Buried in rural and rocky Colorado, Dunton Hot Springs hotel is a mountain-surrounded former mining town, reincarnated in boutique cabin form. The old village Dance Hall, Bath House and Saloon are part of this unique retreat, where soothing springs, majestic mountains and a winding river make up the great outdoors. Each cabin is cosily kitted out with heated slate floors, unique bath tubs and hand-picked antiques.
Get this when you book through us:
In-room dinner for two and a bottle of wine. SilverSmiths also get a £200 gift shop credit; GoldSmiths get a Sutcliffe Vineyards Tour with lunch too
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £1214.16 ($1,476), including tax at 12.9 per cent.
Rates include all meals and drinks not on the Reserve list.
If the hot springs aren’t enough for rejuvenating your relaxation levels, head to the yoga studio. There’s also a cabin-based gym.
At the hotel
Yoga studio, library, climbing wall, boxing gym, original saloon, dance hall, teepee and free WiFi. In rooms, iPod dock, free bottled water and REN bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Of all the cabins, we love the spacious Well House best for its open plan, romantic vibe and private hot springs. Runner up goes to Bjoerkmans, one of the oldest and cosiest cabins, named after the miner that built it. As well as a view of the waterfall, its understated design takes in rustic rugs and classic wooden furniture. For seclusion, plump for Dolores, which has a large deck overlooking the river.
There are indoor and outdoor natural hot springs to bathe in, including one overlooking the mountains through a floor-to-ceiling window in the Bath House.
Think mountains: even in summer, the temperature can drop. You’ll be grateful for layers. No need to pack holiday reads – each cabin has enough literature to keep you entertained.
There’s no signal for cell phones in the resort, but all calls made from the landline are free.
Children are welcome. Cots for babies and toddlers aged two and under are free; under-12s can stay in their parents’ room for US$200 a night. A local nanny can be drafted in with three days’ notice. The saloon serves up a children’s menu.
Communal dining encourages the community feel at this old mining town; enjoy the tales of other travellers who have made their way to Dunton.
Cool as a cowboy; anyone who can pull off a Stetson and neckerchief combo gets our vote.
Head to the original saloon to kick back in pure Western comfort: fresh produce from the farm, wine from a local vineyard, a daily changing menu and a chatty chef to chew the fat with. Try the smoked trout, straight out of the nearest pond, and a grilled rack of Colorado lamb. Breakfast consists of some pretty special granola, as well as a baked good of the day (personal favourites include the banana muffins and cranberry scones).
The bar is in the main Saloon and Dance Hall. Look out for the names of famous former patrons etched into the original bar (Butch Cassidy and Sundance passed through these parts once upon a time). Sample a mojito mixed with mint fresh from the garden or a beer from local microbrewery, Dolores River Brewery.
Breakfast is served between 8am and 10am; lunch is at 1pm; dinner at 8pm.
There is no room service but you can request in-cabin dining for special occasions.
From Denver, domestic flights to Durango are operated by United Airlines (www.united.com), and take just over an hour. From here, it’s a two-hour drive to Dunton Hot Springs. Cortez airport, served by Great Lakes Aviation (www.flygreatlakes.com) and Frontier Airlines (www.frontierairlines.com), is 90 minutes from the hotel.
The nearest big town is Durango, two hours away by car (we weren’t kidding when we said it was remote). There’s free parking for your wagon when you arrive. There are rental desks at both Durango and Cortez airports.
Worth getting out of bed for
This is a land where the outdoors rule: if you can be tempted away from the comfort of your cabin, try fly-fishing, horse riding, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, mountaineering, rafting, heli-skiing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snow-shoeing, ice-climbing, ice-skating…
We say local, but we’re talking a two-hour drive – this is the rugged wild west after all. In Durango, head to Seasons of Durango (+1 970 382 9790; www.seasonsofdurango.com) and pick from the classic American menu cooked on a wood-fired grill. Patio-based Mediterranean feasts await at Cyprus Café (+1 970 385 6884; www.cypruscafe.com). Over the mountain in Telluride, try the Chop House at the New Sheridan Hotel (+1 970 728 9100; www.newsheridan.com) for the USA’s finest dry-aged steaks.
