The movie “City Slickers” has a lot to answer for, encouraging a popular fantasy to leave it all behind, head for the old West and dress up in your chaps and cowboy hat to ride the range with your fellow cowboys and cowgirls. But whilst many so-called ranches have cashed in on the opportunity to provide a pale version of the real thing, we’ve discovered a colorado ranch which is a genuinely extraordinary experience.
Set at over 6,000 feet, deep in the Colorado Rockies, Vista Verde combines the rigours of real ranch life with an astonishing level of service and friendliness. As you drive through the gates for the first time you’re met on horseback by a western-clad cowgirl, welcoming you to the property and beginning what is a hugely impressive and constant ethos of personal care and friendliness.
Vista Verde is family run and never sets out to be Four Seasons luxury, but by combining authenticity and home comforts with an immaculately trained team of staff, they leave many luxury hotels in the dust beneath their hooves.
There are never more than 40-something guests at any one time and the expectation is that you’ll be an active member of the guest community – dining together and enjoying a dazzling array of activities during your week. But the community spirit isn’t overwhelming and you can always slip away to your comfortable cabin with its outdoor hot tub, or choose from many thousands of acres of stunning mountain scenery to go walking or biking.
Horses and ranching are the dominant themes – at least in the summer months. Vista Verde has an outstanding herd of horses for guests to ride and an expert team of wranglers on hand to guide you and take you out on the trail. The spiritual leader of the team is Terry Wegener, a compelling character who is a real-life horse whisperer. In just a few days he will teach you things about horses and western riding that would normally take years. An enduring image is of our son and daughter being taught how to make their horses follow them anywhere without a lead rein or any physical contact – truly extraordinary.
At the start of the week you’re matched with your horse – you’re given your own personal trusty steed for the duration of your stay. Many first-time riders have come with trepidation and been out riding the range within a day – the horses and wranglers are that well trained.
Each day you have the choice of a ride into the mountains, more formal schooling in their wonderful indoor and outdoor arenas, or a non-riding activity such as fly fishing, mountain biking or hiking. As with the riding, expert guides are on hand for every activity, providing you with really memorable (if slightly scary, in the case of mountain biking) experiences!
As the week progresses, riders are introduced to the fine art of cattle ranching in preparation for the final day, when you’re all let loose in the mountains to round up real cows usually found in really tricky places. The ranching lessons are truly hilarious, with teams of guests desperately trying to steer their horses towards uncooperative cows whilst screaming ‘Getooorn cow!’ (The key is apparently to let your horse nibble the cows’ bottom…)
Ranch cuisine is provided by a wonderful team of chefs, who can alternate between haute cuisine dinners and delicious ‘cookout’ breakfasts, lunches and dinners created in mountain camp areas dotting the landscape. After a day out riding, appetites are huge and diets forgotten. Magically, few put on weight and many lose a few pounds.
Vista Verde can either be a family experience of a memorable adult holiday. During the summer the ranch is a haven for children and teens – separate programmes are run for under twelves and teenagers which guarantee that your offspring will magically disappear and only sporadically reappear at times to ride with you or recount breathless tales of forest sleep outs and hair-raising rodeos. The team in charge of the children and teens are truly the best in the business – young and endlessly enthusiastic whilst being true friends and older siblings to the kids. Outside holiday time the ranch is a more grown-up affair – a great time to go is September, when the cattle really do need to be brought down from the mountains in readiness for the Winter. Vista Verde is equally magic in the Winter – enormous quantities of pristine powder snow provide an opportunity for really amazing ski touring through the national park which surrounds the property.
The multi-talented staff are brought together at the end of each week to perform irritatingly good renditions of country and western favourites on a final cook out evening which, for many guests, is a properly tear-jerking experience. If you leave behind the cynicism and turmoil of modern living and embrace the world of Vista Verde and its wonderful staff, you will have a life-affirming and truly memorable experience.
Name: The Bakers