Enthusiasm for travel has never been higher — that’s according to Condé Nast Traveler, which this week published its 35th annual reader choice awards recognizing destination-worthy hotels, airlines and cities across the globe.
About a quarter of a million readers responded to this year’s survey, the magazine said, and it named one place in Colorado among the best small cities in the United States. It’s a place you might know, a place “where the beer flows like wine and beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano.”
That’s right: Condé Nast’s readers voted Aspen as the second-best small city in the country. Only Charleston, South Carolina, is a better destination for travelers seeking that small city charm without compromising on local arts attractions and restaurants, according to the publication.
Clearly, the term “city” is being used loosely here. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates about 7,000 people lived in Aspen as of July 2021, compared to 151,612 residents in Charleston and 88,193 residents in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which came in as the third-best small city in America.
Still, it’s hard to argue with the reason why readers gushed about the mountain town.
“After a year that found many of us escaping to the great outdoors, it’s no surprise that Aspen tops this year’s list. It’s home to some of the best ski slopes in the U.S. — and some of the best resorts, too,” Condé Nast wrote, shouting out The Little Nell and the St. Regis Aspen Resort as premiere accommodations.
The Little Nell restaurant was also recognized this year by the James Beard Awards, as a finalist for the best wine program in the country.
“If you’re more about the ‘après’ than the ‘ski,’ head to Meat and Cheese for the best charcuterie in town, or make a reservation at Matsuhisa Aspen, where chef Nobu Matsuhisa fuses Japanese cuisine and Peruvian ingredients,” Condé Nast suggested. “And if you’ve discounted the city as a summer destination, don’t: there’s plenty to do here when it warms up, like hiking the Grottos Trail just east of town, or checking out the revolving contemporary art collection at the Aspen Art Museum.”
When it comes to the best hotels in the world, Condé Nast readers ranked Aspen’s Hotel Jerome at No. 22, up with lavish international locations in Australia and Thailand.
“Ever since its 2012 renovation, historic Hotel Jerome in downtown Aspen has swapped frumpy brocade lounges for cow print chairs and leather accents, turning the 19th-century classic into a popular après-ski spot (like a mellower Ace Hotel with portraits of frontiersmen on its walls),” the magazine said. “Luxury suites are bigger than some Manhattan apartments, outfitted with oversized everything: king bed, leather sleeper sofa, extra-large desk, extra-large bath.”
It’s perhaps no surprise that Hotel Jerome also topped Condé Nast’s list of best hotels in the Southwest and West. In fact, Colorado dominated that list with 12 in the top 25, including The Rally Hotel in Denver (No.2), Four Season Hotel Denver (No. 4), Gravity Haus Vail (No. 5), Gravity Haus Breckenridge (No. 10), and Madeline Hotel and Residences in Telluride (No. 11) to name a few.
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