The hotel offering the nation’s most luxurious ski experience is also a perfect dream in summer
This five-diamond, five-star Relais and Chateaux property owned by the Crown Family of Chicago has serious competition as Aspen’s most exclusive (and expensive) hotel, but few who have stayed there would deny that its ritzy reputation for luxury and sybaritic service is as close as one gets to perfection.
Photos courtesy of The Little Nell
Tucked away in a discreet corner at the base of Aspen Mountain with great views of the Continental Divide, The Little Nell is just on the fringe of the city’s downtown district, a brief walk to restaurants, shops, trendy bars and nightlife options.
STYLE & CLIENTELE
Don’t expect a typical mountain lodge with high wood-beamed ceilings and moose heads blankly staring down from the walls. The hotel’s understated modern atmosphere and considerable élan attracts Hollywood stars (Brad Pitt, Jennifer Anniston), media moguls, financial and tech billionaires—and their extended families—who can be seen gliding through Spanish designer Luis Bustamante’s spectacular new geometrically-focused Lobby and Living Room in their Hermès boots, Arc’teryx jackets and $100K Revillon Siberian sables. Contemporary works by well-known artists, including Theaster Gates, an African American conceptualist who focuses on the possibility of “life within things,” is a key element of the essentially cool vibe.
The 78 spacious rooms and 14 suites, most with balconies and many affording dramatic mountain views, are furnished in the usual hotel neutral tones of cream with colored hues, minimalist modern art, comfortable seating arrangements and sourced stone gas fireplaces to enhance a homey ambiance. Plush bedding, wonderfully fluffy towels and walk-in wardrobes are standard features along with heated walls and floors in marble bathrooms that feature double basins, soaking tubs, capacious walk-in showers and luxe “First Track” (so clever!) toiletries. Amenities include Bose Bluetooth speakers, a large television with Video on Demand and bedside controls for just about everything. Complimentary minibars stuffed with drinks and snacks are a welcome touch along with oxygen canisters for anyone needing a (rather pricey) high-altitude boost. Rooms are serviced twice daily unless occupants decline due to current pandemic precautions.
HEALTH CENTER FACILITIES
The swimming pool just off the lobby in the plush garden courtyard is sized for lounging rather than laps and you will probably spend more time in an adjacent hot tub that never seems to get crowded. An inexhaustible supply of plush robes and towels in a nearby cabinet are a welcoming touch. The smallish spa features massage services (not currently offered in guest accommodations). Fitness rooms feature strength-training equipment, cardiovascular exercise machines and elegantly appointed changing areas. Pilates and yoga workouts are available via the concierge team. The his-and-hers steam rooms are currently closed due to pandemic restrictions but locker rooms and showers remain open although masks are required as well as maintaining a minimum of 6 feet distance from staff and other patrons. Facials and other beauty treatments are also on hiatus. Housekeeping cleans the premises hourly.
It’s been said that the staff “makes magic happen” and at The Little Nell it’s true from the moment you arrive until the moment you leave. The friendly concierges (there are usually at least two on duty) can take care of just about everything along with the front desk staff. The hotel provides shuttle service to the airport (10 minutes away) as well as nearby mountains (Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass) and offers complimentary transportation in comfortable cars and vans for sundry visits around the town. (Tipping handsomely is expected.) “Snow junkies” appreciate the many slope side services offered in the second floor Ski Concierge room, where a crack team helps arrange lessons, equipment rentals and tickets for the Silver Queen Gondola (just next door) prior to public availability. Boots left overnight are thoughtfully heated by morning. In summer, cycling tours, fly fishing, mountain climbing treks, hiking and camping experiences are easily arranged. Board games, Playstations and mini in-room tents with faux campfires are among the children’s fanciful amenities. Room service is available 24-7. Kiddies and pooches enjoy their own special menus.
Element 47, named for silver (the reason Aspen was first settled), is the hotel’s main restaurant. Featuring “Colorado Contemporary Cuisine” by chef Matt Zubrod, it is a warmly inviting space with comfortable seating and table arrangements and works by noted contemporary artists. Open for except for dinner on Sunday and Monday, it is the perfect spot to start the day with a truly sumptuous buffet or à la carte breakfast. The home-made preserves are exceptional and you simply cannot miss the famed lemon soufflé pancakes served in a portion that should satisfy three normal appetites. Wagyu beef is the undisputed king of the culinary corral here, with choices that include tartare, au poivre, cheesesteak, enchiladas, brisket, burgers and burritos. Other standouts: the hot rougie foïe gras with hazelnuts, pear and parmesan; dry aged Rohan duck and venison in season; a sensational rack of lamb and Mero or black sea bass. De rigueur dessert decadence includes chocolate brioche bread pudding and a fluffy lemon merengue. Ajax Restaurant, mere steps from the Silver Queen Gondola, is a more relaxed hangout featuring indoor as well as al fresco dining on the sun-drenched patio (weather permitting). Wagu burgers and pastrami on rye are majorly on the menu, meant to be tasted alongside the restaurant’s famed truffle fries. NOTE: Seating capacity in the restaurants has varied due to COVID-19 safety measures.
Finally, the newly renovated Art Deco-designed Wine Bar inside the hotel features a candle-lit atmosphere and seating for parties up to eight. This is where guests can take part in the hotel’s renowned wine program offering dozens of choices by the glass and curated by as many as eight sommeliers. The hotel’s award-winning cellars contain more than 20,000 bottles with 3,000 different selections, including a 1985 Domaine de la Romanée Conti for which it will cost $48,000 to pop the cork. (My favorite anecdote about The little Nell (passed along by a chatty staff member) told of a plutocratic guest who managed to spend more than a million dollars there during a month-long winter stay with a large family group, much of it on rare vintages.)
The brand new Board Room serves as the hotel’s cleverly conceived “speakeasy,” discretely located behind a bookshelf with a password and key required to enter. This little den boasts plush couches, a large screen TV, a bar area and pool table with a custom cover to convert it into a dinner table for meals or secret imbibing sessions. It is available as a buyout for meals or meetings with curated food and beverage service.
Rates for town view standard rooms:
Ski Season (Nov. 25-April 18): $679-$2109
May 20-Sept. 18: $419-$1,129
Hotel closed April 19-May 19
The Little Nell
675 East Durant Avenue
Aspen, CO 81611