Fox and crow

French Days in Fort Collins

One of my favorite things to do is have pretend vacations. During some tough years, we enjoyed creating staycations. It was fun and we realized we could be on a budget, be creative, and have lots of fun.

Many of our visitors may not be as active. Some enjoy being active all day long and we can certainly accommodate that. But others may want a slower day, so we want to make sure there is something for everyone!

One particular day theme is related to everything “French.” No doubt we have a wonderful cafe culture here. As soon as the sun comes out, our wind dies down (our own mistral which is currently blowing at 35 mph) and the temperature gets above 50, everyone is out and about and hopefully at an outdoor patio. On a beautiful, clear day when the lavender is blooming, you can close your eyes and pretend you are somewhere in France. OK, so a few things are missing but we can certainly fill in a few things with places to go and things to do in the Front Range area.

A friend and I started foraging in 2017 and thought it would be fun to have a “French Day” that started with foraging, moved to eating lunch and culminated with a little shopping.  It was a terrific day and I have no doubt we will be repeating this again as soon as the mushroom season begins!

Forage for Mushrooms

I was so excited to discover mushroom foraging! Starting in April through September, foragers are out all over Colorado searching for mushrooms. Half the fun is just being out in the beautiful mountains! The other half is exploring and looking down for morels or chanterelles instead of the magnificent views, or keeping an eye for a mountain lion or bear. I’m sure we could do all three when you come for a visit!

 

 

Enjoy Some Wineries

Growing grapes is a bit of challenge here on the Front Range but there are some varietals that are doing well. The best Colorado grapes are grown on the Western Slope around Palisades. The area is beautiful and reminiscent of some of the viticulture areas in California and Western Europe. Best known for their peaches, the area has some outstanding wineries and produces a number of red and wine varietals including cab franc, which does very, very well in the climate.

We can certainly enjoy some good wines at the following wineries, and with a few wineries, we also get a beautiful view of the Rockies or massive geological formations that I wish I knew the name of. 🙂

Sweetheart Winery in Loveland, about 15 miles away

Blue Mountain Winery – Berthoud, about 35 miles away

Ten Bears Winery – best tasting for the money

Click here to read more places we can wine about!

 

 

Shop

When I need a mini-mini vacation, I love to go browse at EsScentuals in downtown Fort Collins. This charming shop has a very French vibe and also hosts one of the few underground shop areas functioning in downtown. The shop is tastefully decorated and the faux murals on the floors and wall are truly works of art. The shop offers a selection of locally-crafted, domestic & imported bath, body & home fragrance lines, perfume & essential oils, wrapping paper & cards, jewelry, and unique vintage & contemporary decor, beautiful linens and soft bath attire. 

 

 

photos courtesy of EsScentuals Facebook page

Eat and Drink

Who doesn’t love to eat and drink? I have my favorites when I want to feel a little French!

La Creperie – LC has the best gallettes. It’s a bit challenging to eat outside as the cafe faces College Avenue. It can get a bit noisy but I suppose if you close your eyes you can pretend you are on the Champs-Élysées and that’s just a bit of noisy Paris traffic. The restaurant is a cafe and bakery offering baked goods including bread, and macarons. I love to pick up croustades here for appetizers. They are the best in town.

 

 

Fox and Crow – If we wanted to really feel French (or just get some exercise), the FC is about a mile from the house. We could walk or bike. You choose.They have a wonderful outside patio that is quiet and a lovely. The presentation of their menu items is lovely down to the crema on the tomato basil soup. In addition, it is a wonderful cheese and charcuterie shop so perhaps we bring some deli items back to the house and have a light dinner on the patio with wine, some cheese and pâté?

 

 

Social – The awesome underground bar with a soft industrial with a hint of Belle Epoch offers hand-crafted period cocktails and small bites. We particularly love this bar as it is seating only. No standing thus no crowding. Many times we have started here and ended up at….

Ace Gillett’s for jazz and Belgium beers. Ace has a mid-century dive feel but they have the best live jazz ensembles in the area. The small plates change seasonally but I particularly enjoy duck confit over polenta and Mike, of course, loves the best selection of Belgian beers in the area.

Daytrip to Longmont Cheese Importers –  This is a fascinating cheese store and bistro. On the outside it looks like an old brick building – nothing special at all. When you walk inside, you are immediately transported to an intimate cafe and bar in a French arrondissement and multiple levels of quaint shopping areas and more eating spaces. The walk-in cooler cheese shop is the size of a small house with cheeses and accompaniments from all over the world. We have not eaten at bistro yet but there is a patio with a view of the mountains!

 

 

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Cycling –

There are few places we cannot cycle to! We can enjoy a coffee, wine or handcrafted chocolate at Nuance chocolate! 

Farmers Markets

One of the best things about summer is the farmer’s markets. We can enjoy several market options mid-week and on Saturday. It is so enjoyable to buy produce and come to the house and cook up a super meal with the freshest ingredients. Around August, we can also go to local pick your own farms and pick strawberries and raspberries. There is truly nothing better than a strawberry right off the vine.

Of course, we can hike, cycle, paddleboard, kayak, white water raft, and fish. But for a subtler, slower day, enjoying a bit of the French front range can fit in easily with your days in Northern Colorado.

