Ritz-Carlton | Denver, CO

There is something exhilarating about being in Denver, Colorado…maybe it’s that crisp Rocky Mountain air, maybe it’s the 300+ days of sunshine a year, or maybe it’s the laid-back urban vibe that the city evokes. Whatever it is, the Mile-High City {nicknamed so because its elevation is exactly one mile above sea level} offers a nice juxtaposition between the urban Financial District with its high-rise buildings and the remanence of its old-west history with its historic neighborhoods and iconic landmarks.

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As most of my regular readers know, it is always my intention to stay at the most luxurious accommodations in any given area I visit as well as my preference to stay in a unique, boutique-style hotel; however, when I’m in an urban area, I admit that I enjoy staying in a high-rise that allows me to have a birds-eye view of the city and the bustling activity below. In looking for a luxury hotel in the Denver area, I knew that the Ritz-Carlton Denver would be a great choice. I appreciate the reliability of a luxury brand such as the Ritz-Carlton Hotels that I know I can count on to offer consistent and dependable quality in luxury accommodations.

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Allegretto Vineyard Resort | Paso Robles, CA

When someone mentions the California Wine Country, I’m pretty sure Napa Valley is the first place that comes to mind for most people. However as some wine lovers are aware, there has been a quiet evolution going on in California’s Central Coast for the past decade or so that is offering a viable alternative to Napa Valley…if you are not already aware of this area, let me acquaint you with the Paso Robles Wine Region.

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The Paso Robles Wine Region is located approximately equal distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles and is home to more than 200 wineries, most of which are family owned and operated, and has the perfect climate for producing award-winning premium wines. The Paso Robles AVA {American Viticultural Area, a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States} is acknowledged for its wide range of grape varietals including ZinfandelBordeauxCabernet Sauvignon, and most recently the Rhône varieties, including the first Syrah planted in California. Paso Robles is also receiving recognition for its original Paso blends that are unique to the area.

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Brush Creek Ranch | Saratoga, WY

@2016 Susan Edel

Let’s be honest, we’ve probably all done it at some point…dreamt about leaving the craziness behind and finding a remote cabin on acres of land ~ I think the Dixie Chicks said it best in their song Cowboy Take me Away , “Set me free oh I pray, closer to heaven above“. It’s an allure that’s all too tempting for many of us ~ we’re yearning to slow down and simplify our lives…even if only for a week or two.

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Sun Cliff Casita at Red Rock Ranch | Sedona, AZ

@2016 Susan Edel

The Sun Cliff Casita at Red Rock Ranch is a hidden gem located in the rural outskirts of Sedona, Arizona, yet only five minutes to town. Sun Cliff is a private casita that offers all the amenities of any luxury hotel. This is a unique property with a rich history, and now due to an amazing renovation by the current owners {and descendants}, Kate and Tom Joy, it also has a very exciting future ahead for generations to come. To fully understand the depth of this property, let me share a bit of the background history.

In the 1930’s, a Dutch Count, Otto Von Platten Hallermund, emigrated to the United States from Denmark after World War I with the dream of becoming an American Cowboy. After meeting his wife, Sally Lindblom {Kate’s great-aunt}, his dream became a reality when the couple purchased the 40~acre Red Rock Ranch in Sedona and over the years established themselves as well-respected and successful cattle ranchers. Unfortunately, not all stories have a happy ending, the Count and his wife divorced in the 1950’s but to Sally’s credit she retained ownership of the Red Rock Ranch and continued on her own to operate the ranch through the mid-1970’s.

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Lumière Hotel | Telluride, CO

Okay, I’m going to let you all in on my little secret…I’m in love with Colorado! There I said it. And Telluride in particular. I have been seduced by Telluride’s beauty and charm ~ the historic western town with its adorable boutique shops, art galleries, and trendy restaurants; I’ve been awestruck by the stunning mountain peaks, reminiscent of the Swiss Alps, that loom over the town boasting its flowing waterfalls and rainbow colored mountain-tops at sunset. A vision so striking that it can take your breath away.

This former mining town is now a well sought-after vacation destination, and while we all know this region to be a snow skier’s paradise, it offers some pretty spectacular summer adventures as well. So you can imagine that year-round this quaint town is quite active with visitors. This is something you may want to consider when deciding where to stay.

