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THE DEAL: RAINBOW RANCH LODGE, BIG SKY, MONTANA

Rr1 THE BACKSTORY: About 20 minutes from the slopes of Big Sky's slopes, you'll find this gastronomic oasis on the banks of the trophy waters of the Gallatin River. The former fishing camp has been lovingly refurbished in the past decade by proprietor Patrick Hurd. It’s now a 21-room lodge with well-appointed cabins and a river-rock lined wine cellar. Rainbow is a happily mixed marriage of rusticity and the highest level of creature comforts.

THE ROOMS: The 21 rooms are deeply comfortable, with full Western regalia, such as river rock fireplaces and lodgepole-pine beds. Some rooms are no more than 30 feet from the river, so you can theoretically wet a line from your deck.

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MORE REASONS TO STAY: Chef Tommy Donohoe, who's done his time at the French Laundry, offers up a carefully orchestrated repast every night. A devotee of the Slow Food movement and a highly creative chef, his cooking has evolved to the point where you'll encounter some of the best dining in the Rockies. Start with Amaltheia Dairy goat cheese ravioli with arugula pesto and a fennel and arugula salad, move on to mesquite-grilled Montana bone-in pork rib-eye with roasted organic vegetables, shaved Manchego cheese and 20 year-aged balsamic vinegar. Then finish with Tahitian vanilla bean creme brulee. Donohoe has a reverence for ingredients and likely as not their provenance makes it onto the menu. In fact, if it isn't from Montana, it arrived FedEx that day.Rr2

THE DEAL: Rates start at $275 per night in summer, $195 per night in winter.

INSIDER TIP: The subterranean, river-rock-lined Bacchus Room is the artful creation of proprietor Patrick Hurd. It's a little like having the keys to a private cellar in Beaune. The cave holds some 10,000 bottles and Hurd, whose disarmingly elegant and urbane presence sets the tone for the entire place, can help you navigate the massive list. It ranges from eminently drinkable and affordable finds to every vintage of Romanee Conti from 1994 to 2004. More than enough to satisfy a vacationing hedge fund manager or two. But considering that the very private Yellowstone Club lies but a few miles away, that's not such a long shot.

CAVEAT: A bit closer to Highway 191 than you might like.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: We're talking about the southwest corner of Montana, about 90 minutes south of Bozeman. The lodge is perched between Highway 191 and the Gallatin River. You're close to Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin Ski Resorts.

THE DETAILS: Rainbow Ranch Lodge, Highway 191, Big Sky, Montana; 406-995-4132;

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