Montana: 94,109,542 acres of rolling hills, grazing bison, dude ranches, snow-capped peaks, and A-list retreats.
Big Sky Country doesn’t need to brag about its assets because this northwestern corner of the United States is confident in its own skin. Blessed with natural resources that other states salivate over—iconic national parks, raging rivers, glacial lakes, farm-to-table fare, world-class ski and bike terrain, and enough real estate to roam off-radar—Montana has no need for manmade tourist attractions or frivolous festivals. Its land and its people are its main event.
For these reasons, you occasionally hear about ultra-discreet jet-setters sojourning in the state, except in Montana, there’s no need to wear anti-paparazzi getups. Why? Locals don’t snitch if you come on by, and they treat you the same as everyone else (whether you’re John Mayer or Jenny Newcomer; Obama or a small-town mayor; Bill Gates or a PC fix-it tech).
This come-as-you-are authenticity and natural beauty was revealed to me when I spent a week in the region’s Flathead Valley, home to Flathead Lake and its titan-of-industry escapes, as well as Whitefish and its celeb chalets. The thing is, here, whether you’re escaping at Marina Cay Resort, or with your private chef at an exclusive estate, you’d never know if you were passing by Wayne Newton’s croonin’ cottage or a local cattle farmer’s homestead; the glitz and glam are left at home.
Viewfinder Tip: Travel in Montana VIP-style for a fraction of the price during shoulder season. Best bets are late spring and early fall,
Same goes for the people. “I know for us, it’s the way our guests are treated, and the experience they have as a family,” Chase Averill, one of the proprietors at Flathead Lake Lodge, told me. Welcoming guests since the 1940s, the iconic, family-run dude ranch is no stranger to the world’s elite (but the humble hoteliers would never offer that info; I pulled it out of them).
When I asked why the likes of corner office bigwigs, Hollywood’s high-ups, or Washington D.C.’s politicos mosey into Montana (specifically to the Flathead Valley region and his family’s property) when they can fly in first class to any corner of the globe, Mr. Averill noted, “While they can go anywhere in the world to horseback ride into a remote clearing, scale a glacier, or sail on a restored America’s Cup boat, the activities here are combined with a style of hospitality that is so personal and genuine, our guests forget their titles.”
As I settled into Cabin 3 with its log-frame physique, cast-iron stove, and quilt-topped bed, I wondered who else slept in my quarters. Should I rub the walls for good luck, or sing in the shower hoping a vacationing record producer will turn and ear to my tune?
I should have done both things, but I saw the sky turning fluorescent from my window, so I headed to the lakeshore—Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi with 185 miles of shoreline—to watch the sun set. Turns out, great minds think alike and many of the other guests had the same idea.
Nestled into Adirondack chairs, or with legs slung over the dock, we sat, we sipped, and we savored the day’s afterglow (see lead photo) along with the Averill family.
Having traveled around the world in my job as a travel scribe, it occurred to me how I’d never shot the breeze and casually sipped sundowners with a hotel’s owners (often the meetings are planned, buttoned-up, and over a chef’s tasting menu).
Joking about this unique guest-owner synergy with Mr. Averill afterwards, he articulated, “It’s not intentional, it’s just how we live out western hospitality, much like the rest of Montana.”
What properties have you been to that define hospitality?