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Rocky Mountain getaway
Hotel Chateau Chamonix brings the grace of Europe to the Front Range
By Pamela White
Staycation’s just another word for “going nowhere.” Or that’s what it meant last year, when record-high gas prices forced many families to spend their summer holiday in their backyards watching their grass grow as dishes piled up in their kitchen sinks.
No fun, that.
But between staying home on the one hand and spending big bucks on airfare and hotels on the other lies a third option: taking a vacation here in Colorado. Staying closer to home saves on travel costs, while still getting you away from the trappings of your daily life. It has the added benefit of keeping your money in state. Think of it as a kind of state stimulus package — one that keeps you out of crowded airports.
We Coloradans are lucky to live in a vacation destination. We don’t have to look far to find world-class adventures and accommodations. A world of fun can be found up the road — in Georgetown up I-70 to be exact.
It’s in Georgetown where Tom and Marie-Claude Williams built Hotel Chateau Chamonix, hoping to bring a taste of life in the French Alps, Marie-Claude’s homeland, to Colorado.
It started with a trip back to France, during which Marie-Claude noticed a new style of French alpine architecture that she found to be beautiful. When the two returned home, Marie-Claude noticed that an old building she’d eyed a few times had a similar structure.
“The building was somewhat Swiss looking,” Marie-Claude says. “I kept thinking about what could be done here.”
She called her cousin and asked her to photograph the chateaux she’d seen during her vacation there. Her cousin obliged her, sending more than 200 photographs of these buildings.
“She had every detail — the corners, the eaves, the balconies,” Marie-Claude says. “We bought the old building, and I thought we could just give it a facelift, but two years later I realize that’s not what could be done here.”
The place had no salvageable walls, and the foundation needed to be rebuilt. Then the interior had to be redesigned from the ground floor up. The couple found a local carpenter who was able to reproduce the details from the pictures, giving the building a distinct French alpine flavor.
“It was quite costly to do it that way,” Marie-Claude says.
So they sold their house and other properties to fund this extreme makeover. But the results are clearly worth it.
The hotel is classy without being ostentatious, the emphasis on comfort and intimacy is clear from the moment you step into the lobby. Though only an hour’s drive from Boulder, it’s still far from the stresses of everyday life.
Guests are greeted with wine or other beverage of their choice when they check in. Six rooms come with breathtaking mountain views, while four larger rooms look over a creek that runs alongside the hotel. The downstairs rooms feature intimate two-person hot tubs, while the upstairs area boasts a larger group hot tub and a sitting room. All rooms offer king-size beds, 32-inch flat-screen televisions, WiFi and European espresso/cappuccino makers, as well as refrigerators.
The rooms are so comfortable, in fact, that you might not want to emerge.
“People get in the room, and we don’t see them,” Marie-Claude says. “We planned on it being a romantic place, but they don’t come out.”
Each morning, Marie-Claude delivers a continental breakfast of fresh fruit and freshly baked French croissants — being French, she allows no substitutes — using a special cubbyhole built into the door to preserve guests’ privacy.
“I just put it through that little cubbyhole and knock on the door to let them know their breakfast is here,” she says. “That’s the most talked about feature.”
If you can manage to get out of your room, you’ll find yourself with lots of ways to spend the day. To many Boulder-area residents, Georgetown is known as that old mining town you stare at while parked on I-70 on your way back from skiing. But there’s a lot more to Georgetown than the average irritated motorist can discern from the highway.
Those who like to shop will find Georgetown devoid of the types of tourist shops common to so many Colorado mountain towns. Rather than bins of polished rocks and Colorado T-shirts, you’ll find classy stores offering everything from elegant clothing to hand-made gold jewelry.
Sightseers will enjoy a trip to the Bowman-White House Museum or the historic Hamill House, built in 1867 and remodeled and expanded by William Arthur Hamill in 1879. Or stop by the Hotel de Paris Museum for a look at Georgetown’s past.
After shopping or sightseeing, stop in at the Euro Grill for a wonderful meal, or visit the tasting room of the Canyon Wind Winery to sample the fruits of Colorado vineyards.
If your idea of vacation involves the outdoors, Georgetown offers easy access to rafting, horseback riding, hiking, fishing and kayaking.
Georgetown also boasts the Georgetown Loop Railroad, which departs all summer from the Devil’s Gate Station, winding its way up Clear Creek Canyon to Silver Plume. The train’s summer season starts on May 23 — just in time for Memorial Day. The railroad offers a special “Fourth of July Train,” which combines an old-fashioned barbeque with a ride up to the Devil’s Gate Bridge to watch the fireworks in Georgetown below.
