As the temps drop, the energy in the mountains shifts. It changes from a colorful, exciting outdoor adventure to a cozier, softer embrace - still with plenty of outdoor adventures.
As soon as the leaves start to change color and until the snow stops falling, there's something otherworldly about Colorado's mountains. Step inside this real-life snow globe for a romantic vacation.
Here's where to go for the most romantic lodging and dining in Vail Valley. You'll notice one word in common across the board: Sonnenalp.
Gemutlichkeit in Colorado
What sets Vail apart from other Colorado mountain towns is its charming Swiss/Austrian architecture. The Sonnenalp Hotel, right in downtown Vail Village, owns that European style entirely.
Rooms feel like they're plucked directly out of a European ski chalet, with Euro-style decor.
One of the hotel's best features is its spacious bathroom, with heated tile floors and an oversized tub. Sonnenalp's guest bathrooms may very well be the best in the state. Unwind in a bubble bath and then relax by the cozy fireplace. On warmer nights, rooms have balconies, too.
Also on site: a spa, indoor-outdoor swimming pool and hot tubs to unwind.
The Sonnenalp was the first Luxury Eco Certification Standard certified hotel in Colorado. It also boasts a variety of other awards, including the No. 4 Resort Hotel in the West by Travel & Leisure. It has been named Travel & Leisure's World Best Hotels six different years.
Traveling this fall? Check out the Fall into Sonnenalp Hotel Package (through Nov. 17), which includes discounted valet (super convenience, although there is plenty of free parking in Vail, plus a free shuttle), free oxygen bar sessions and reduced rates at the Sonnenalp Golf Club (about a 20-minute drive farther west up the mountain).
Book your stay at the Sonnenalp in Vail here.
Dining with a View
Vail Valley is packed with amazing restaurants, but one of the newest ones is getting a ton of attention, for good reason.
Harvest by Kelly Liken, in Edwards, has the best views in Vail Valley, combined with a tasty menu and top-notch service. It opened in June.
The new, hip restaurant is located in the Sonnenalp Club, overlooking the golf course, with sweeping, distant views of the mountain peaks. Even just the drive to Harvest is stunning, especially in fall, as you wind through tunnels of changing aspens.
If the weather is warm, grab a table on the patio with views of Arrowhead and Beaver Creek mountains. But inside next to the large fireplace, you won't miss the mountain-gazing, because the oversized windows make every table the best seat in the house.
Harvest is the newest creation of chef Kelly Liken, who was nominated for the prestigious James Beard Award. You might also recognize Liken from "Top Chef" and Food Network's "Iron Chef." She's considered one of the country's most inspiring chefs.
Food is seasonally and regionally influenced, such as a Colorado lamb ragout, served with handmade pasta, ricotta, shaved grana padano and herbs; or the seared salmon filet, with swiss chard, white bean and roasted tomato ragout and pancetta, served with a sherry vinaigrette.
Here, the small plates are just as delicious as the big ones, especially the Tempura Baby Artichokes, which are surprisingly gluten-free. In fact, so much of this menu is gluten-free that the menu only marks the few items that aren't.
The cocktails are so perfect they feel almost intuitive; ask the bartender to surprise you and trust her expertise. Or try the Up In Smoke, hand's down one of the best cocktails in the state, made with Sauza 100 percent blue agave tequila, Leopold's orange liquor, muddled grilled oranges, and japaleño, with a splash of lime and a mezcal rinse.
Although the food is delicious, it's far from intimidating. The servers wear cargo, work-style aprons, which give the open dining hall a casual, rustic feel. Come dressed to the 10s, or in your jeans and sweater. Either way, you're welcomed the same.
Harvest is located on the Sonnenalp Club, a semi-private country club facility with golf (18 holes, amazing views) and a 10,000-square-foot fitness center, with a gym and three studios with more than 50 classes per week.
The championship-links-style course in Edwards, about 13 miles west of downtown Vail, has an extra-long golfing season, even days a week from early April through late October, so you can golf under the canopy of golden aspen leaves in the fall. It's open to all levels and provides an uncrowded course with a unique alpine challenge.
Travelers will appreciate the full-service pro shop, where you can get your equipment and be properly fitted for clubs. The s taff here is made up of PGA pros.
The club also has an outdoor pool - a 25-yard lap pool and a children's wader pool. In the winter, you'll be grateful for the heated pavers that lead to the hot tub.
In addition, club members can access the tennis courts and programs.
Weddings in Vail
Due to the naturally romantic atmosphere at the Sonnenalp, and Vail, as a whole, the Sonnenalp is also a popular place for mountain weddings.
The Sonnenalp Hotel is located across from the Vail Chapel, and Gore Creek runs through the hotel's backyard, for people who want an outdoor ceremony.
On site, the Sonnenalp offers two different wedding venues: Ludwig's Restaurant, with a glass terrace, for parties of 30 to 160; and the ballroom, which can hold 220.
Even if you don't hold your wedding here, the rooms make a lovely honeymoon getaway, or a romantic night in the mountains for no reason whatsoever.