A perfect fall itinerary

Caramie Petrowsky
Special to the Daily
Visitors to Azura Cellars and Gallery can sail the remote control sail boats on Wednesday evenings at 4 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the season.
Holly Deluca | Special to the Daily

As the aspens are busy showing off, consider taking an impromptu fall getaway to watch the spectacle before leaf flurries turn to snow flurries. One of my best friends, Holly, visited from Montana in July to resurrect a pre-kids tradition that stalled for a few years while we raised babies. For three glorious days, we explored a part of this state she’d never seen, and an area I hadn’t visited in close to a decade. We used the new Colorado Field Guide to map out our itinerary, with a little help from, a wealth of resources, especially when used in tandem. Here’s a look at our three-day itinerary, along with a few insider tips to help you make the most of your journey.

Day 1: Carbondale to Paonia

Lunch: After fueling up on the Blue Plate Special (fresh baked bread, kale, housemade ricotta and a soft egg) at Silo in Carbondale, we set the GPS for Paonia. Around an hour-and-a-half drive (if you stop to read a historical road marker or two), this drive is a stunner. The road winds along the Crystal River until heading up and over McClure Pass. Out-of-towners are always impressed by the Elk Range; Mount Sopris, Chair Mountain and other notable peaks along the route. We arrived in Paonia mid afternoon, in other words — the perfect time to taste wine.

Wine tasting: Called the Farm to Table capital, there are seven wineries in the area. We headed to Azura Cellars and Gallery, owned by former Minturn residents Ty and Helen Gillespie. After tasting the wine (the malbec won our hearts) and hearing about the Gillespies latest Great Loop boating adventure, we headed down to the Yacht Club. At the pond, Ty Gillespie patiently taught us how to sail remote control model sailboats. The winery is open daily through the end of October and its annual holiday event, “Celebrate,” is slated for Sunday, Nov. 4.

Lodging: Our home for the night, the Bross Hotel Bed & Breakfast, features 10 fruit-themed rooms in a 112-year-old Victorian just a block from downtown. Owner Karen Kropp, who owns the property with her husband, Kevin, greeted us warmly and showed us to our room, “Peaches and Dreams,” bedecked with fresh flowers and a super comfortable bed. The Kropps own 100 plus acres of fruit orchards where they grow organic peaches, plums, cherries and apples, thus the fruit theme, something they incorporated after buying the property in spring of 2017.

Dinner, Drinks and Dublin: After noshing on truffle burgers al fresco at the Living Farm Cafe, a true farm-to-table restaurant, we walked a few blocks to Paonia United Brewing Co., located in a one-room former church on Grand Avenue. Full from dinner, we were relieved to see they offered 4-ounce pours so we could taste multiple offerings, including our favorite, the refreshing Hefeweizen. Next up, enchanting lyrics and melodies drew us to the open door at Cirque Cyclery where a packed house was intently listening to I Draw Slow, a folk band hailing from Dublin, Ireland. The Remedy After Dark, in the back of the multifunctional (bike shop, boutique, juice bar, cafe) space, serves up a deliciously spicy marjito made with tequila, lime simple syrup, cilantro, jalapeno and sea salt.

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Day 2: Paonia to Redstone

Breakfast: Having filled up on fresh-from-their-orchard fruit at the lavish breakfast spread at The Bross, we nearly skipped the peach-raspberry-almond crumb cake — thankfully we didn’t. Save room if you stay.

Rope swinging and souvenir picking: There’s no better way to get the day going then flying through the air on a rope swing. We did just that at Big B’s Delicious Orchards, where along with a cute cafe and farm store, you can sample the hard cider offerings, pick your own fruit and even camp in the orchards. After sampling their terrific ciders, we picked up a few souvenirs and a to-go lunch and headed for Black Bridge Winery where we ate alongside the river, tasted a few wines and purchased a few more souvenirs, including an outstanding aged balsamic vinegar.

Hiking Huntsman Ridge: Just below the Marble side of the summit of McClure Pass there’s a small parking area for the Huntsman Ridge Trail. This 2.4 miles out and back hike is steep in some sections but worth the effort for the fabulous views of Chair Mountain and the Elk Range from atop the long ridge.

Lodging: If you’re craving an unplugged experience, set your sights on Avalanche Ranch Cabins & Hot Springs. Located near Redstone, you can stay in one of the 13 cabins, a novelty covered wagon or even rent out the Ranch House, which sleeps eight. While the hiking trails, the pond, the roaming poultry and such are plenty nice, it’s the three tiered hot spring pools that have become the real draw since they opened in 2010. There’s nothing that compares to soaking in the warm mineral water under the stars — it’s heavenly. Duck into their darling gift shop before you leave, too. We snagged vintage Raggedy Ann and Andy books for our kiddos back home.

Dinner: You might have to wait to score a seat at Slow Groovin’ BBQ in Marble, but we can promise it’ll be worth it. A bartender at Big B’s told us she piles in a car with friends to drive from Paonia to get the goods. We can see why.

Day 3: Redstone to Carbondale

Soaking in Penny Hot Springs, hiking back at Avalanche Ranch: After grabbing a quick croissant and coffee in nearby Redstone, we joined a handful of other folks soaking in Penny Hot Springs, a natural hot springs in the Crystal River named after someone who ran a hotel and bathhouse in the area. Following a quick soak, we snuck in a short 1-mile hike around the perimeter of Avalanche Ranch to stretch our legs before striking out for Carbondale, which a story in Bloomberg recently heralded as “Colorado’s hottest summer playground” in large part because of the booming food scene.

Activity and Lodging: The town is also home to The Marble Distilling Co. and The Distillery Inn. The distillery uses water from the Crystal River filtered through 99.5 percent calcite Yule marble to makes its small-batch spirits. After checking in and tasting the spirits (it’s the only inn in the world housed within a working distillery) we headed upstairs to our posh room. The boutique hotel opened in 2015 and features five luxurious suites (think fireplace, mini martini bar, rain shower and more).

Drinks and Dinner: We stopped in for a beer at the gorgeous-yet-comfy Roaring Fork Beer Co. and ended up sitting next to longtime local oil and pastel artist David Notor who happily chatted with us about the virtues of Carbondale. That message was reinforced at dinner at Allegria Restaurant, across the street. At this Italian gem, chef-owner Andreas Fischbacher sources much of his produce and fresh meats from nearby farms and ranches. Start with a house-infused cocktail before digging into the decadent roasted butternut squash ravioli with homemade pork sausage, pine nuts, bacon, Brussels sprouts and gremolata amaretto sauce. It was filling in the best way possible, not unlike our journey.

Former Vail Daily Arts & Entertainment Editor Caramie Petrowsky is a freelance travel writer and public relations professional who now lives in Denver with her husband and their two children.

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