern chalkstreams: “These are rivers that Eisenhower, Hemingway and Ritz fished.”

And of course they flow through French countryside, French villages, past cafés and restaurants and, in the case of the one where I’m sitting right now, the grounds of a private manor where you can stay on the top floor with views to the silent woods all around, and be absurdly well fed, wined, and watered.

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A trip to the Dordogne Valley offers equal or better opportunities to be well fed and well wined; there’ll just be fewer Brits around when it happens. Not that the Dordogne is tourist free. It’s far too beautiful for that, and also too close to Burgundy’s wine country. Still, like most of France, the farther you get from Paris, the less touristy it becomes.

If you like to combine fly-fishing and food, then France is a logical choice. But for hardcore destination anglers, the country may sound like little more than a vacation trade-off—a way to appease the spouse’s desire for luxury and a good pinot, while still providing the angler an opportunity to “wet a line while you’re there.” But don’t be mistaken; France has a strong tradition of fly-fishing and fly-fishermen. I witnessed both firsthand as guide to the world’s most decorated competitive fly-fisher—France’s three-time World Champion Pascal Cognard—in the 17th World Fly-Fishing Championships, held in 1997 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Cognard and his comrades have excelled in world competitions ever since, in part because they simply have a lot of exceptional home water in which to practice, including the Dordogne.

The mainstem Dordogne is big water, and if it were in the U.S., it would undoubtedly be fished from a driftboat. But in France, it is most often accessed by wading, walking the banks or by renting a canoe. “Most fishermen on the Dordogne chest-wade and do ‘the heron,’” says Nick de Toldi, owner of Gourmetfly, a French field-sports tourism company, referring to an angler who stands in the water and waits motionless, like a heron. “The strong current prevents you from covering big distances while wading. No one floats here in boats like in America, but some guide friends of mine have done it while visiting Montana and came back impressed by the technique. They spoke many times of adapting it here, but it remained a mere project.”

Perhaps American driftboat manufacturers should look at expanding to southwest France. In the meantime, canoe rental operators along the Dordogne Valley provide a popular alternative. “A reader once asked me, if I were to bring a spry, 73-year-old grandmother to Europe, where would I go?” famed Europhile Rick Steves once wrote. “My response: I’d take her for a float down France’s Dordogne River in a canoe. I can’t think of a more relaxing way to enjoy great scenery while getting some exercise. And you can pop ashore whenever you like.”

Like Mr. Steves, fly-fishers have figured out that canoes are the tool of choice on the Dordogne. “Taking canoes is very common, because most companies allow you to rent upstream, drift down and get picked up by the canoe rental people to take you back to your car,” de Toldi says. “My brother has done it several times with a fly rod, but more to stop under cliffs of otherwise difficult access points than to fish as the boat drifts down.”

As the most famous waterway in the region, the main Dordogne can get crowded with canoes and kayaks in the summertime. Hitting one of its many smaller tributaries offers a more intimate angling experience, with clear, spring-fed runs surrounded with hatches of various mayflies and caddis. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy rivers to fish.

“You could compare the upper Dordogne to the Henry’s Fork [of the Snake River in Idaho],” says Cyril Kamir, founder and manager of the popular French online fly-fishing magazine, Le Mouching, who has fished the Dordogne region several times. “It’s a broad river, up to 120 feet wide, with many weeds and big trout. Due to the many little currents, you have to fish with very long leaders—16 feet is not unusual. The Dordogne always has a lot of fish, but they are difficult to catch, partly because there are a lot of water-level variations from the dams upstream. But it’s a good way to improve your fishing. I love it best in early and late season, when there are fewer people and lots of grayling and trout.”

According to Kamir, many French fly-fishers consider there to be two Dordognes. “No one fishes the lower Dordogne,” Kamir says. The anglers’ Dordogne is the upper or “Haute Dordogne,” near the charming, riverside towns of Argentat and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne. This area includes the Vézère River, a 130-mile fly-fishing-friendly tributary of the Dordogne that is home to 25 prehistoric cave systems containing numerous cave paintings dating back nearly 20,000 years. Both the Vézère and the Dordogne are home to several medieval castles along their banks, and UNESCO recently named the entire region, all 15,000 square miles of it, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage site.

Within this area, you’ll find three of the Dordogne’s most famous tributaries—the Cère, the Maronne and the Doustre. The Cère flows 75 miles through the departments of Lot and Corrèze, entering the Dordogne on river left near the town of Bretenoux; the Morrone is a small stream with good mayfly hatches and big trout that could be mistaken for a river you might find in the Adirondacks of New York; and the Doustre is a small, sometimes technical river in a gorgeous setting. All three have dams, so anglers must be careful to keep a watchful eye on flows.

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Mayfly hatches on all Dordogne Valley rivers start with March browns in spring and generally end with the last caddis hatch in September. Browns, rainbows and grayling are the main species, though several area lakes also have pike and carp. As for techniques, most rivers are great for dry flies by mid- summer. In early season, streamers are effective, but many Dordogne locals consider streamer fishing to not be fly-fishing, so be prepared for that discussion if you are a diehard streamer fisherman. Sight nymphing is not easy in most places because of the weeds, but usually works fine with an indicator.

What better way to celebrate that symbiosis than with rod in hand and wine in belly, doing “the heron” along the Dordogne River?

History Lessons

There are two important UNESCO sites in the Dordogne region and both are worth a visit. The first is the Vézère Valley, which was designated a World Heritage Site in 1979 due to its vast collection of vivid, colorful cave paintings. The Lascaux Cave, near Montignac, is easily the most famous of the valley’s 147 sites, with numerous large-animal paintings that are thought to be more than 17,000 years old. An 18-year- old discovered Lascaux in 1940, but visiting the caves became so popular that they were closed to the public in 1963 and a replica containing the main sections of artwork (Lascaux II) was built less than 700 feet away.

The second UNESCO designation occurred in July of 2012, when the entire Dordogne River basin was designated a Biosphere Reserve, the largest such reserve in France. The designation came largely because of socio-economic aspects, the beautiful scenery, the balance between economic development and conservation, and the extensive plant and animal biodiversity found there, including its 39 different species of fish.

Fishing Guide

The rules for fishing in France are complicated and ever evolving, but no more so than in parts of the U.S. Each of the country’s 101 departments (roughly equivalent to counties in the U.S.) sets its own laws, so for the most up-to-date info, it is best to contact one of the major fly shops, such as La Maison de la Mouche, which has operated in Paris since 1934. No matter where you fish, you’ll need a license. A full-season license costs around 70 euros, and a weekly (sometimes called a “Holiday License”) costs around 40 euros. In 2007, many regions also started selling daily licenses, but those often didn’t allow fishing until after May, and you’ll sometimes need another license if you move to another region.

Trout season in France begins the third Sunday in March, and generally closes by the third Sunday in September, except in and around some of the mountain regions, which remain open through mid-October. After this, you can still fish for grayling or other “course fish” (carp, pike, bass, etc.— basically, anything other than trout or salmon). This late- season fishing is especially popular and productive in the Dordogne and parts of the Massif Central in south-central France.

Lastly, waters in France are divided into First Category (lakes or rivers dominated by trout and salmon, where only one rod is allowed), and Second Category, which are lakes and rivers dominated by anything else. Second Category waters allow up to four rods, and up to two hooks each.