We turned off the highway onto a winding mountain road. As the pavement gave way to dirt and gravel, the road narrowed and the trees grew more dense. The forest seemed to close in on the road and the occasional cabin that could be spotted through the trees. The quiet roar of the river could be heard in the distance.
And then, we arrived at the gate of the house. I waited in the car while Jamie unlocked the gate and swung it open, and we drove up to the house, the dirt road muddy from recent rain. The sun was just beginning to set, and the house and surrounding forest were bathed in the soft glow of early evening. The autumn air was damp and chilly.
The gingerbread house, so charming with its hand-carved and painted doors, bright blue trim on the windows and the embellished heavy wooden beams, was snugly situated amidst a grove of pine trees. Next to the house was a detached garage, with an awning covering a chopping block and a generous stack of firewood. A stream trickled past the shed, flowing down to the river behind the house.
A black iron gate led into a small stone courtyard in front of the house and we walked up the stone steps to the intricately carved door.
It all felt so magical, almost medieval. And utterly peaceful and secluded. The most wonderful surprise.
The whole weekend was a surprise to me, Jamie having planned our weekend getaway at this unique house, The Retreat at Insmont, in Bailey, CO.
The house, built 115 years ago, has a history that dates back to the late 1800s, and was once the home of a famous painter, Frank Vavra, who carved and painted the doors and beams all throughout the house, added a copper ceiling and grand entrance for his studio, and built the additional rooms on the back of the house.
After Vavra's death, the house fell into disrepair, and was used as a fishing cottage by a fisherman who occasionally stayed there during his fishing trips. But it was rescued and revived by its current owners who fell in love with the house in 2007, and determined to bring it back to life. Fortunately for us, they rent it out as a lovely vacation house.
Before dinner, Jamie carried in armfuls of firewood and built a fire in the huge stone fireplace. The house was chilly at night, and the warmth of the fire was welcome and comforting. I attempted a hot bath in the claw-foot tub, but the cold porcelain quickly cooled the water to barely lukewarm, and I found the tub to be a little short for comfort and shaved my legs with my knees against my chest.
There were three bedrooms, two with queen-sized beds and a bunk bed room for kids, so it would be perfect for two families to spend the weekend together there. We chose the bedroom at the front of the house, with a big bay window and bench. On the wall next to the bed was an intricately painted door, locked with a padlock, which we think led down to the basement.
Jamie had packed a cooler full of food for the weekend... There was steak, crab legs and lobster tails, corn on the cob, baby potatoes, brussel sprouts and mushrooms, as well as balsamic vinegar, olive oil, butter, spices and fresh herbs. Bacon, prosciutto, eggs, milk, cheese, olives, crackers, French bread, and jars of pickled smoked okra and sweet peppers. Coffee and English muffins. Not to mention four bottles of wine.
Oh, how I love that man's thoughtfulness.
Even though the house was old, the kitchen had been renovated and updated, and on Friday night we cooked a dinner of steak with mushrooms and brussel sprouts decadently simmered with bacon and butter. Bread and glasses of wine.
After dinner, we spread out blankets and pillows on the floor in front of the fireplace, sipping on wine, toasting marshmallows to make s'mores, and talking about our plans for Saturday.
The next morning, Jamie made eggs benedict for breakfast, complete with hollandaise sauce, of course, and hot coffee. After breakfast, we walked around the house to look at all the unique features, such as the carved, painted trim along the eaves, the heavy exterior door to the basement, the old well, the wind chimes made out of rusty garden tools and even a bullet, an interesting sculpture inside a grotto on one of the exterior walls, and the old locks on the doors.
The sun was shining and the sky was blue so we went for a drive along a scenic loop through Bailey, Fairplay, Hartsel, Florissant, Woodland Park, and Pine, ending in Pine Grove at the Bucksnort Saloon, a little biker joint which sits atop a mountain, through a labyrinth of boulder-lined, twisty mountain roads.
After lunch, and with our fishing licenses purchased, we returned to Insmont and gathered up fishing poles and a tackle box to try a little fishing in the river. After an hour of fishing, and several snags of my hook and line on bushes and rocks, it became apparent the fish were not biting that day. Although the mosquitoes were, but only me, apparently. I must taste pretty good to them.
While Jamie was building a fire outside in the fire pit (having learned it was legal to build an outdoor fire if we called in the permit), a fluffy white dog appeared out of nowhere to pay us a visit. At least, he acted like a dog, but I suspect he was actually a polar bear. Just as suddenly, he went on his way.
We watched the sunset by the campfire, and opened a bottle of wine, a special reserve wine that Jamie had bought in May, when we took a trip to San Diego for his birthday and did a little wine tasting in Temecula Valley.
He's full of sweet surprises, and he presented me with a packet of letters that he'd printed off, our first e-mails to each other during those first few months of getting to know each other four years ago.
We lingered outside by the fire until it was dark and getting cold, then headed inside to nibble on cheese, crackers, olives and pickled okra while we made dinner. Saturday night's dinner was a special treat of butter and wine poached lobster tails and crab legs, drizzled with some of the hollandaise sauce left from breakfast, along with baby potatoes and corn on the cob.
With another fire blazing and crackling in the stone fireplace, we relaxed on blankets and pillows just like the night before, sipping wine and enjoying the warmth of the fire.
Jamie pulled me closer and kissed me. I could tell he was nervous, and he was fidgeting with his left pocket. He kept giving me soft sweet kisses.
And then, at last, he whispered, "I have a question for you..."
to be continued...