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Sonnenalp, a Bavarian style oasis in the Colorado mountains

Columbia Hillen

After enduring a late, fierce snowstorm enroute from Denver, the Sonnenalp resort in Vail, Colorado offered my companion and I the perfect de-stressor - a relaxing hour in a sauna, steam-room and Jacuzzi followed by the radiant warmth of an open fireside in its elegant Conifer Suite.

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Meaning ‘Sun in the Alps,’ this outstanding hotel stretches from a cosy lobby through several large interlinking rooms, their furnishings, including cowbells, Bavarian tankards in glass cases, a cuckoo clock, landscape paintings and bronze sculptures of a flying bird and a rodeo rider, creating rustic charm reflecting the bucolic nature of the surroundings.

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Beyond the reception area, that itself features a vintage wooden sleigh, is a spacious sitting-room with a curved bar, a grand piano and lots of armchairs for ease and comfort after a tiring day on the hills. Adjacent is a small library, with open gas fire, oak furniture and sofas, as well as lampshades designed from animal hides. From here, stairs lead to the Bully Ranch restaurant, and Ludwig’s where breakfast is served.

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Operated by Johannes Faessler, five generations of his family have contributed to the success and popularity of the Sonnenalp resorts both in Oftershwang Germany and in Vail, the latter - a member of the Leading Hotels of the World - opening in 1979. In 1987, the Faesslers bought Singletree Golf Course in nearby Edwards and renamed it Sonnenalps Golf Club. Two years after, they created Quellengarten, a water park and spring garden with indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, steam-rooms, cold plunges and an exotic solarium, later expanding it to include a spa. The resort was initially modelled after Kitzbuhel village in Austria with Bavarian ski instructors coming here decades ago. 

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Our suite offered a scenic setting, its balcony overlooking a flowing, indeed musically gurgling stream in Gore Creek, a heated open-air swimming pool and Jacuzzi, a copse of pines and silver birch and steep forested slopes of Vail Mountain beyond. It also featured a sunken bath, double sink, walk-in shower, two cosy armchairs, coffee-maker, large-screen TV, king-size bed and a walk-in closet with plenty of shelving. Toiletries were Gilchrist & Soames.

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Enhancing the overall rusticity were antlers hanging above the fireplace and low, broad-beamed ceiling. Wearing hotel slippers and thick robes before a warming open fire, we soon felt right at home.

The resort’s spa is a highlight of a stay here, a seductive post-hike, post-ski escape with indoor and outdoor pool, large jacuzzi and separate men’s and women’s steam-rooms and saunas. It even has naturally-flavored oxygen tanks, mint, lavender and lime, to help guests adjust to the 2,500-meter altitude.

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The Bully Ranch restaurant, overlooking the mountains, features a classic ‘Wild West’ ambience, all natural wood floors, low ceiling, stone walls and overhanging lampshades designed from antler horns. It also offers outside dining on a 145-seat patio. The manager, Manuel Klivar from Munich, was both friendly and efficient.

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Our leisurely dinner there began with two specialty drinks, champagne snow and a blended concoction of Kahlúa, vodka, Irish cream liqueur with vanilla ice cream called ‘mudslide.’ I was also impressed by a fine wine that accompanied our food whose description included, surprisingly, ‘notes of pencil shavings.’

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Choose the truffle tots, a paper cone of potato dumplings, crunchy on the outside and puffy inside. If you are more disciplined, the artichoke dip, rich in delightful bits of artichoke and spinach, comes in sourdough bread with the inside scooped out and cut into pieces that you can use for dipping. 

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Sometimes, a Caesar salad is a litmus test for the quality of a restaurant. The ‘Bully Ranch’ passed successfully. Every leaf of the romaine lettuce was properly tossed in a home-made sauce, then decorated with anchovies and parmesan shavings. 

Probably advisable to try the Bully Bourbon Burger, a signature dish, topped with smoked cheddar cheese, applewood smoked bacon, sautéed onions and homemade Jim Beam demi-glace. I can still taste this succulent creation as I pen these words. 

Breakfast is also a treat, with an extensive buffet offering more than 10 separate fresh fruits, 12 different types of nuts and flakes and seven desserts.

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‘The Sonnenalp Post,’ a daily four-page newsletter, contains information on latest weather conditions, local events including productions at nearby Vilar Performing Arts Center and a weekly calendar of events at the hotel including yoga classes and spa and drink discount specials.

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For an escape to the mountains, for skiing, hiking or simply a break from hectic city life, the Sonnenalp offers many of the treats that constitute a luxury mountain retreat.

Sean Hillen

Sean Hillen has been an international journalist and editor for over 30 years and published author. His contemporary novel, ‘Pretty Ugly’ is an intriguing ride through the murky undercurrent of the lucrative cosmetic industry http://www.seanhillenauthor.com/  Sean’s writing experience spans several continents - in Ireland, for the national daily The Irish Times and in England, as foreig...(Read More)

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