The Roaring Fork river to the left, a mountain to the right, chipmunks scuttling across our path, and all’s right with the world.
Pete and I are in Aspen, Colorado, and for once we’re not in our winter woollies, there for the snow.
It’s June, the sun’s shining, and we’re on a scenic bike trail, heading for Woody Creek, half an hour away.
I’ve been going to Aspen to ski for about 20 years. On all previous visits, locals have said, “Wait until you see this place in summer. It’s even better.”
Now, finally we’ve made it here mid-year, and yes, we’re captivated.
The trees were only ever seen near leafless, shooting out of snow, are transformed into emerald beauties. The mountains are abundant with flowers, complemented by rich blue sky.
Small stoat-like critters and red squirrels dart around us as we cycle along.
“Are we on the right track to get to Woody Creek Tavern?” we ask some youngsters overtaking us.
“Follow us, we’re heading there too,” one yells back. It means Pete and I have to lift our peddle power somewhat, but we manage.
Soon we’re at the legendary tavern, once frequented by writer Hunter S Thompson and his pals.
It’s informal, peppered with pictures of Hunter and other guests. A friendly waitress pops a plate of guacamole and crisps on our table. It’s doubly rewarding to be chomping on tasty tucker after our energetic efforts.
For the next two weeks, we find numerous trails to explore, each as beautiful as the last.
And within the town itself there are plenty of scenic spots to sit and absorb your striking surroundings.
The Aspen Art Museum, in the heart of town, with stunning rooftop views of nearby Ajax Mountain, is a great place to have a coffee and drink in the scenery.
A ten minute stroll away, you can visit the John Denver Sanctuary, where giant stones have had the lyrics to some of the singer’s most revered songs immortalised.
I went there, sat on a rock in the sunshine, just listening to the gentle swoosh of the nearby river, inhaling the fresh mountain air, reading the lyrics, and before I knew it an hour had whizzed past.
Another day, we hiked part-way up Aspen Mountain, aka Ajax, to gaze down at the town that’s given me so much pleasure over many winters. Somehow, it seemed even happier in summer!
The following weekend, we took the Gondola up to the Sundeck restaurant. Though it was mid-June, astonishingly, people were still skiing! Many in tank-tops and shorts. It was fantastic to be sitting outside in the sun, watching people glide past, whooping with joy, as we tucked into lunch.
The Aspen Centre for Environmental Studies, an easy stroll from Main Street, is another enticing destination. It’s a sizeable property beside a lake where visitors can study nature first-hand, and also learn from the experts who hold regular courses.
Hiring bikes can be quite expensive, so walking past second hand shop Replay, Pete and I found ourselves buying a couple instead. (The guy there promised he’d buy them back from us when we left, so it was a good deal.)
This turned out to be a great move: if we were meeting friends for dinner a few blocks away, it was just an easy four minute bike ride.
Aspen is an expensive town, but if you rent an apartment, or a hotel room with a kitchenette, it saves a fortune as of course you can just become a regular at the town’s supermarket and eat some meals at home.
One of our favourite lunch-time cafes is Spring Cafe (in central Spring Street). You can tuck into a hearty bowl of soup and bread for about 10 bucks.
The local thrift shops are also well worth a rummage: it’s easy to find designer silk scarves or cashmere cardigans that look like they’ve never been worn, for absurdly cheap prices.
At night, there’s plenty to do too. Aside from the numerous eateries, there’s always a cultural event or two.
When we were there there was the annual Fringe Festival.
We went to two world class plays and a San Francisco dance troupe perform at the historic Wheeler Opera House.
Another night, we dressed up in wacky outfits (which had to be in primary colours – again, thank goodness for the local thrift shop!) attending the inaugural Bauhaus Ball at the same building, celebrating the centennial of this German design movement and its influence on Aspen.
June is also the time Aspen’s annual Summer Words Writing Conference and Literary Festival is held; a treat for book lovers.
And one of the biggest summer drawcards is the Aspen Food And Wine Festival.
We just missed it as we were about to head off on our road trip to San Francisco, but days before our departure the pending event already had the whole town abuzz. Giant tents were being set up in all directions to host top-notch sommeliers and gourmandisers from across the globe.
If that’s not enough, Aspen also has a week long Aspen Ideas Festival, where intellectual hot-shots converge to give stimulating lectures. (This year Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was one of the speakers.)
And then there’s a three week long Aspen Music Festival held every summer.
So if you’re not into hiking and cycling, there’s still plenty to keep you occupied.
We were only there for two weeks but every day the local paper was announcing new lectures, festivals, film screenings at the library and other special events.
We left Aspen after two weeks, thinking we could easily have stayed for the entire summer. We’d come there knowing there was plenty to explore, but we came away realising the scenery was more beautiful than we’d imagined, and that there was more to do than we’d ever dreamed.
We’re already planning our next visit!