"I completely trust the land,” says chef and culinary entrepreneur Seth O’Donovan. “It works on people’s hearts in ways that doesn’t stop; you have to actively shut it off.” She’s speaking about 338 acres of farm and ranchland just south of Carbondale, before the Crystal River Valley pinches together, in the shadow of Mount Sopris.
O’Donovan, an alumna of Napa’s French Laundry and Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine, has ambitious plans for the property: an immersive, luxury hospitality concept called the Guest House, that incorporates fine dining, events, and workshops—think foraging, whole-animal butchery, cheesemaking, hunting, and even custom ski making—along with high-end accommodations. The first phase of the project opened in January with a handful of intimate, guest-chef dinners based on what is cultivated, foraged, or raised on the property, and select workshops. Lodging is available in several cabins and wood-floored yurts.
A passionate and independent woman of many talents—beekeeper, fine-dining captain, biodynamic viticulturist, social worker, butcher, herbalist, and bitters maker, among others—O’Donovan, 38, sees the Guest House as the culmination of her talents and past learnings in one bold endeavor. After a decade of community organizing, she is convinced that a better way to effect change is through intimate exposure that opens up new ways of thinking. “I believe what cultivates our desires is experiencing deep care in an environment of deep invitation,” she says.
With an eye to Magnus Nilsson’s Fäviken in Sweden and Babylonstoren in South Africa—luxury properties located in remote settings that feature lodging and a fine-dining, land-based experience—O’Donovan envisions the Guest House as a hands-on experience where people have the option to participate in some of the farm’s many tasks—for example, milking one of the 11 water buffalos, learning to make fresh mozzarella or burrata from the milk, and then helping prepare it.
Having grown up partly in Colorado—her father was stationed for a time at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora—O’Donovan was at first reluctant to explore the Roaring Fork Valley as a potential site. Yet after hosting several pop-up dinners in Denver, Boulder, and Snowmass last year to introduce the concept, she met Jason Sewell, a descendant of the Thompson family (of Thompson Divide heritage) who invited her to lease his Sunfire Ranch property. Three weeks later, she moved from Boulder. Today, citing the strong community and the area’s commitment to sustainable, small-farm agriculture, O’Donovan says, “I do believe we are supposed to be here.”
Ultimately, she says, the Guest House will be open for 26 weekend experience packages a year, primarily May through hunting season in November, plus a few select winter dates. A new boutique lodge that will accommodate 12 people is planned over the next couple of years.
It’s a grand plan, to be sure, but O’Donovan has some prominent believers. Bobby Stuckey, co-owner and master sommelier of Frasca Food and Wine Group, and one of O’Donovan’s mentors, says the Guest House, fully realized, would be a unique offering in this country. “It’s sad we don’t have anything like this in the US,” he says. “It would be incredibly beneficial. The closest to it could be Stone Barns in New York, yet that doesn’t have lodging.”
One critical factor to success, adds Stuckey, will be to “create a complete experience that people feel 24-7,” not just for a dinner or a night. O’Donovan has the chops to get it done, he says, calling her both humble and a trailblazing pioneer, while pointing to her “modern-day leadership” and visionary skills that can attract top culinary and hospitality talent looking to do something different.
Both O’Donovan and Stuckey see the Guest House as an opportunity to put Colorado on the map by combining high-end hospitality with community involvement and a land-based approach. “It takes a long time to create that kind of experience and get it right,” Stuckey says. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but if Seth can execute it in Colorado, that would be huge.”
Daylong workshops start at $100. Three-night weekend packages, including lodging, all meals, and your pick of adventures from the menu of options, start at $1,200 per person. The property also hosts weddings, with the ceremony and reception under tents on a mesa with spectacular views of Mount Sopris and the Elk Mountains.