A “home away from home” that opens its doors for me winter or summer…in beautiful Vail, Colorado. Warm bathroom marble floors, cookies on my nightstand at night, the best service anywhere and people whose kindness has helped me through heartache and celebration. Join me as I visit the Sonnenalp Resort here at Where 2 Next?…
Yes, I live in Colorado. So what I am about to confess may seem sacrilegious. I am just mere hours away from some of the most famous ski resorts and mountains in the world and I don’t ski. Well, I CAN, but I DON’T. I know, I know – there is something wrong with that picture, given that I love to travel and exercise. But while I would love to be a part-time ski bum, I don’t like day trips to the mountains in the winter and it is one expensive hobby! And if I ski, I like to ski spoiled. I want to have a place to stay over, where I don’t have to fight traffic up and back on I-70 in one day, schlep all that stuff that we all need for a cold weather activity and I want to be able to partake in the activity I like best – apres ski!
Yet I have found a mountain resort that has become my “home away from home” and it is in the heart of Vail, Colorado. Over the past 15 years I have had a business/friendship relationship with The Sonnenalp Resort of Vail. This family owned resort is run by the Faessler family. Johannes Faessler is at the helm, and from the top down through each and every staff member has a commitment to service and quality I have never seen at any other resort I have ever stayed. Now, while I may not ski I do hike and love to bike, so I am a summer-time girl. And thanks to the ongoing generosity of my friends at the Sonnenalp, I am able to spend quite a bit of time there in the summer, as well as in the winter (which is something kind-of new) – when I spa and shop and apres-ski, even though I don’t hit the slopes!
The Sonnenalp is not only charming and beautiful, it screams of quality. There are so many things I love about this Austrian influenced resort, it’s hard to know where to start. First, they have without a doubt the best breakfast anywhere, served on their own signature dishes with coffee mugs so large and welcoming your morning java becomes an event in and of itself. The rooms all have heated marble floors in the bathrooms and every night when you return to your room you will find your robe on the bed, slippers on a mat on the floor and fresh-baked cookies on your nightstand. I rarely eat sweets, but even I can’t resist a bite or two before I nod off in beds and down comforters as soft and comfortable as a really good dream.
There is a spa where you can get lost for a day, a pool that starts inside by one of the two Jacuzzi tubs and flows outside to a beautiful garden, just off Gore Creek. The second Jacuzzi sits by the outside pool, just next to the Creek – all under tall Aspen trees and surrounded by perennial gardens in the summer that will take your breath away. Need a bike? Just ask Victor, the concierge and he’s got it for you. Need a ride into town? John, the head Valet is always happy to give you a lift. Two restaurants, Ludwig’s and The Bully Ranch don’t understand the concept of small servings – the food is always plentiful and amazing. Don’t miss the Berry Crisp in the summer – it is most definitely a favorite of my daughter Jessica and myself. The Kings Club with its big welcoming fireplace and piano, is the resort bar – comfortable, warm, inviting and big, so you can bring lots of friends!
But what you will notice more than anything is the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff. There are several I have worked with since my first year there, where I ran a conference for our family business for 15 years. The loyalty and longevity of Mr. Faessler’s staff speaks volumes. Patricia, the Director of Sales and Marketing – Abbey, my amazing sales manager and now one of My Posse- John, the head Valet and now a dear friend – Victor, the Concierge – Ibraham, Catering manager – Corky, the wonderful hostess at Ludwig’s who has not forgotten my name in 15 years – Lindsay, the manager of The Bully Ranch and of course Mr. Faessler, who never misses the opportunity to say hello when I visit.
I know I have a long-standing relationship with these wonderful people, but I see them treat every guest with the same respect and importance as they do me after 15 years of business together. Many people return here year after year, including a delightful man named Harvey who spends more than 100 days a year at the resort!!! He definitely tops me in nights spent – damn it! While Vail is growing (there is a new Four Seasons opening there soon) nothing will ever knock The Sonnenalp off its perch as the crown jewel of Vail. Even the best chains cannot deliver what Mr. Faessler and his team produces every day – and that is a sense that once you are at The Sonnenalp you are family. You are never just a reservation, but a person valued by this loyal team of hospitality experts. I just spent one evening there this week, and when I checked out I was given a bottled water, grabbed an apple and was told the road through the pass was icy and to be careful. Spencer, one of my many friends at the Bell Desk offered to check one of the shops down the street where I think I left my new Ugg gloves because he knew I didn’t have time to do it. This….excellence….comes standard at this perfect resort.
