Triple Creek Ranch (Darby, Montana)
Tucked into a cozy corner of the Rockies in Western Montana, Triple Creek Ranch is a curious attraction in a decidedly rugged part of the country: an adults-only, high-end luxury experience (from a chi-chi Relais & Châteaux member, no less). You'd think that you were in a flashy ski resort as you drive up to the log cabin main lodge, but despite all the finery and elegance, at heart it's truly a down-to-earth cattle ranch with real cowboys and real cows.
Montana is of course best known for two things: its capital-B Big Sky views and out-of-this-world fly-fishing. Since staring at the sky, no matter how gorgeous and Big, can tend to get a little boring after a while, we opted to test out the area's other main attraction and grab a rod and cast a line into a nearby river. Within minutes, our guide had a gorgeous trout in hand, and we had to pause to admire its beauty before setting it free again. Before we'd barely had a chance to cast another line he had brought in another – turns out he's a fly-fishing ninja. Despite our own pathetic record, we did rediscover that the magic of fly-fishing isn't all in catching fish, though, but rather just being outside, forgetting about the hustle and bustle of daily life and slowing down to admire the beauty surrounding us. (At least that what we non-fish-catching ninjas say.)
Another exceptional perk of Triple Creek is that as an actual ranch, there are horses ready for the riding. And one activity offered to us, that ended up completely humbling one non horse-whispering writer, was what is called "team penning" (we'd never heard of it, but it's all the rage on the luxury circuit). To the uninitiated, the idea is you jump on a horse and plow into a small herd of calves in an effort to remove certain or another of the little buggers. It's kind of like blasting an eight ball into the balls on a pool table, but way harder. Our cowboy guide yells out certain numbers (their ears are tagged) and we clumsily maneuver our horses, pathetically trying to get these wily little calves to run into the pen. It's incredibly frustrating but we can't wipe the smiles of our faces. Much respect to the real cowboys who do this for a living.
For dinner we're invited into the kitchen to witness the chef prepare a fresh trout. It's like watching an artist create a masterpiece, simple yet very elegant. We almost didn't want to eat it, it looked so pretty, but our taste buds took over and we tore into it like a pack of hyenas. With service like this who needs to be a fishing ninja? [from $950 per couple, completely all-inclusive; triplecreekranch.com]
Credit: Photograph by Robert Wright