silver queen of the rockies

IMG_1725Georgetown, the “Silver Queen of the Rockies,” is often described as the most picturesque town in Colorado. Founded in 1859, it grew from a small mining camp tucked into a scenic valley to the state’s first great silver mining boom town – and its third most populated city. With more than 200 historic Victorian buildings still standing in the historic downtown, it’s hard to argue about its scenic charm. The most intriguing building of all is the Hotel de Paris, built by a mysterious Frenchman called Louis Dupuy. Richly furnished, it became noted for continental delicacies and the literary bent of its proprietor, a philosopher, social rebel and master chef. Now a museum overseen by the Colonial Dames of America, the building retains its original 1890’s decor and furnishings and is – unfortunately for me today – open by appointment only.hotel de paris

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boom times

Look up: the city center is chokablok with one impeccable turn-of-the-century building next to another. It’s a testament to the early 20th century, when Belfast was enjoying boom times altogether different from those for which the city would later became, shall we say, infamous.

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st. george’s market

Stop me if I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I can’t get over how things have changed. Today it’s St. George’s in central Belfast, where a Friday market has stood in one guise or another since 1604. I last wandered the late 19th-century red-brick structure maybe seven or eight years ago and was underwhelmed. The farm-to-table movement had yet to take firm root in Northern Ireland, so while the steel and glass interiors stood out as a well-preserved reminder of the great Age of Empire, the handful of sorry vegetable stalls and assorted tat sellers inside seemed remarkably out of time and place. What a difference a decade makes. Following a £4.5m refurbishment the market has become one of the most vibrant and colorful destinations this city has to offer. A raft of local producers trade in everything from Armagh beef, award-winning farmhouse cheeses, free range eggs from Limavady, venison, pheasant in season and organic vegetables from Culdrum and Millbrook Farms. The fish section alone contains 23 stalls and holds the reputation for being the leading retail fish market in Ireland. Plus, there’s live jazz and dozens of lunch options from freshly filled baps – the Belfast Bap is a floury sandwich roll and a source of local pride – and traditional French crepes to vegan Chana Masala and classic panini-style Cubans of roast pork, ham, and gherkins – dripping with swiss cheese. Dare I say this famously hermetic city seems to currently enjoy being just a bit worldly-wise?

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one devonshire gardens

If people back home know of One Devonshire Gardens it’s likely because many years ago footballer-turned-chef Gordon Ramsay made his name in the kitchen of the hotel’s restaurant. Today, however, it’s the flagship property of Hotel du Vin, a small UK chain of boutique hotels distinguished by their architectural significance – and as the brand name implies, well-stocked wine cellars. One Devonshire occupies a row of five Victorian townhouses in Glasgow’s stylish West End, retaining all of the original features including dramatic stained glass windows, ornate corniced ceilings, wood panelling and sweeping staircases. William Burrell – owner of one of the most famous private collections of art in the world, The Burrell Collection, lived in House 4 in the 1890’s and commissioned the stained glass window above. Within walking distance of the Botanic Gardens and the famous Kelvingrove and Hunterian Museums, I couldn’t think of a more genteel pit stop before beginning a week of arduous hill walking in the Hebrides.

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from the archives: bathing in bedford springs

Secluded on 2,200 acres in the Southern Allegheny Mountains of south-central Pennsylvania, Bedford Springs Resort is one of the country’s few surviving examples of a time since passed – a time when Americans “summered” and traveled to “take the waters.” Now a national historic landmark, the 18th-century resort hotel sat derelict for a generation before recently undergoing a massive $120 million renovation that restored the once-famous mineral springs, Colonial-era buildings and golf course. How appropriate then, that this piece of American history is returned to its former glory and welcoming travelers once again.

Long touted for its healing waters and restorative environs, Bedford Springs dates back to 1796, when its seven original mineral springs were purchased by Bedford native Dr. D. John Anderson, who built bathing facilities for his patients to drink and soak in the waters. To local residents and the general public he sold “life tickets” and “family tickets.” It was the beginning of something far grander than anyone could have imagined. As word of the healing springs spread – they were rumored to cure everything from gout to rheumatism to “derangements of the liver” – Bedford’s guest register recorded the names of many American luminaries, including Daniel Webster, Aaron Burr and Henry Ford. Presidents Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor also came for the cure.

Where celebrities and politicians went, so society followed, and “the Bedford Cure” became part of the social circuit. Outdoor adventure in the lush valley became part of it as well, as guests amused themselves with lawn bowling, badminton, shuffleboard and tennis. After a morning soak at the Yellow, Sulphur or Moss Springs, patrons packed the horse-drawn “Talley Ho” for a ride around the grounds and into town.

