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How to Have a Hygge Food Experience in Vail

Coming together with friends and family to share delicious food and beverages is one of life’s great pleasures, and it lends itself perfectly to the Scandinavian concept of hygge. Discover Vail spoke with Vail Valley local and author, Alexandra Gove, to get tips on how to incorporate hygge food experiences into your next Vail vacation, which restaurants in Vail embody hygge and more.

But, first, what does hygge mean and how do you pronounce it?

Hygge Definition

A family of five sits outside beneath autumn-colored trees and share a meal together at an outside patio in Vail Village.

Used as an adjective, noun or verb, hygge goes beyond the common translation of coziness and reflects a state of contentment and conviviality.

Pronouncing Hygge

Hygge is pronounced “hoo-ga.”

Here’s how you can celebrate hygge year-round and build meaningful moments with loved ones in Vail through food.

What does hygge mean to you, especially from a culinary perspective?

A group of friends sits around a table in a dimly lit room in a Vail restaurant. They laugh together and enjoy delicious food and drinks.

Gove: A hygge cafe or restaurant exudes an inviting, warm, comfortable ambience. It’s an environment that invites you to cozy up, relax and linger a while. A candlelit or dimly lit space — with comfortable seating, cozy table nooks and good food and wine — brings you into the present moment and cultivates a feeling of hygge and contentment. Ultimately, a hygge moment is about being content and present in the moment. It’s a moment where life slows down and you’re not thinking about what’s next or your to-do list, but just purely enjoying.

Why is this concept important when planning a trip to Vail?

Gove: Hygge is important on any vacation because ultimately, hygge moments are the ones you will remember forever and take with you. These are the moments when you are truly present and enjoying — this could be skiing down your favorite run surrounded by your family with smiles on their faces, drinking a glass of wine fireside in your long johns after a day on the mountain or enjoying a summertime dinner on the patio in the Colorado sunshine.

Let’s say you were planning a special gathering of loved ones right here in Vail. What are your tips for commemorating all these wonderful Vail moments together with food?

Parents and children sit snuggled up around a firepit with mugs of hot chocolate and warm blankets on an outdoor patio in Vail, Colorado.
Photo courtesy of Discover Vail

Gove: Create an itinerary that encourages meaningful time spent together in a variety of settings — on the mountain, in a cozy restaurant, sitting fireside or listening to live music in Vail. Try not to pack in too much so you also have some down time when you can just relax, slow down and enjoy an unrushed moment with your loved ones.

Take time to plan some special moments, but also leave room for spontaneity. Sometimes the most memorable moments are the unexpected ones, like a spontaneous riverside picnic in the afternoon or an après-ski party that extends well into the evening, with a casual late-night pizza at Vendetta’s for dinner. Find the best restaurants in Vail for après-ski.

What are your favorite Vail restaurants that best embody the hygge concept?

Gove: Mountain Standard and La Nonna Ristorante are two of my and my husband Koen’s favorite restaurants in Vail for their delicious food and warm ambience. La Nonna is chef-owned and you can feel that in the quality of their dishes. They make all of their pastas in-house; one of my favorites is the mushroom ravioli. Mountain Standard is a Vail favorite with a dimly lit, moody dining room and a delicious, evolving menu. Get a reservation early or find a spot at the bar for the best margarita in town and you’ll find yourself staying for dinner.

We also love occasionally visiting some Vail classics, such as Pepi’s, Swiss Chalet, Alpenrose and Almresi for their European, alpine-inspired ambience that always feels inviting. These restaurants are laden with wood, sheepskins, cozy nooks and warm dishes. Get a taste of Bavaria in Vail.

The Little Diner is a hidden gem for a hearty, classic breakfast in a nostalgic and inviting atmosphere. One of our favorite things to do is get on the mountain early and ski down to Lionshead Village for brunch at the Little Diner before heading back up the hill again. Sit in one of their red leather booths or cozy up to the bar and watch the pancakes being flipped.

Do you have some favorite hotels in Vail with dining offerings that exude hygge?

The Bully Ranch Restaurant at the Sonnenalp Hotel offers strong hygge vibes with low ceilings, wooden beams and small tables for more intimate dining.

Gove: The Sonnenalp has been in Vail since the 1970s and I love the nostalgic alpine ambience. The hotel’s low ceilings, dim lighting, candlelight and warm lounge are all the perfect setup for a hygge mountain vacation. Their cozy, comfortable rooms open up to the river or the streets of Vail Village. And their brunch in a terrace room with floor-to-ceiling windows is the perfect way to start the day after a restful night. The Hythe is a newer hotel with a modern, Scandinavian aesthetic inspired by the 10th Mountain Division. We love the story behind their breakfast restaurant, Margie’s Haas, inspired by Margie Haas, a local home cook who welcomed 10th Mountain Division soldiers into her home.

