How to Have a European Vacation—Without Leaving the State

No need to venture across the Atlantic to get a dose of Swiss, English, French, Spanish & Italian elegance and charm


HOME & AWAY Vail Village offers Euro-style shopping. Courtesy Vail Resorts

Taking a buggy ride through Zermatt, Switzerland. Going a-wassailing in England’s Brontë-esque County Dorset. Visiting the Villa de Medici in Rome. If you’re dreaming of a trans-Atlantic vacation, but can’t quite make the trip across the pond, try these European-inspired spots in Colorado instead.

Nestled in the Uncompahgre River Valley and surrounded by the snow-capped San Juan Mountains, Ouray does a darn good imitation of Switzerland. In fact, the town is nicknamed “the Switzerland of America,” and Colorado’s tourism office even jokes that you should expect to hear yodeling coming down from the hills. This winter, go ice climbing in the famed Ouray Ice Park (or visit the Ouray Ice Festival January 18–21), cross-country ski in Ironton Park, nibble on fine chocolates at Mouse’s Chocolate & Coffee Shop, soak in one of the sulphur-free public and private hot springs (including the century-old Ouray Hot Springs Pool) or get a massage at the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa.

Slip away to Frisco for the weekend and try out a Wassail trail. “Mountain towns have a history of echoing the customs—and even the architecture—of their European settlers, so when we realized that Frisco businesses had long been offering little holiday treats to guests in December, we formalized the tradition by calling on a European custom: wassailing,” says Vanessa Agee, Frisco’s marketing and communications director. Since the 2008 start of “Wassail Days,” it has grown to include a holiday lighting with 600 luminaries, soup tasting and tubing events, Santa visits, caroling, free sleigh rides, cross-country skiing and more. But serving the hot, spicy drink wassail has remained the cornerstone. “It’s a universal sign of welcome and community to offer up food or drink to a ‘weary traveler,’ especially on a cold winter night,” Agee says. Wassail Days in Frisco happens December 1–10. Find a full schedule at

Phebe and David Novic discovered long-distance “inn-to-inn” hiking after a trek across England. It was an aha moment for the couple, both former teachers: They realized this style of trekking would be great for people who love to hike and travel but don’t want to carry a big backpack and camp. In 2003, they began Footpaths of the World to introduce Americans to the joys of long-distance walking. Their trips include self- or professionally guided summer and fall hiking trips of various lengths (starting at two days) through the Colorado Rockies, departing from Estes Park. They also do day-long snowshoeing trips (gear provided) in Rocky Mountain National Park, starting out at The Warming House, their Estes Park outfitting store.


Sonnenalp in winter. Courtesy Todd Powell

St. Moritz? Chamonix? Kitzbühel? Nah. Drive just 100 miles west of Denver to Vail and you’ll feel as if you’re on holiday in Europe. Book a weekend at the Sonnenalp, where you can indulge in fondue and authentic Alps cuisine, like käsespätzle, a homemade Swiss dumpling topped with cheese and crispy onions, at Swiss Chalet, the hotel restaurant. Make time for a Bavarian Body Scrub at the spa, then do a little Euro-style shopping at Vail Village, which boasts such high-end fashion stores as Luca Bruno and Valbruna Vail.

Glenwood Springs may be known for its hot-springs pool, but, since 1893, it’s been home to Hotel Colorado, an Italianate-style stopping place designed by New York City architects Boring, Tilton & Mellon and modeled after the Villa de Medici in Italy (though its sandstone blocks are strictly local, coming from a quarry near Basalt). In its early days, the hotel drew such famous guests as Molly Brown, Al “Scarface” Capone and President Theodore Roosevelt, and it continues to win awards, including making Travel and Leisure’s list of “Best Hotels for Christmas.”

French inspiration is woven throughout Le Méridien Denver Downtown, where Marie Antoinette portraits greet you at the front desk and éclairs are served with gourmet coffee in the morning at The Lobbyist Bar. At the new AC Hotel Denver Downtown, sophisticated European style mixes with modern designs. Each day, the hotel pays homage to its Spanish roots with a “Sangria Ritual”—if you’re near the lobby bar you get a free glass of house-made sangria. Shop a Euro-inspired Christmas market at The Source Denver in Rino, where you can find ceramics, paintings and sculptures. It kicks off December 1 and will be open each Friday of the month from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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