As my readers have come to know, I am always searching for that hidden gem ~ a luxury hotel that offers something distinctive and represents its region. In doing my research for my visit to Telluride, one hotel kept coming to the forefront ~ the Lumière Hotel.

The Lumière Hotel is an intimate 29-room luxury hotel and residences located in Mountain Village which sits approximately 800 feet in elevation above the town of Telluride. The two distinct towns are joined by a gondola system which provides a free and convenient form of transportation with generous daily operating hours from 7am to midnight.

In my opinion, there are some distinct advantages to staying in Mountain Village. Staying in Mountain Village allows you the convenience of parking your car for the duration of your stay while utilizing the gondola system to get to downtown; or should you want to explore the surrounding area, Mountain Village allows you the ease of coming and going without dealing with the issues of fighting the tourist traffic downtown, or trying to find a parking space. I made the mistake of driving directly into downtown Telluride before checking into Lumière and, due to some road work, I encountered some serious gridlock in the tiny town. So you can imagine my delight when I found out I could abandon my car until my departure.

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Property

The truth is that Mountain Village is a town unto itself. Located in the public plaza of the village you will find restaurants, shops, entertainment, even a liquor store and such services as financial firms and realtors. There are several accommodation options, such as condo residences and a couple hotels. And with a quick gondola hop over to the next station, you’ll find a market as well.

Lumière is conveniently located in the heart of Mountain Village steps away to the gondola, restaurants, bars, shops and the public plaza. Yet, Lumière has the distinction of being set just outside the public plaza, that can become quite congested during peak seasons. This position gives Lumière all the conveniences of being in the midst of Mountain Village and yet allows its guests an opportunity to step away from the crowds of the plaza when desired.

This luxury boutique hotel is all about providing personalized service, attention to detail and creating a welcoming environment. In 2016, the hotel was purchased by Clare Afman and Susie Schaefer-Russel, who had both been existing members of the executive management team at the hotel. Under their ownership, the hotel has received many accolades and has quickly become one of Telluride’s top luxury hotels.

I had the pleasure of meeting Clare and her husband, Bas Afman, Asst. General Mgr., who both exude a warm and friendly demeanor. In watching them interact with the guests, it is apparent that their main objective is to make sure each guest is taken care of and has an enjoyable experience, and this is a principle that is followed by all the staff.

I experienced this do whatever it takes attitude, when upon my check-out, Bas took on the role as my Valet in pulling out my car and loading my luggage. I found it refreshing that he was willing to assist me in that manner when apparently the regular Valet was not available. This type of conscientious service is what you can expect at Lumière.

Check-in

As I turned into the Mountain Village from the main road, I was in awe as I drove by some stately homes scattered along an expansive pasture with the gorgeous San Juan Mountains in the background. As I continued driving towards the core of the village, the expansive landscape began to condense into multi-story condos, residences, and hotels offering ski-in/ski-out accommodations and I eventually found myself at a roundabout in front of the Lumière Hotel.

I was immediately greeted by a friendly Valet who escorted me to the fourth floor where there is an intimate greeting area. A discrete desk tucked in a corner serves as the reception, as well as, the concierge desk. To me, it felt more like being a personal visitor than an ordinary hotel guest. The whole process was a simple and pleasant experience. Complimentary wi-fi and online access to The New York Times is available throughout your stay. 

Guest Rooms

The Lumière Hotel consists of 11 hotel rooms and 18 residences ranging from 1-5 bedrooms which include 3 Penthouses (see descriptions here).

All the units are designed in the same mountain chic contemporary style with rich wood-beamed ceilings, warm fabrics, nice artwork and fun splashes of orange accents creating an upscale residential environment. The hotel rooms offer a King or Queen bed with a kitchen bar offering a coffee maker, microwave and mini Sub-Zero refrigerator, while the residences offer a full chef’s kitchen including a Wolf range, full-sized Sub-Zero refrigerator, washer/dryer and pantry. Many of the rooms can be connected to create larger living spaces for family or friends to stay together.