After miles of gravel road flanked by soaring aspens, verdant pines, lilac-coloured columbines and the Dolores River, an 1880s mining town appears, like something out of Legends of the Fall. And though we aren’t greeted by Brad Pitt, the amicable assistant manager of Dunton Hot Springs, Melanie, aptly fills his shoes, instructing us to leave our luggage and head for the communal lunch table.
Three farm-fresh courses ensue, each more artfully engineered than the previous one. Mr Smith and I feast on arugula salad flecked with parmesan, grilled bok choy over red-curry chicken and freshly baked almond shortbread paired with cantaloupe sorbet. If only all camp food was this good.
What better than a buffing to follow a feast? So I saunter off to the spa for a much needed 75-minute rose-infused Mountain Glow scrub. This is no ordinary spa: it’s in the former Pony Express building.
Meanwhile, Mr Smith – always ready to champion life in the buff as the ultimate nirvana – soaks in the clothing-optional mineral hot springs at the nearby bathhouse. Ever the eagle eye, he spies an upstairs balcony while he’s there and targets the spot for a late-night rendezvous.
With sensual visions dancing in our heads, we reunite and light a fire in our Western-movie themed cabin, aptly named the Dunton Store cabin, for its former life as the town’s general store.
Our crackling fire lulling us, we succumb to quick, but restful naps, then take off to explore the library. If Mark Twain were around today, I can picture him here sinking into the antique recliner, shoes off, brushing the bearskin rug with his toes while absorbing a Donald Judd art book or a Faulkner novel plucked from these shelves.
Since it is cocktail hour, we mosey to the bar, thinking about cowboys, outlaws and the dry whisky they’d likely have asked for if they joined us for a round. Lucky us. A case of Dickel Whisky has been found stashed under the dancehall floorboards, a hiding place that dates back to the town’s heyday. Had Mr Smith been behind the bar, he’d have claimed it all for himself, but our thoughtful and gracious bartender happily doles out pours. It’s a stiff drink and I imagine it’s what Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ordered when they darkened the saloon’s doors and left their mark with a hand-carved signature on the counter.
Here in the Wild West, it would be incongruous to throw in white tablecloths and stuffy French waiters. Dinner is signalled by a clang-clang-clanging bell, with everyone gathering round to share stories. Guests range from globetrotting retirees to movie honchos to a babymooning young couple. The differences in background or age are irrelevant: we’re all in this digging for the gold of an incredible getaway.
Over generous pours from the local Sutcliffe Vineyards, I hop up to chat with the restaurant’s acclaimed chef, Carrie Eagle. When I ask her about her approach, she speaks with the sincere straightforwardness that defines the whole place, ‘I am self-taught and I don’t have tattoos; I just shoot from the hip and cook with the heart.’ Her theory works brilliantly. Even Mr Smith, who prides himself on being among the pickiest eaters, marvels at her tender way with elk. A salted-chocolate pot de crème, sweetens the mood for our nocturnal adventure: a bathrobe-clad dash to the bathhouse, where we steamed to the soundtrack of crooning frogs.
In the morning as the sun rises over snow-capped mountains, Mr Smith – Leica in hand – ventures out to capture the chubby marmots playing on our back porch, then the raging waterfall just at the edge of Dunton Hot Springs. Using the excuse of no cell service as my reason not to check into work, I head for the Source. Disrobing, I timidly climb down the wooden ladder to where the natural hot springs bubble up from deep within the earth. Who cares if I smell like a rusty nail? I emerge from my thermal soak with silken skin and shinier hair.
Though the Navajo Lake Trail is the most scenic hike, it is also the longest. So rather than risk missing lunch, we opt for the Fall/Winter Loop hike past beaver-dammed rivers and tranquil ponds, then straight through dazzling meadows of dandelions. After pepper-crusted tuna with tomato chutney, it’s time to head home. Before we head off, we pause to draw in every last breath of the pure 8,700-feet-elevation air, exchanging info with newfound travel pals and nabbing one more freshly baked blackberry muffin for the road.
The original prospectors may have deserted the town in search of greater riches; but their loss is our gain: a place of restoration, peace and delicious abandoned whisky. And I’ll drink to that.