“The fireworks are really good,” Marie-Claude says. “I’m totally impressed. It’s done by the volunteer fire department. Last year it lasted a half hour — non-stop fireworks.”
The railroad also offers a “Moonlight in the Mountains” dinner train, including a catered dinner at the Georgetown Devil’s Gate Depot.
Though Hotel Chateau Chamonix is completely booked on certain weekends for weddings, rooms are still available for the weekend of July 4. Room rates vary between $150 to $200, depending on the day of the week and the room. You can book your stay online, but Tom and Marie-Claude recommend booking it directly with them to give you the best choice of room.
Tom says that running the hotel has proved to be a “delight.”
“We can give people the personal attention that most hotels can’t,” he says. “And that’s the best part about it — meeting people and listening to people’s stories from all over the world.”
For more information on Hotel Chateau Chamonix, go to www.hotelchateauchamonix.com, or call 303-569-1109.
For more information on the Georgetown Loop Railroad, go to www.georgetownlooprr.com.
Colorado is a global tourist destination. While many Coloradans fly out of state each summer, the rest of the world is coming here. If you want to save some dough, but still want to enjoy time away from the grind, here are other activities that may interest you. How many of us have lived for years in Colorado without setting foot in these places?
Boulder History Museum
1206 Euclid Ave. / 303-449-3464
Founded in 1944, this private, nonprofit museum brings the history of Boulder alive with its collection of more than 35,000 objects donated by Boulder families. It also hosts a variety of programs and community events.
Colorado History Museum
1300 Broadway, Denver / 303-866-3682
Constructed in 1977, the Colorado History Museum preserves the story of Colorado with its collection of historic and prehistoric artifacts and documents. Local legend Baby Doe Tabor is commemorated in the exhibits, which feature her beautiful wedding dress.
Denver Art Museum
100 W. 14th Ave., Denver
A piece of architectural art all by itself, the Denver Art Museum offers a host of activities, including lectures, classes and all-day camps for kids, as well as its enormous collection of permanent and temporary displays for visitors to enjoy at their own pace.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science
2001 Colorado Blvd. / 303-322-7009
With an IMAX theater and hundreds of exhibitions, programs, lectures and activities, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is the place for people of all ages to learn about the past, present and future of the world around them. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is one of only 750 of the nation’s 16,000 museums to be officially accredited by the American Association of Museums.
2300 Steele St. / 303-376-4800
As fun for adults as it is for the little ones, Denver Zoo is home to nearly 4,000 animals representing 700 species from around the world. Visitors may plan events, such as birthday parties at the zoo, or merely partake in a tour or one of many activities. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
University of Colorado Natural History Museum
University of Colorado / 303-492-6892
The University of Colorado Natural History Museum offers a wide range of special events, including guided tours, educational programs and family days, and its exhibition galleries are open to the public seven days a week, free of charge.
University of Colorado Heritage Center
1600 Pleasant St.
Located on the third floor of the University of Colorado’s (CU) Old Main, the CU Heritage Center features exhibits exploring the history of the university. Attractions include the President’s Room, Distinguished Alumni Gallery and the Athletics Room, which showcases trophies from CU’s many victories.
Dinosaur National Monument
4545 E. Highway 40, Dinosaur, CO 81610
Entrance fees are charged Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on the Utah side of the Monument. Fees include admission for seven consecutive days.
$10.00 per vehicle
Motorcycle: $5.00 for single rider, $10.00 for double rider
Individual (Hiker, bicyclist): $5.00
Travel west on Interstate 70 to Rifle. Take the exit for Highway 13, and follow 13 north toward Meeker. About 40 miles past Rifle, take a left on Highway 64 west toward Rangely. Follow 64 west to Dinosaur. Turn east on Highway 40, travel 2 miles. Turn north on Harpers Corner Road and make the first right into the parking lot.
It’s a five-hour drive, but well worth it. Survey the craggy hills and explore fragments of a long-ago world where the largest land creatures of all time once roamed and died. While the dinosaurs that once walked these lands became extinct 65 million years ago, their smaller cousin — the lizard — is a common sight at Dinosaur National Monument, proving that bigger isn’t always better. Make sure you view the rock art, check out the fossils, enjoy the amazing scenery and explore homestead sites. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even go whitewater rafting.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
11999 Highway 150, Mosca, CO 81146
Visitor Center — 719-378-6399
Entrance fees: $3 per adult (age 16 and older). Entrance fees are valid for one week from date of purchase. Children are free at all times.
