Think of Aspen and snow and skiing are almost certainly the first things that come to mind. But this swish mountain town is just as popular with visitors in summer. Given the clear blue skies, fresh mountain air, lush green lawns, bursts of wildflowers everywhere and tiny hummingbirds whizzing past as you make your way along manicured footpaths, it’s no surprise the town is buzzing in the “off-season”.
Flying into Aspen’s tiny airport, the plane taxies past a long row of parked private jets and pulls up outside a low-set terminal. Stepping onto the tarmac, you’re greeted by a kitschy carved wooden bear holding up a “Welcome” sign. It’s the first of many contradictions about this town: there’s plenty of conspicuous wealth on show, with houses trading for tens of millions, but it’s far from being a snooty playground of the super-rich.
The relatively down-to-earth, approachable vibe Aspen gives off springs from its 20th-century reinvention: in the 1940s Chicagobased industrialists Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke transformed the sleepy town into a cultural retreat for the mind, body and spirit, complete with a Bauhaus-style modernist campus and, in 1946, built the town’s first ski lift. The Paepckes’ humanist ideals live on in the Aspen Institute, the Aspen Music Festival and the evident sense of community among the locals, even as property prices have gone through the roof and headed towards the stratosphere.
Their name lives on, too, in the Paepcke Suite, the grandest of the six grand suites at the Little Nell, which is the only ski-in/skiout five-star resort in Aspen and has an equally impressive summer offering. The Little Nell’s adventure concierge team can organise everything from Jeep tours, horseback riding, cycling excursions (including “ride and dine” dinners where you cycle to your destination and, thankfully, are driven back afterward), fly-fishing and trips up the mountain to star-gaze at night.
In summer the Little Nell’s resident gardener Arabella Beavers plants the garden beds around the pool with an abundance of edible plants, which attract both hummingbirds flitting from flower to flower and chefs from the hotel’s Element 47 restaurant, who pop over to grab herbs for the night’s offerings. Just as the hotel’s Ajax Tavern is the epicentre of the après-ski scene in winter, there’s no better place in summer than an outdoor table at Element 47, facing the colourful “living wall” plantings across the pool while sipping wine from the renowned 22,000-bottle collection overseen by the Little Nell’s wine director Carlton McCoy.