With the opening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1940 came greater access to the prestigious resort, and it continued to prosper throughout the 1960s and ’70s. But by the 1980s the once-grand grande dame appeared outdated and eventually closed her doors. It was soon deemed one of the most endangered sites on the National Registry of Historic Places.

After 21 years, Bedford Springs Resort has awoken like Sleeping Beauty. There are now more than 200 guest rooms, elegantly restored in historically accurate colors with period details preserved and reflecting the diverse history of the buildings. Sun- and breeze-filled porches are plentiful, with striking views of the grounds. Many of the curiosities discovered during the overhaul are proudly displayed, including photographs of turn-of-the-century merrymakers, guest registers and ledgers noting presidential visits, and a grand Stars and Stripes that greets you in the Federal-era lobby – the only known 39-star American flag in existence. Today, the resort’s fabled waters flow through a new 30,000-square-foot Springs Eternal Spa fed by Spring Eternal, the property’s eighth spring, which unexpectedly gushed to the surface during the restoration. Treatments at the Springs Eternal Spa are naturally focused on hydrotherapies, so be sure to indulge in the classic American spa experience of taking the waters however you can. Both the restored Victorian-style indoor swimming pool and the newly built outdoor pool are spring-fed. The trout stream and miles of nature trails will excite outdoor enthusiasts. Give a nod to the old “Talley Ho” and grab one of the resort’s Cannondale bikes and a prepared picnic from the cafe.

What’s even more engaging about Bedford Springs is the utter lack of pretense. Some of the friendliest, most knowledgeable staff you’ll ever meet are happy to stop whatever they’re doing and share some fascinating factoid. (The central double staircase, for example, is rumored to have been designed by Thomas Jefferson, who installed a similar one at Monticello.) There are nuggets of American history tucked into every nook and cranny of Bedford Springs. However, it’s the five-star service that will leave you feeling positively presidential.  READ MORE

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live blog: restaurant iris

 

Lest you think Memphis is little more than barbecue, biscuits and yardbird, I’d like to turn your attention to Restaurant Iris – a sterling example of what owner/chef Kelly English has coined “progressive Southern” cuisine. The beautiful thing about that phrase is how perfectly it encapsulates the essence of what chef English is doing: farm-to-table cooking rooted in honest Southern traditions. Which means that of course the salad has a bacon component – yet it’s lardons of artisanal pork belly from Alan Benton’s local smokehouse. (If you don’t know Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the miracle of their mail order.) And the lettuces are a peppery local arugula, dressed with grilled scallions in a ginger-soy vinaigrette. Topped with crispy “croutons” of sweetbreads – a bit of genius – there’s nothing outwardly Southern about this dish, yet the counterpoint of tastes and textures is undeniably comfort food at its most refined. Shrimp and grits might be a classic of Southern cooking but it, too, transcends expectations in the hands of chef English: the coarse-grind Delta grits are closer to polenta, bathed in tomato broth au pistou that’s thick with the taste of the sea. A refined dice of andouille adds just enough heat to prickle the palate while six meaty Gulf shrimp top it off as regally as a crown roast. When it comes to dessert, I’m not at all surprised there’s a cheese course on offer. (It’s at this point that I berate myself for not indulging in the degustation menu.) As if the food were not enough, Restaurant Iris also has an ideal genteel setting: an intimate Victorian house on midtown’s Overton Square. Marked by exceptional service (a waiter drove to my hotel to return an accidentally left-behind credit card) and stellar cocktails to boot (the Sazerac sings) Chef English will upend everything you thought you knew about Southern dining. And masterfully so, I might add.

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some like it hot


The Hotel Del Coronado sits across the bay from San Diego on the misnamed Coronado Island – it’s technically a peninsula – and harkens back to a time when people summered by the sea. (or in this case along the Pacific) A sprawling, late-Victorian ensemble of cottages, spa, villas, shops and a proper hotel, too, it’s as architecturally distinguished as anything you’re likely to find in Southern California. For movie aficionados, however, it’s held in especially high regard as a former playground for the stars of Hollywood’s golden age – in addition to being the scene of Billy Wilder’s classic comedy Some Like it Hot. And while these days the hotel is family friendly to a degree I would describe as just this side of unpalatable, an early morning breakfast overlooking the ocean made for a very pleasant high-calorie way to greet the day. Across the street from The Del, as it’s commonly called, I was able to yet again indulge my near insatiable passion for fish tacos at Brigantine. (Hours later, thank you. Not right after breakfast.) And since it’s my last day in San Diego, I opted to go whole hog. Or er, fish. Tacos three ways:  classic batter fried, grilled tilapia, and pan-seared cod, all on soft corn tortillas.  Life in San Diego is swell – and very much as it should be.

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