Café Kandahar’s Premier Chef Andy Blanton

     CONTRACOSTATIMES.COM: June 25, 2010

     Montana…there’s nothing here. Playing on a common misconception about the Big Sky state, this is Montana’s tourism slogan.

     Turns out, the joke’s on us. Montana is on the leading edge of luxury accommodations and the slow food movement.  At the epicenter is Whitefish, Mt. – population 8,000. The Western Governors’ Association meets here this weekend and with good reason. Named one of the “10 coolest small towns in America” by Budget Travel, Whitefish has a chic country vibe and is blissfully close to Glacier National Park (celebrating its 100th anniversary) and Flathead Lake (Montana’s largest lake and playground to the rich and famous).  It’s also got its own world-class ski resort (Whitefish Mountain Resort) and a mountain lake of its own – Whitefish Lake.

     What will Arnold and the other Govs do in the area? While I’m not privy to their itinerary, I’m ready to make recommendations, based on my recent visit:

     For recreation: Whitefish Mountain Resort. Winter rules but summer sizzles at this all-season resort, just minutes from town. Take a ride on the Alpine Slide, which twists and turns its way through the trees to the base lodge. Or, get air born on the mountain’s six  Zip Lines, where you fly across guide-wires some 300 feet above the grassy slopes. Leaf-lovers should try the resort’s Walk in the Treetops, a nature hike high in the canopies of some of the mountain’s most beautiful trees.

     For body work: Here’s the lowdown on the rub down. The Lodge at Whitefish has a spa that will rival any you’ve been to in the west. From the heavenly huckleberry body scrub (huckleberries grow wild in the region) to the goose bump- inducing mountain massage, you’ll check your stress at the door in this calming place.

     For sustenance: Whitefish has several restaurants with organic, seasonal fare. In fact, folks are so savvy about locally-grown food, they have bumper stickers asking “Who’s Your Farmer?” Downtown, Latitude 48 is a hot spot where diners can watch skilled chefs at work in an open kitchen. Or try Café Kandahar’s Chef ‘s Table Dinner, where you dine in the kitchen while acclaimed owner/chef Andy Blanton prepares delicacies like Pork Belly Confit and Elk Tenderloin. Frommers Guidebook calls this one of the two best restaurants in Montana. Look for Blanton to land his own show, someday, on the Food Network.

Laltitude 48's chefs working in open kitchen

     For slumber: So many choices, from motels to mansions, but it’s tough to beat a place on the lake. Five Star Rentals is one of several companies handling lake front properties in Whitefish. Some homes are so high end, you get use of the dock and the boats.  Wind down your day with a sunset paddle (it’s light past 10 pm this time of year) on Whitefish Lake, framed by forests and snow-capped mountains.

     For nightlife: Nightlife in Whitefish sees an eclectic mix of cowboys and Canadians (a favorite cross-border vacation spot) and tourists from the west and beyond. But mostly, it’s locals who dance in the bars, to everything from bluegrass to rock. For live country music, drive 15 minutes outside town to Columbia Falls and the Blue Moon Saloon, where boots, hats and belt buckles are standard dress fare.

Whitefish nightlife

 It’s easy to see why Whitefish is getting a lot of attention these days. It’s got small town charm and big city sensibilities. There’s nothing – and there’s everything here.

     For more information on Whitefish, see Glacier Country Montana at http://www.glaciermt.com/


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