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Wine Your Way Through NoCo

Although Northern Colorado is considered the Napa Valley of beers, when it comes to the vine, Colorado is holding its own. The best growing area is on the Western Slope near Palisades but there is an increasing number of vineyards on the northeast side of Colorado. The Western Slope has many traditional varieties such as Cab Sav and Merlot, and the Cab Francs are outstanding.  This is a must do trip if you love wine.

For NoCo, the varietals in our area tend to be cold hardy varieties such as Marquette and Marechal Foch, but the local vintners are making very respectable wines from Western slope grapes.

If you love wine,  we can accommodate your passion. If you come and visit here are several options for you:

Spero Winery – Ig you are driving through Denver at some point in your travels, you definitely want to make a stop at Spero Winery. About 75% of their wines use Western Slope grapes with the remaining coming from California. The owners are Sicilian and expert winemakers. All the wines are aged to some degree before selling. They offer at least 15 different wines. Our favorites were the Cab Franc and Sangiovese – both using Colorado grapes. The wine is also reasonably priced!

Ten Bears Winery – This is a nice gem of a winery on the northern side of Fort Collins on Hwy 287. The winery has several acres of grapes used for their Estate blend but the 90% of their wine uses Colorado grapes.  Take some cheese and crackers, enjoy the reasonably priced tasting and the view of the foothills in the distance!

10 bears lisa

10 bears tasting.jpg

Blue Mountain Winery –  This is a super little winery in Berthoud, about 30 miles south of Fort Collins. It makes a wonderful afternoon activity. There are eight wines in the tasting which includes a stroll through the beautiful gardens that have a view of the mountains. Reservations are required as there are limited scheduled group tastings on the weekend. The vintner uses primarily high-quality California grapes with a few from the Western Slope. A microbiologist by trade, he has a gift and a nose for making excellent wines.

blue mountain winery mountain view

Front Range Wine Fest – If you come for a visit in August, be prepared to go to the Front Range Wine Fest!  It’s the third Saturday in August! There are over 30 Colorado wineries represented from both sides of the slopes. As with most wines, some are marginal and some are outstanding. This is where we discovered Spero Winery!

If you enjoy wine with meals, there are several options to pair a wonderful dinner with a satisfying wine.

Origins Pizza – This Neopolitan style pizzeria is owned by two sommeliers, so you know your wines are going to be outstanding. There are usually four casked wines – two whites and two reds and a great representation of other varietals and blends by the glass or bottle. The food is outstanding as well.

Mary’s Lake Lodge – If you are planning a day in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, we highly recommend a late lunch/early dinner at Tavern 1929 at Mary’s Lake Lodge. The building erected in 1913 has earned its place on the State Register of Historic Properties for its unique character. While you dine, you will have a fantastic view of the mountains and can enjoy not only house brews but house wines as well. They have a short but excellent wine list but it is the pours that make it unique. We call them the Mary’s Lake Pour.

Mary Lake pour.jpg

 

 

 

Farmer’s Markets

Driving across the Front Range from Denver to Fort Collins, one can see many, many old farm houses. Some are dilapidated and vacant. Some are still occupied. Still others are transformed into working farms, businesses or incorporated into a new subdivision as a club or activity house. Our own subdivision, Nelson Farm, was a successful dairy farm.  As a transplant, I have this grandiose vision of how beautiful it must have been in the early 20th century for a farmer with a view of the Rocky Mountains. Although many farms are now gone or gobbled up by subdivisions, the spirit of “farm to plate” is still strong and the entrepreneurial spirit of handmade and homegrown goods from goat’s milk soaps to farm-raised tilapia under hydroponic greens brings a new century of farming to the area.

Outdoor Farmer’s Markets are available from June through at least September. 2015 was particularly mild so the markets were open through October. In the summer, there are three to choose from but the most popular is the Saturday market downtown. We tend to shop at the Sunday market that is about a mile from our house. In the winter, the market is in the Opera House. Some vendors are there only in the winter. Some sell at both.

I was pleasantly surprised with the winter market – winter vegetables, mushrooms, cheese galore, a Greek olive oil vendor, several bakers and an assortment of crafters. The winter Saturday market has a variety of vendors, from the Blue Mountain Winery in Berthoud to fresh mushrooms, pastas, breads sauces, along with the usual produce. One of my favorites was Turned Silks. The crafter repurposes sweaters into cool wearable art. An intriguing finds at the winter market was Quatrix which offers beautiful lettuce and herbs and tilapia grown in an aquaponic environment.

If you visit between June and October, summer’s bounty will be at its peak!

More information in case you were curious:

John Nelson, one of the region’s first and most successful dairy farmers, immigrated with his wife in 1871 from Ayrshire, Scotland, to the Fort Collins area. He purchased 240 acres just 3 1/2 miles southeast of town, near the present intersection of Lemay and Swallow, and built a house and planted wheat and oats. There was only prairie stretching in all directions. Some believe the grasshopper plague of 1874-1876 persuaded Nelson to switch to dairying. He brought the first herd of registered Jersey cows into Larimer County. This was the county’s first dairy business, and some historians say it was the first in the state. Building on Nelson’s success, other farmers began dairying operations as well. In the 20th century, a number of local dairies operated profitably, as milk production has remained an important industry. In addition to his dairy operation, Nelson also raised Clydesdale horses for a time. Around 1880, he built a sandstone milk house which has been preserved and is all that remains of the farm.