Image: The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, Colo.
www.cordilleralodge.com
Located on a private mountaintop, the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera in Colorado boasts many of the features of the best mountain hotels, from great views to outdoor pursuits to luxurious appointments, from remote privacy to access to culture, cuisine and camaraderie.
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updated 3/20/2009 3:24:45 PM ET 2009-03-20T19:24:45

While you’ve probably had your fill of hotel ads and Web sites that describe their views as “breathtaking,” we’ve assembled a collection of hostelries that might literally take your breath away — because they are all located at high altitudes or in the shadows of some of the world’s greatest mountain ranges, where the air is thin.

Many mountain hotels began as outposts for climbers, skiers and other adventure travelers, and still feature rigorous nearby activities, great views, fresh air and a sense of remoteness that makes them attractive. Others were built with luxurious escape in mind — especially for the wealthy, who sought to get out of crowded cities or away from oppressive summer heat. And some high hotels that started as rugged outposts a century or more ago may now offer spa treatments, terrific dining, and linen thread counts nearly as high as their elevations.

After summiting a peak or schussing down a famous couloir, outdoorsmen in New Hampshire have long returned to the comforts of the uber-posh Mt. Washington Hotel. Hal Phillips, a travel and media consultant from New Gloucester, Maine, says, “It’s the prototypical New England summer hotel, an enormous, sprawling white monolith with a red roof in the shadow of the tallest peak on the east coast — an incredible setting.

“It’s a mecca for hikers, leaf peepers, skiers, and golfers — the Donald Ross design here was just restored. It’s the kind of place where, back in the day, you’d bring a trunk and stay for a month. Today it’s a four-season affair with a new spa, and the rooms are big and quite classy. The porch doesn’t quit; it wraps all the way around the hotel.”

In addition to providing access to outdoor adventures, a number of the great mountain hotels are also located close to remote cultural sites that can’t be visited easily from cities. To maximize a journey to Peru’s Machu Picchu, a World Heritage Site that encompasses extensive ruins from the Incan civilization, guests can practically live in the ancient city at the adjacent Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge.

Bobby McGovern, founder of the luxury travel company Reservations Master says, “As the only hotel adjacent to the Lost City of the Incas, staying here makes a visit to the ruins that much more special — as does the fact that there are only 31 rooms and suites. There’s no better way to begin or end your day at Machu Picchu than by relaxing in the garden surrounded by mountains and local flowers. And a sunset here is one you’ll never forget.”

While all mountain hotels boast great settings — they’re in the mountains, after all — some boast the additional benefit of still being close to a cool town. The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel looks out over the Canadian Rockies and offers wilderness hiking, biking, skiing and other sports, but it’s also a short stroll from one of the best mountain towns in the world.

Banff itself is home to a collection of fine restaurants, artsy boutiques and galleries, independent coffee shops, wine bars and more. Hal Phillips says, “The scale and look of the Banff Springs Hotel is truly castle-like. The hotel sits on the Bow River where it cuts through the Canadian Rockies. But it’s also on the edge of a really kicking arts and ski town.”

Instead of offering a destination for a particular activity or adventure, Vietnam’s Dalat Palace was erected in the high, cool hill country as an outpost where French colonials could escape from the moist heat and dense population of Saigon. More than 60 years later, it remains one of the finest high hotels in the world. Hal Phillips, who founded Vietnam-based Mandarin Media and created the country’s Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail, says Dalat ranks highly for several reasons.

It's A Snap! Readers' best shots“It’s not just at high altitude. It’s a place whose colonial grandeur has been frozen in amber,” Phillips says. “It’s been completely restored... down to every claw-foot tub, vintage phone, and Baldaquin-draped bed. You go up through a pass onto this mountain plateau and it’s like driving to Grenoble. It’s the most comfortable place to be in Vietnam.”

The hotel also features a golf course that some call the best in the country, and is surrounded by hills dotted with villas, many of which are being restored in the French Gilded Age architectural styles in which they were built.

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Equally as posh as Dalat Palace, and exhibiting many of the other requisite attractions of the best high hotels is Austria’s Arlberg Hospiz Hotel, which began hosting guests in the 14th century.

Charlie Leocha, author of Leocha’s “Ski Snowboard Europe,” and founder of www.skisnowboardeurope.com, says, “The Arlberg Hospiz Hotel is set beneath the towering Valluga peak, surrounded by flower-strewn pastures in summer and snowfields in the winter. It’s considered one of the most luxurious in Austria, and houses one of the country’s top spas, three restaurants that rank among the top mountain restaurants, and one of the best Bordeaux wine cellars outside of France.”

Just remember that living the high life in these great mountain hotels requires you to understand the differences from hotels at sea level. Bobby McGovern offers a few tips for staying at altitude.

“Drinking plenty of water is important,” McGovern advises. “Also, you’re closer to the sun and will get sunburned much faster, so sunblock and a good sun hat are a must. The most important thing is don’t over-exert until you’re acclimated. You’ll find yourself short of breath just by doing something as simple as walking up a flight of stairs. You’ll also be tired for a couple of days and want to take naps. Do everything at a leisurely pace and you’ll be fine.”

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