The fastest route from Boulder is south on I-25 to Walsenburg, west on US 160, north on state highway 150. For a more scenic drive, you may also get on US 285 south, then state highway 17 south, then County Lane 6 east.
A sweet four-hour drive gets you to one of the most incredible spots in our state: Great Sand Dunes National Park. Here you’ll find the tallest dunes in North America — amazing unto themselves. But these giant mounds of sand are surrounded by alpine peaks, a desert valley and creeks flowing on the surface of the sand. The exceptional beauty of the park offers the perfect setting for hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, camping, mountain climbing, and, of course, sandboarding and sledding on the dunes. This national treasure is truly a must-see spot.
Royal Gorge Bridge and Park
4218 County Road 3A, Cañon City, CO 81215
Tickets — Adult: $24.00, Child (age 4-11): $19.00, Senior: $21.00
Travel south on I-25 to the exit for US-85 south. Take the ramp onto US-50 west. Turn left at CR-3A until you reach Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.
Known as a classic Colorado vacation destination, there’s plenty to do at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. With 21 rides, shows and attractions on 360 breathtaking acres, you’ll need an entire day to experience what this park has to offer. Luckily, it’s only a three-hour drive from Boulder. The park’s crown jewel is the world’s highest suspension bridge, floating 1,053 feet above the Arkansas River, but don’t forget to experience the other attractions that the park offers, such as the cliff walk, inspiration point, a petting zoo, the mountain man encampment and the only water clock in Colorado. This magnificent park is truly worth the trip.
Here are some of our favorite places to hike and bike in Boulder County. Each has its own regulations. Some require those with license plates from outside Boulder County to pay user fees. Be sure to read the regulations.
Located at the junction of Boulder and Fourmile Canyons, Betasso Preserve is a 773-acre preserve managed by the county. Check the county website for mountain biking regulations. It is located six miles west of Boulder off Sugarloaf Road.
5565 51st St. / 303-441-3461
The ocean it ain’t. But it’s still lots of fun. The reservoir has a 600-acre lake and is available for kayaking, fishing, volleyball, motor boating and water skiing. For directions, regulations and activities, visit the city’s website.
Caribou Ranch is a pristine patchwork of wetlands, meadows, woodlands and streams. Off limits to dogs, the 2,180-acre property is open to hikers and horseback riders. Seasonal closures protect sensitive wildlife. Off-trail use is prohibited. Caribou Ranch can be accessed north of Nederland or south of Ward on County Road 126 off of the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.
Eldorado Canyon State Park
9 Kneale Road, Eldorado Springs / 303-494-3943
Eldorado Canyon, known affectionately by climbers as Eldo, offers more than 500 technical rock climbing routes, some of the most classic climbing in the country. In addition it offers hiking, mountain biking, picnicking and fishing. However, there is no camping. For information about trails, regulations, fees and activities, visit the state website.
Heil Valley Ranch
With a variety of ecosystems, including prime breeding habitat for many species of birds, Heil Valley Ranch consists of 4,923 acres of backcountry with a picnic shelter and almost seven miles of multiuse trails. The entrance to Heil Valley Ranch is located on Geer Canyon Road off of Left Hand Canyon Road northwest of Boulder. For information visit the county’s website.
These organizations make it their business to help you have a safe time while exploring the outdoors.
Boulder Outdoor Center
2525 Arapahoe Ave., Ste. E4-228 / 303-444-8420
The Boulder Outdoor Center provides equipment, instruction and guide trips for a variety of summer activities, including rafting, kayaking and more. Their knowledgeable staff is trained to work with people of all ages and skill levels.
Colorado Mountain School
The Colorado Mountain School has been guiding since 1877 under various names. CMS is the largest guide service in Colorado and has more AMGA and International Federation of Mountain Guides Association certified guides than any other guide service in the state. They remain the exclusive climbing organization for Rocky Mountain National Park.
Front Range Anglers Inc.
629B S. Broadway / 303-494-1375
This business offers a wide variety of fly fishing equipment and accessories. Front Range Anglers offers guided tours and maintains strict ethical and conservation guidelines.
Highside Adventure Tours
2350 Riverside Dr. / 800-997-3448
Highside Adventure Tours offers some of the best outdoor tours in Colorado, including rafting, fishing, biking and kayaking. They offer individual tours or group trips.
Women’s Wilderness Institute
5723 Arapahoe Ave., Ste. 1B / 303-938-9191
This organization offers outdoor experiences for women and teen girls. This program is designed to meet the unique needs and learning styles of women.
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