Last summer, I spent many weekends at The Sonnenalp. It and the people who make it so wonderful got me through the pains of my divorce. It gave me a quiet getaway where I could lick my wounds, write in my journal, hike to the top of mountains and watch waterfalls and stare at lakes so pristine it’s as though you fell into a picture. When a drunk, psycho guy from Canada followed me and my friend back one night, the man at the front desk politely escorted him out the door so we could escape to our room and then kindly gave him a ride home. John has given me more rides than I can count up to my favorite hot spot, The Red Lion, so I didn’t have to walk in the rain, snow or cold – or on ridiculously high heels! Patricia and Abbey always leave me something yummy from the kitchen in my room, and last summer I was welcomed with a nice bottle of wine quite often. These people have become my friends. They knew I was hurting and a little lost, but they gave me care and comfort and helped keep me on my life’s path despite the circumstances. Nope, you will not find this at a chain – never.
Because I have spent so much time in Vail I can tell you the best restaurants are 1) Sweet Basil. If you eat at the bar, make sure Carl is there. He is the one who taught me how to steam the milk for cappuccinos and always has a new sensational wine for me to try. 2) Sapphire – they boast a lot of “fresh” fish, but I will never completely buy the whole fresh fish thing in a land-locked state, but the food has always been outstanding. 3) The Bully Ranch, at the Sonnenalp - best burger in Summit County, hands down. 4) La Bottega, just across the street – fab pizza and pasta. Want a great meatball sandwich, it’s your place! 5) Campo De Fiori – great Italian, the risotto there is my favorite anywhere. That plus fab Italian wines makes for a delicious evening. Those are my favorites – there are others that are highly recommended, but since I am a creature of habit and once I find the good stuff, I stick with it.
Nightlife – ok, a little slim in Vail. But when you have Phil Long at The Red Lion it makes up for what might be missing around town. Phil is the managing partner AND the entertainment. Can you say talented?! He is a master at making everyone in the crowd, no matter how big or small, feel welcome. His show is full of the same schtick I’ve heard for years (i.e. whenever he asks you to lift your glass up, it is usually going to be a toast to something about him, usually his hair!), but I laugh just the same. He gets involved with his patrons, notices the pretty girls and the guys with bad shirts or sweaters. Here’s an inside tip – Phil drinks Jagermeister – buy him a shot! His staff, including Sully, Stephen, Jerry, Weasel, 6’7″…all make for a fun night. The Red Lion can get PACKED when Phil is playing, especially in the winter, though I have seen a few crazy nights in the summer as well.
There are just too many stories to tell about my nights at The Red Lion. Like the night someone stole my purse, but Jerry quickly played undercover cop and got it back for me. Or one of the many nights I danced till they had to literally kick me out because I was having too much fun and didn’t want to go home! I have spent many nights there with members of My Posse and I have met many, many new friends there as well. And the best part, is that usually Phil will sing me the song “Alison” by Elvis Costello. No one in the place appreciates that song as much as me, and when my friend sings it I feel like I’m home.
When I drove up the hill on Tuesday it was to run a few Christmas errands and Zen a bit. By sheer coincidence it was also the night of John’s 50th birthday party. Talk about timing! So I enjoyed a day of shopping (don’t miss Bella, Charm School, Roxy, Axel’s, Pepi’s or Blitz), drinks with Patricia, a long lovely dinner at Sweet Basil with Carl behind the bar and fun new friends I met who were in from the East Coast for the snow, and then a hopping party for John at Samana, one of Vail’s other hot spots. It was a great time partying with the people who work at the resort, in a casual atmosphere, dancing and talking and laughing – celebrating with John and his fun wife Sally and all their friends. How lucky that the fates took me to Vail of all days! So much fun was had…too much, as I didn’t get back to my room until 2:30 am! I was smart enough to drink a bucket of water (a must at high altitude!) before going to bed, so my headache the next morning wasn’t too bad. It was snowing as I left my favorite little hamlet…so picturesque. But not fun to drive in! Me, my car and ice on the road – not a good mix! I thankfully made it back in one piece, smiling the whole time at the fun curve ball life had thrown me with John’s party and the chance to see so many dear friends.
I hope you too have a “home away from home” that you can disappear to in times of sadness or celebration. I count my lucky stars that Vail is so close to me and that it is my get-away. And that Life’s path took me to The Sonnenalp, where I have been blessed with both business successes and friendships to last a lifetime and a place where I can retreat to, draw breath and know that everything will be ok.
When it comes to Vail, I sometimes feel like Norm from the old TV show “Cheers.” I have found my seat at the bar…and everyone knows my name…