Travel

This Beer-and-Mountain Town Is Colorado's Next Big Hit

Already been to Denver and Boulder? Here's your new fave.

Fort Collins Old Town Square
Fort Collins Old Town Square
Fort Collins Old Town Square

Nestled into farm and ranch country about an hour’s drive from Denver (not far from the birthplace of Noosa yogurt!), Fort Collins, Colorado, just happens to be one of America’s finest hubs for craft beer, outdoor adventure, festivals, and farm-to-table fare.

Like Denver, Boulder, and the state’s many mountain towns, Fort Collins-or FoCO-has become an increasingly popular hub for California transplants (like this guy). Its young, friendly vibe permeates every restaurant, shop, and many, many breweries (there are about 25, so just about one for every 7,000 residents).

If all of that-plus excursions like hiking, biking, and kayaking in the state’s notoriously beautiful outdoors-sounds like a plan to you, here’s what you’ll want to check out on your next trip to Colorado’s northernmost city.

Where to stay in Fort Collins

Among the most noteworthy FoCO landmarks lining College Avenue, the city’s main downtown drag, is The Armstrong Hotel. Recently restored to its chic 1920s-era majesty, each room and the lobby features eclectic original artwork, from old locomotive prints to portraits of Napoleon Dynamite-but its resident food and drink offerings are the best part. Think bottomless mimosas and dreamy Wafnut (that’s a waffle-donut situation) for Sunday brunch at Ace Café; later, sip a Monte Carlo with live jazz at the underground Ace Gillett’s.

And not one to be outdone, downtown’s Elizabeth Hotel houses its own Instrument Library in the lobby, a turntable and vinyl in every guestroom, live music venue The Magic Rat, and the rooftop Sunset Lounge with views of the mountains.

Downtown Fort Collins
Downtown Fort Collins
Downtown Fort Collins

Wander around Old Town

Despite being surrounded by big nature, FoCO is more like a colorful, well-landscaped burg-especially at its nucleus, the historic Old Town. Dating back to the 1860s, the majority of Old Town’s historic buildings have been converted into buzzing bars, restaurants, shops, and hotels. Its flower-adorned squares and parks are headquarters for free summer art and music festivals, such as Bohemian Nights.

Nosh on freshly made tacos, donuts, and locally distilled spirits in shipping containers-turned-food-stalls at The Exchange, dive into an oozing tuna melt with a boozy shake at Union Bar and Soda Foundation, try authentic Indian at Tajmahal, and sip the most aromatic gin and tonic of your life at The Reserve at Old Elk Distillery

While you’re around, check out a double feature at one of the country’s longest standing drive-in movie theaters, or greatest on-the-river open air live music venues.

Odell Brewing Co
Odell Brewing Co
Odell Brewing Co

Get beered up

On to FoCO’s claim to fame! Suds specialists seem to be popping up on every block, but the real heart of the brew scene can be found at New Belgium Brewery, the powerhouse largely responsible for Colorado’s craft beer explosion. Inspired by a young couple’s bike trip across Belgium in the late 1980s, the company’s flagship brewery today is an expansive facility featuring plentiful patio space, food trucks, weekend concerts, and taprooms with cleverly contrived beer varieties ranging from the internationally famous Fat Tire amber to a vast assortment of sours and IPAs. 

Along with Odell, another of FoCO’s large, long-standing craft beer hubs, it’s worth checking out some of the smaller, lesser known spots: Snowbank, located in an unassuming business park which conjures up a fresh iteration of chocolate stout every Friday; Horse & Dragon, home to one of the tastiest dark brews in all of Colorado, Sad Panda; Purpose, located a few miles south of downtown but worth the scenic pedal through CSU’s campus for its ever-changing experimental brews; and Stodgy Brewing, the new guy in town with a massive outdoor space smattered with seats carved from enormous tree trunks. 

Oh-and if beer isn’t really your thing, there’s always the newly-opened OBC Wine Project, a tasting room and patio for sipping liquid grapes in a can.

The Regional
The Regional
The Regional

Eat extremely well

You could spend a full year eating through the locally sourced dishes at Fort Collins’ best restaurants. But if we had to pick, it’d have to be Jessup Farm, a former farm dating from the early 1900s that now functions as a brewery, artisan village, and restaurant featuring the goods of local farmers and the farm’s own fresh bounty.

There’s also Little on Mountain, a tiny neighborhood gem with lines out the door and locally purveyed bone marrow burgers, duck, lamb, and salads; Rare Italian, with its succulent and wildly affordable happy hour cheese and meat boards; and The Regional, a new Old Town bistro whose flavor creativity is just as apparent in its cocktails as its seasonally fresh appetizer and entrée concoctions.

City of Fort Collins - Government
City of Fort Collins – Government
City of Fort Collins – Government

Hit the trail, the river, and the mountains

Fort Collins is situated at the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills, where bikers and hikers can explore endless miles of trails. Horsetooth Reservoir serves as the summertime centerpiece for all manner of water sports, from swimming and wake surfing to boating and stand-up paddleboarding. Rent gear at What’s SUP to explore the motor-free corners of Satanka Cove.

FoCO also happens to lie along the banks of the Cache la Poudre, Colorado’s only designated Wild & Scenic River, which meanders through the glacier-formed, ponderosa pine-strewn walls of Poudre Canyon and into the glistening fields of wildflowers and ranchlands that surround the city limits. Here, the hoots of approaching tubers can be heard far downriver, and kayakers and surfers entertain with their tricks on the waves at Poudre River Whitewater Park.

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A Denver native, freelance writer Shauna Farnell loves a throwback ski lodge but has never donned one-piece outerwear. Follow her on Twitter @shaunafarnell or on Instagram @mountaingirlinthecity.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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