Take a trip to a town where the only way is up from - the sleek skyscrapers to the Rockies.

WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

To most people, Denver means Dynasty and the ski resorts of Aspen and Vail, but this mile-high city is as good to visit in late summer as it is in winter. An architectural mishmash overlooked by the towering peaks of the Rockies, it has a fascinating history. More information from Colorado Tourism Board (00 1 800 433 2656).

BEAM DOWN

The only airline with non-stop flights from the UK to Denver is British Airways, with a daily departure from Gatwick; it takes around 10 hours outbound, nine hours inbound. Through discount agents such as Quest Worldwide (0181-546 6000), the flight is available for £354. Denver International Airport is a marvel in itself. Opened in 1995, it looks a little like the peaks of the Rockies and it's twice the size of Manhattan. Colorado's efficient network of buses extends to the airport. Renting a car can be practical but you may feel out of place unless it's a four-wheel drive.

CHECK IN

Brown Palace Hotel, at 321 17th Street (001 303 297 3111), was built in 1892 by N C Brown, founder of the Denver Post. Having undergone a major refurbishment, it can only be described as Victoriana meets Art Deco meets contemporary, complete with a six-storey glass atrium. Rooms cost from $265 (£170). Alternatively, Merritt House, at 941 East 17th Avenue (00 1 303 861 5230), is a 10-bedroomed Queen Anne House in the historic Swallow Hill House district. Rooms cost from around $100 (£64).

GET YOUR BEARINGS

The population of Denver is about 1 million (2 million if you include the suburbs) and the major human focal point is Lodo (Lower Downtown). The recently designated historic district with its run-down warehouses has been undergoing a $1bn makeover into residential lofts and tidy streets.

TAKE A DRIVE

It would be a crime not to venture into the snowcapped Rockies. More than 1,000 of the area's towering peaks reach heights of over 10,000ft and the gushing mountain rivers are a sight in themselves. West of Denver in the front range of the Rockies begins the 266,957 acre Rocky Mountain National Park. Just after the town of Estes Park is 53-mile Trail Ridge, one of the highest highways in the USA, which cuts through miles of unique alpine tundra landscape.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Dixon's, at 6100 16th Street (corner of Wazee), is the ideal place to stop off for a hearty brunch, American style; buttermilk pancakes or eggs Benedict plus a range of Mexican dishes can all be devoured sitting under a shady umbrella on the sidewalk outside. Try Paul Bocuse's brasserie Le Nord, 18 rue Neuve (00 33 4 78 28 24 54) for classic, cheap onion soup and snails in parsley butter.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Mountain biking was invented in Colorado and, alongside fevered support of the Denver Broncos, hiking is a way of life. "Pike's Peak or Bust!" was a well-known expression among the gold rush pioneers; about 20 minutes drive south on Highway 25, this mountain top juts out of the prairie to a height of over 8,000ft. On a clear day, hike, mountain bike or take a train up to the summit and see right across to New Mexico and Nebraska - or right down to pick out one of Colorado's bears.

DEMURE DINNER

The Beehive, at 6th Avenue & Corona (00 1 303 832 5766) is a husband- and-wife-run restaurant that serves a menu stuffed with local seasonal produce. Visit Jax Fish House, at 1539 17th Street (00 1 303 292 5767), a trendy fish restaurant. Get there early for a plate of pick 'n' shell shrimp - it doesn't take reservations. Or try El Chapultepec at 1962 Market Street (001 303 295 9126), reputedly a haunt of Jack Kerouac.

AN APERITIF

The Cruise Room at McCormick's (1659 Wazee Street, 00 1 303 825 1107) is a dimly lit Art Deco bar that serves a liver-frighteningly good array of cocktails. A LaLa (vodka, triple sec, cranberry and "muddled" fruit) is yours for $5.50 (£3.50). Be warned - it may muddle you faster than you'd expect owing to the combination of alcohol and altitude.

SHOP 'TIL YOU DROP

Thanks to its very high-class neighbours, the ski resorts of Aspen, Vail and Beaver Creek, there is no shortage of shopping in Denver. The Cherry Creek Shopping Centre is vast and houses everything from Neiman Marcus and Saks, to Louis Vuitton and Banana Republic. There are also lots of speciality shops and boutiques in downtown Cherry Creek or head out on the free shuttle bus to the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrianised area in Downtown.

Go skiing, walk or just take a look

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Denver is the cultural capital of Colorado so has an abundance of galleries. Denver Art Museum at 100W, 14th Avenue Parkway (00 1 303 640 2793) houses one of the best collections of American Indian, Pre-columbian and Spanish Colonial art. Look out for the gleaming Capitol Building, with 303 ounces of 24-carat gold encrusting its dome. And the intriguing Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum is worth a visit. Pick up a free copy of Towns, Art and the Car at the Lyon Parc Auto Carparks.

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