I stayed in a one-bedroom residence (#60) on the sixth floor that had a large deck and incredible views of the San Juan Mountains during the day and golden sunsets each evening. The 1000 sq. ft. unit has a cozy living area with a sofa sleeper, a dining room, extra half-bath, full kitchen and spacious master bedroom and bathroom with a steam shower and soaking tub. It was an incredibly comfortable and enjoyable setting. After being on a road-trip for many days, I also appreciated the fact that the unit had a washer and dryer so I could refresh my clothes. I can see how this set-up would be extremely convenient for families staying for a week or more at a time.

I had the opportunity to tour the property with Clare and was able to visit the 5-bedroom Penthouse Suite. As I entered the Penthouse, my first view was of the expansive domed window-wall showcasing a stunning panoramic view. The large, open concept living room, dining room and kitchen is an open invitation for a group gathering. As I was wandering around the suite, I kept thinking about how extraordinary it would be to share this space with family and friends for a fun vacation or holiday. I was also impressed by the fact that Clare mentioned they try to incorporate items from local artisans in an effort to support their community.

Dining

Breakfast:

Included with your stay is a generous European-Style Continental breakfast served in the bar of the hotel restaurant, Bijou. A nice display of pastries and fruit are left out for self-service and there is the option of ordering additional hot items. As an added treat, I really enjoyed sitting in the courtyard each morning chatting with the other guests and I can imagine that it must be extremely cozy in the winter months to sit inside by a roaring fire.

Dinner:

Bijou Restaurant & Lounge, located on the lobby level of the fourth floor, offers an intimate dining experience. Find a quiet table or comfortable spot on one of the comfy sofas indoors by the fire, or head outside to the patio to enjoy the seasonal menu focused on local, sustainable and organic ingredients. The friendly and inviting atmosphere of Bijou is a perfect place cap off your day. Happy Hour menu from 5.00-6.00pm. Dinner seating from 5.30pm–9.00pm

The great news is that you have limitless dining choices (see here) because you can walk to the center of the village or take the gondola into town. A few specific suggestions that come to mind are Allred’s {located at the top of gondola} for fine dining, Tomboy Tavern {located in the village} casual dining and Brown Dog Pizza {located downtown} casual dining, but there is so much more available.

Amenities

Albeit on a smaller scale, this quaint hotel offers all the amenities as its larger hotel counterparts.

Spa/Fitness/Pool:

  • Massages/Yoga/Pilates in the privacy of your luxury suite.
  • Fitness Center offers: spin bike, treadmill, elliptical and stair master along with some free weights, medicine balls and yoga mats.
  • Hot tub, warm plunge and cold splash pools and sauna.

Skiing

Conveniently located with ski-in/ski-out access to the base of Lower Boomerang trail next to lift four at Telluride Ski Resort, Lumière has partnered together with Black Tie Ski Rentals to create a seamless ski valet and equipment rental experience for your luxury ski vacation.

Alternate Activities

Winter activities are only a small part of what Telluride has to offer. The Concierge is happy to suggest and make arrangements for many other activities throughout your stay such as hiking, biking, fly-fishing, ATV rides, jeep tours and so much more.

Since my visit was during the summer months, a jeep tour to the top of Imogene Pass which goes through the ghost town of Tomboy was suggested to me….and what a wild ride it was! But the payoff was the stunning view from 14,000 feet high.

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Pet Friendly

DSC_3288I have to say that I think Telluride is the pet friendliest town I have ever been in and Lumière is happy to accommodate your well-behaved pup. They will welcome your dog by providing him/her with a dog bed and bowl along with all-natural dog treats. And for no other reason than her stunning good looks, here’s Bella that I met in the village.

In Summary

To use the term “good things come in small packages” fits perfectly when describing the Lumière Hotel. This quaint hotel offers huge benefits from its luxury accommodations, excellent service and friendly staff  to its rich amenities and great location.
I guess the same can be said about the small town of Telluride, offering exceptional winter and summer sports, fun festivals, great restaurants, fine art galleries, shops and more. Together, the combination of these two entities offers an unforgettable experience and lasting lifelong memories.
The Lumière is perfect for a fun adventure getaway, family or friends gathering, or spending the holidays in the comfort of sheer luxury. I can only speak for myself, but I could get used to this small-town mountain lifestyle.
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Belmond El Encanto | Santa Barbara, CA

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Discretely nestled in the foothills overlooking Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean you will find an enchanting hideaway called the Belmond El Encanto. This property exudes glamour and elegance in an understated manner and offers a sophisticated comfort that is captivating from the moment you arrive.

