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THE LITTLE NELL, ASPEN, COLORADO

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WHY IT’S A CONTENDER: The words "deal" and "The Little Nell" rarely share the same billing, but this is the time of year when the leaves turn, the rates fall, and even the locals are known to check in for a romantic night or two. Luxury hotels don’t come much subtler than The Little Nell. It’s has the intimacy of a country inn but the service and appointments of a luxury hotel. And while the glitterati traipse through Aspen in winter and summer, fall is a perfect time to experience the town sans glitz.

WHO SHOULD GO: Couples looking for quiet time to explore Aspen during its much underrated fall season.

THE ROOMS: There are 92 rooms and suites, with either town or mountain views. You can expect a gas fireplace, Belgian-wool carpeting, and an oversized bed with down comforter. The marble clad bathroom is luxurious indeed, and those with separate Jacuzzi tubs and steam showers are the best.

MORE REASONS TO STAY: Montagna, the Nell’s restaurant, makes foodies swoon, thanks to chef Ryan Hardy and sommelier Richard Betts. The latter oversees a 15,000 bottle cellar and is arguably the most eloquent sommelier in America. Go biking, hiking or window shop at Fendi, Gucci, Loro Piana, Prada, Bulgari, Brioni, and Dior. With luck, you might get a break on last season’s skis at Aspen Sports.

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LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: At the foot of Aspen mountain, within walking distance to everything.

WHAT’S THE DEAL: Considering that winter rates begin at $660 and Christmas Week rates are only available "on request," you’re already ahead of the game by going in the fall. Published rates at The Little Nell in September begin at $430 per night, based on double occupancy. But since the hotel is offering 20 percent off all rooms and suites from September 1 to 30, 2006, the rates actually start at $344. It gets even better from October 1 through 31, 2006 when rates start at $140 per night. To get these rates in October, you must book by September 30, 2006.

CAVEAT: While the room rates have dropped, food and beverages at The Nell and Aspen in general are not for the faint of wallet.

INSIDER TIP: The truffle and Parmesan fries served at the Ajax Tavern, which sits at the edge of the Little Nell complex, constitute a strong argument for abandoning a diet, at least for the weekend.

THE DETAILS: The Little Nell,675 East Durant Avenue, Aspen, Colorado 81611; Tel: 970-920-4600; www.thelittlenell.com

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