Looking over the valley and scanning across it to a skyline of 13,000-foot peaks, surrounded by aspen leaves quaking in the breeze, we knew we had finally found our spot. Not just our perfect getaway, but the place to become husband and wife, and to share our celebration with our closest friends and family. After a long and somewhat fruitless search for an ideal wedding spot close to our home in the Bay Area, we finally found what we were looking for—a perfect balance of natural beauty, a friendly and relaxed vibe, and an elegant setting—atop a mountain in Telluride, Colorado.
Destination weddings have been more or less in vogue for several decades. However, given the complexities of planning such an occasion, most couples who want to get married far from home end up simply picking a resort on a beach somewhere that offers a pre-baked package and a cookie-cutter program. The result too often? A wedding ceremony on a generic grassy patch at the resort, and a reception in a hotel ballroom that could be anywhere.
Feeling burned out after a seemingly endless parade of visits to Bay Area venues that sometimes treated us as if we were entering the input conveyor belt of a wedding factory, my fiancée Sylvia and I resolved to think a bit more out of the box. Which places held really special memories for us? Hmm — that was a long list. Which might be accessible to people on both coasts, but still felt a world removed from where we were? OK, that narrowed it down.
Where could friends and family members enjoy a relaxing vacation, but in an incredible gorgeous environment that offered as much outdoor adventure as anyone could want, if that was your thing (it’s always been mine)? And where could we find a place that offered a good balance between rustic and elegant, as well as top quality lodging without the break-the-bank costs that might feel onerous to our guests (not to mention us!)?
Telluride quickly rose to the top of the list. On previous trips, we had half-jokingly toyed with the idea, but never really considered making it a real option. Suddenly, all other options seemed to pale in comparison.
As we considered the feasibility of a relatively off-the-beaten-track destination like Telluride, which generally requires a connecting plane flight into a small regional airport, we tried to be sensitive to the costs our guests might incur in attending, versus a wedding in a more standard location.
As we started to run the numbers, we realized that, while many guests could drive to a West Coast or East Coast wedding, guests from the other coast would have to fly a long way. Moreover, once there, they would generally need to rent a car, drive at least an hour or two (in the case of the Sonoma wine country, or Carmel, for example), and then spend an arm and leg on lodging. In fact, we rejected some of our favorite venues in California simply because they were boutique resorts that would price out virtually all of our guests. As we thought about it, we realized it was slightly insane to get married at a hotel where no one was staying but the bride and groom.
Likewise, many wineries imposed all kinds of restrictions on time and noise, charged huge fees, and required large expenditures on their wines. In comparison, while Telluride is hard enough to get to keep the “riff raff” out (as some dismissively call the outer fringes of the invite list), once there, our guests could stay at great hotels in town or on the mountain at reasonable prices, with an infinite variety of activities around, and without even needing to rent a car given the free gondola that runs between town and the mountain. This more fully loaded budget for guests made Telluride come out the winner.
In deciding to get married in a destination, Sylvia and I also wanted the experience to be authentic and flexible so that our guests wouldn’t feel like they were on a package tour. One of the things that appealed to us most about Telluride is the yin-yang balance of town and mountain.
The town is a real historic mining town, not a faux European village that feels like Disneyland dropped in the Rockies. It has historic buildings, a solid critical mass of year-round residents, a main street with good restaurants, bars and stores, and small town stuff like parades and festivals. But because it’s Telluride, it has a real cosmopolitan feel.
Likewise, up on the mountain, our guests could decamp to resorts with great amenities like pools, spas, golf, and hiking and biking trails galore. Our guests would have options to stay in a variety of different places, depending on whether they wanted resort amenities or in-town urbanity. No one would be stuck in a single massive property where you can’t see the ends of the hallways from the elevator.
Lastly, resorts often don’t have the best reputation for top-quality cuisine. In Telluride, we found a bounty of options, starting with Allred’s, the premier restaurant of the Telluride Ski Resort, located high on the mountain adjacent to our chosen ceremony site at the San Sophia Overlook.
We sampled the fare at a romantic dinner, indulging in a variety of impressive dishes surrounded by aspen trees just outside the windows and overlooking the town in the valley below, before deciding upon Allred’s Restaurant as our choice for the reception. Likewise, for guests who wanted to explore in-town options, or for welcome dinner locales, we found plenty of great choices (assuming of course that we didn’t take over the town with hundreds and hundreds of guests).
Throughout the process, we discovered the benefits of choosing a place that caters to both vacationing out-of-towners along with a large cadre of people just there to enjoy the outdoor opportunities and natural beauty, keeping the place much more low-key than a town like Aspen — no velvet ropes here.
Ultimately, there are many great locations for destination weddings. In Telluride Sylvia and I found just what we were looking for.
We found Holli Owen, wedding sales manager at Telluride Ski Resort, to be helpful in walking us through the various options and prices, and she generously showed us around many of the lodging options in town and on the mountain. For more information, visit the resort website’s wedding section, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 970.728.7446. We hired Meehan Fee at Telluride Unveiled as our wedding planner, and she is helping us with all the details, large and small, that make hosting an out-of-town event feasible.
In addition, since we’re hosting the wedding in a destination that is not familiar to many of our guests, we used The Knot to create a resource-rich website with detailed information on flights, ground transport, lodging, and area activities, in order to help our guests get the most out of their experience.
For lodging, we recommended that our guests interested in a property up on the mountain choose to stay at The Peaks Resort given its convenient location, 4-star resort amenities, and great value for the money. We also chose to host our welcome dinner at The Peaks, taking advantage of their stunning back terrace for food and cocktails for our guests. We’re looking forward to our friends and family enjoying themselves while watching the sun set in the west over the Wilson Group of 14ers and rolling hills of aspen. For more information on weddings or wedding-related events at The Peaks, visit their wedding section.
Article and photos by Josh Steinitz, originally written for NileGuide