The Property

The property has a vast history with the original craftsman-style cottages being built in 1912 to serve as housing for students and faculty in the area. In 1918, the property and cottages were converted into a hotel to serve the growing tourism market. In addition to the original craftsman-style cottages that still occupy the property today, several Spanish Revival style cottages were built on the property over the years which explains why the property has two distinct architectural styles.

@2016 Susan Edel

In 2004, the property was sold to the Orient-Express Hotel Group {now known as Belmond Hotels}, based in large part on their reputation for restoring historic properties. After a seven year and 130+million dollar renovation, the hotel re-opened its doors and is currently (2016) the only Forbes Five Star hotel in Santa Barbara.

The serene grounds consist of seven lush acres of mature plantings which include some Eucalyptus trees originally planted in the 1870’s. As you stroll down the brick walkways between the bungalows, you can’t help but be enraptured by the hanging foliage from the trees, colorful Bougainvillea, dense plantings, water features…and, oh yes, the glistening Pacific blue ocean beyond.

An arbor covered with 100-year-old Wisteria vines and a lily pond are located toward the front of the resort and is used for special events. During my stay, the area was set up for a wedding. It was quite romantic with the chairs flanking each side of the lily pond and the altar set up under the arbor…and the resident ducks don’t seem to mind the visitors.

Check-In

On arrival, you are greeted by the valet who escorts you into the main building. Upon entering, there is a small, nondescript front desk where the business of check-in is quickly conducted…and then you turn around.

As you move past the entrance, your eyes feast upon what I can only describe as a warm and inviting, upscale residential-style living area. One corner of the large room is a cozy area with rich, dark wood-paneled walls, a cushioned reading nook and an alluring fireplace; while the larger area is bright with white wood-paneled walls, small conversation seating areas and floor to ceiling glass paneled doors that fold back to expose the large outdoor patio and crystal blue ocean beyond. It feels sophisticated and decadent, as well as warm and comfortable all at once. I found it extremely welcoming.

Guest Rooms

The guest rooms are a unique aspect of this resort and what makes the property so desirable. There are 92 units {70 bungalows + 22 suites} scattered throughout the 7-acre property, ranging from standard bungalows to specialty suites {too many different categories to describe, click {here} for descriptions}. Some of the units are stand-alone, while others might have several units attached or an upper and lower unit.

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The bungalows each have their own characteristics and charm, some still have the original 1920 era fireplace surround and offer unique details that give the rooms their abundant charm. All bungalows are designed in a clean, contemporary style with the same upscale residential feel as the lobby. The renovated bathrooms are large and most with double sinks, large rain shower-heads and tubs, along with radiant-heated floors and luxury amenities. Plush robes and slippers are provided and the quality of the fluffy cotton towels feel quite indulgent.

Each guest is welcomed with a complimentary bottle of wine from one of the local wineries. In general, a white wine is offered in the Spring/Summer season and a red wine is offered in the fall/winter season. Each room offers a coffee maker, mini-bar amenities and complimentary wi-fi.

I stayed in room #2601, which is a spacious unit located on the lower level of a two-story bungalow. The room is bright with two sets of French doors and a patio. A seating area in front of the fireplace creates a cozy place to relax. I would definitely recommend this bungalow as I liked its size and location; and although I was on the bottom level, I didn’t hear anyone walking around upstairs, I only heard them when they came down the exterior stairs.

Other units that are highly requested are the Hummingbird {#1001} and Wishing Well bungalows {#1201/#1202 ~ there really is a historic wishing well on property}, as well as the Oaktree Suite which arguably offers the most private setting on the property. Bungalow #401 has a large private deck and an original circa 1920 fireplace surround that I thought was charming.

Something to note is that due to how the bungalows are situated on the property, most bungalows have garden views, with a select few bungalows offering peeks of the ocean. I did not have an ocean view but I found the garden views very pleasant. A hammock near the wishing well looked quite inviting for a nap or a leisure read, but unfortunately for me, I never made it there.

Dining

Dining at El Encanto is a pleasurable experience for both hotel guests and locals alike. The Dining Room offers an elegant indoor setting for a more refined dining experience, offering California-coastal cuisine paired with a sophisticated wine list.