What is your hygge recommendation for Vail Mountain dining?

Gove: Grilling at Belle’s Camp at Blue Sky Basin is one of our favorite on-mountain dining experiences. You can bring your own bratwursts or get fancy with marinated chicken, salmon or steak and grill alongside fellow skiers on the public grills in front of a majestic view. On a sunny day, we’ll spend the entire day here with friends grilling, drinking, playing games in between ski runs. This is truly a place to slow down and enjoy the view, good food and friends — a true on-mountain hygge experience.

There are also several mountain decks to bring picnics and enjoy the scenery. Our favorite is Windows Deck overlooking Sun Down Bowl and Mount of the Holy Cross. We love bringing up elaborate picnics of wine, cheese, bread and chocolate in our backpack on a sunny day. The good thing is that your backpack is much lighter on the way down! Use this guide for an epic Vail Mountain picnic.

Where’s your favorite cozy date-night spot in Vail?

Guests listen to a the music of a guitar player at the King's Club in Vail, Colorado.

Gove: We love Root & Flower, a locally owned wine and cocktail bar with a limited menu of delicious shareable bites. It’s the perfect atmosphere for a cozy date night in Vail Village. On one of our first dates in Vail we went to the King’s Club at the Sonnenalp for an after-dinner drink. I will never forget snuggling up on a sofa with Koen with a Grand Marnier cocktail in a coupe listening to music in their cozy lounge. Here’s where to eat in Vail for fine dining and romance.

Speaking of going out, are there any must-experience Vail nightlife spots that embrace the hygge concept?

Gove: Hygge can apply to many different genres of music and nightlife styles. Some people find hygge in a club, some find hygge listening to live music in a dive bar and many find hygge at home on the couch in pajamas while drinking a glass of wine and listening to a favorite record. Many evenings at the King’s Club there’s a live musician (usually a piano player). This makes for a perfect night while sipping on a glass of bubbly. Listening and dancing to live music at the Red Lion or other bars in Vail with your friends can also be very hygge. If you are in the moment, content and enjoying time with others, you are hygge!

Which only-in-Vail treats will elevate any vacation?

A smiling young couple wearing beanies and holding each other's hands sit outside during a soft snow at the Four Seasons in Vail, Colorado. Before them is a flaming firepit and there are two mugs of Haute Chocolate topped with homemade marshmallows on the table in front of them.

Gove: The Swiss hot dog at the Blü Cow is so delicious and a true Vail classic. The place has been family-owned since 1967, making the same perfect recipe since then. It’s the best spot for a casual lunch, quick bite before a summer concert at The Amp or skiing down for lunch in the village. Hot cocoa at the Four Seasons Resort is a whole experience — served tableside and poured from a pot over a fluffy marshmallow and chocolate lattice.

We know that experiencing the great outdoors is key to planning a hygge vacation too. What are some things to do in Vail to work up a healthy appetite?

Gove: There’s nothing like cozying up near a fireplace after a ski day on the mountain or enjoying a beer on a sunny patio after a long hike. Sometimes the moments after an outdoor adventure can be the sweetest (and most hyggelig). Being outdoors and connecting with nature itself can be incredibly hygge. Vail provides so many wonderful activities outdoors — skiing, hiking, biking, fishing, paddleboarding and so many more. In the summer, hike up the Berry Picker Trail and ride the gondola down. It’s one of my favorite trails and it’s nice to save the knees by riding the gondola down.

Bike on the path that takes you from Vail Village to East Vail with beautiful views of the Gore Range in front of you and stop along the way to enjoy a picnic by Gore Creek. After a long hike or bike ride, we love to jump into the creek along this path. There is a large rock with a perfect dipping pool along the bike trail near East Vail — a favorite spot among the locals on hot summer days.

More About Hygge & Vail Expert Alexandra Gove

Gove is the author of “Dwell, Gather, Be: Design for Moments” and owns Hygge Life Shop & Café with her husband, Koen. The pair met in Vail before moving to Amsterdam, Koen’s hometown, where Gove became fascinated by the warm and cozy intimacy of northern European homes — a discovery that planted the seed for Hygge Life. Following an adventure in their “Hygge Bus” selling poffertjes (Dutch pancakes), they returned to Colorado and have been pursuing a hygge lifestyle in the Vail Valley ever since.

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Feature photo courtesy of Discover Vail