@2016 Susan Edel

The Terrace offers spectacular ocean views and outdoor seating for a relaxed atmosphere and has an inviting ambiance with lamp-style heaters, sophisticated outdoor furniture, friendly service, and is a perfect place to plant yourself for a leisurely evening of lively conversation, or maybe a romantic tête-à-tête. But let’s not kid ourselves, the lead attraction here is the stunning view of the Santa Barbara harbor and Pacific Ocean beyond.

For a light meal, The Bar offers appetizers and a limited menu. Live music is performed on Friday and Saturday nights.

A special treat offered each day at El Encanto is the Afternoon Tea located at The Lounge. Enjoy scrumptious pastries and scones made from scratch while sharing special time with friends or family. This is such a perfect way to celebrate a special occasion or enjoy some one-on-one time with your favorite person. Reservations are recommended.

In-room dining is an option as well. As much as I enjoyed dining on the terrace, and as much as I wanted to explore the local eateries, I had brought my girlfriend on this trip and quite honestly, sometimes you just want to curl yourself up in a comfy robe, kick your feet up and chat the night away. It felt quite self-indulgent!

Beach/Pool

As you enter the spa reception, the elegant design is quite impressive with its soothing colors, marbled walls, and delicate orchids throughout. The full-service spa offers seven treatment rooms as well as one couple’s room with a vast array of treatments including water therapies for a full pampering and relaxation experience.

All hotel guests are welcome to use the spa facilities including the relaxation lounge, steam rooms, and showers at no additional cost. The spa is open to the public for day use, so do make reservations for any treatments you desire.

This elegant spa is a perfect way to relax and rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul.

El Encanto also offers a state-of-the-art Fitness Studio with treadmills, exercise bikes, and ellipticals for those who cannot miss their cardio workout.

The saline pool is perfect in its simplistic elegance. The beauty is in the exceptional and vast ocean view beyond. Sitting at a certain angle, it may even feel that the pool spills into the Pacific Ocean. The pool is open year-round with cabana service on the weekends. A perfect way to spend a lazy day on the American Riviera.

Activities

There are endless possibilities for staying active throughout your trip in the Santa Barbara area. Starting at the resort, here are a few of the top activities that come to mind:

Bike Riding: The resort lends their guests complimentary regular or electric bikes, the electric bikes are a nice perk with the surrounding hilly terrain. I had never ridden an electric bike before and I found this such an enjoyable way to see the Mission and ride around the surrounding neighborhood with such ease. It was quite pleasurable. A bike ride to State Street or the beach, approximately 1 mile away, is a popular excursion as well.

Tennis/Golf: For tennis and golf enthusiasts, the El Encanto will make arrangements for you to play at a local club.

Shopping: A visit to State Street is a must when visiting Santa Barbara. State Street is lined with both unique shops and national brand stores, restaurants, galleries and much more. This is a fun way to get a feel for the city and spend the day. For additional excursions, visit the quaint and charming towns of Montecito and Summerland for adorable shops and restaurants.

Old Mission Santa Barbara: The historic Old Mission Santa Barbara is a highly regarded attraction for this area. Founded in 1786, the mission’s magnificent architecture makes quite a statement and the collections of colonial-era art, sculptures, artifacts and gardens are worthy of your time.

Wineries: Santa Barbara’s growing wine region is becoming a destination in itself. There are numerous tours offered or drive yourself around this beautiful region and explore the local wineries {listed here}.

Beach: And of course, there’s always the beach. Santa Barbara has a long stretch of sandy white beach perfect for spending the day playing in the surf and building sand castles.

As an added convenience for transportation, the resort has a house van and offers their guest complimentary rides within a five-mile radius.

Summary

This property is truly a five-star retreat without any pomp and pretense. It’s a secluded hideaway that feels more like staying in a luxurious guest house than at a hotel. This resort has a casual elegance that is warm and inviting, and yet feels like a decadent splurge.

The property is child-friendly but in my opinion, it feels better situated for adults. I think this property would be an ideal romantic get-a-away, girl’s spa vacation, family or friends reunion site or even a business retreat. Fido is also welcome as this is a pet-friendly resort.

For a secluded retreat offering sheer luxury and spacious comfort, I think you will find this sanctuary a pleasant escape from the ordinary.