All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. This phrase struck a new chord in our consciousness in 1980 when Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Steven King’s 1977 horror novel The Shining hit cinemas. And after months of lockdown, it’s a sentiment we can all identify with. Life feels frustrating when we’re unable to reward ourselves with leisure or travel – but we can still dream. This week’s Dreaming of Travel is inspired by the forthcoming Halloween holidays and a different type of lockdown.
The Shining tells of Jack Torrance, a struggling author and alcoholic, who takes a job as an off-season caretaker at the fictional Overlook Hotel in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains where weather renders the place inaccessible for part of the year. Jack’s wife and young son go with him into the closed and deserted hotel, and soon the eerie isolation begins to take a toll on the family.
But did you know you can recreate the film experience by staying in the hotel that inspired The Overlook? In 1974, Stephen King spent the night at The Stanley Hotel – a wedding-cake white hotel complex five miles inside the Rocky Mountain National Park, overlooking Lake Estes and tucked beneath peaks resembling a giant eagle’s outspread wings. I visited The Stanley in 1995, 21 years after Stephen King found the inspiration for his terrifying book.
Comfort and exciting chills were on offer, with huge log fires, leather armchairs and Chesterfield sofas, and carpeted corridors where a small boy could easily ride his tricycle and round the corner to be faced with the ghosts of twin girls. Just like caretaker Jack, you can follow ethereal jazz echoing down the halls, pull up a stool at the The Whiskey Bar, now in Cascades restaurant, and admire the wood-panelling, back-lit liquor shelves and arched, mirrored cabinetry – reflecting on whatever is sneaking up behind you.
The views outside are as magnificent as those within – all around lies some of North America’s most stunning mountain terrain. The Trail Ridge Road, minutes from the Stanley, is known as a ‘scenic wonder of the world’. For 48 miles, you’ll snake across mountaintops and ridges, ascending over a thousand metres in minutes, to ‘peak’ above the tree-line at over 3700 metres with views across the valleys and sapphire lakes. Here you can plan your next activity, whether fishing, camping, climbing, horse-riding, ski-ing – or snuggling up with a book back at the hotel.
Today, there are four ways to stay at The Stanley: the original historic building; a boutique lodge; private townhouses; and apartment suites. Another recent addition to the grounds is a hedged maze, created to appeal to film buffs, but they may be surprised to discover King’s manuscript didn’t feature a maze. The one used for the movie’s iconic final scenes was built in the old MGM studios in Hertfordshire, UK. But in 2015 a maze was installed at The Stanley, replacing the driveway where hotel founder, Freelan Oscar Stanley, would have pulled up in one of the steam-powered vehicles he was famed for inventing, (you can find one of his vehicles inside a lobby in the hotel).
Although not an historic feature, visitors drawn by the film will no doubt be delighted by the maze, which centres on a statue of Freelan holding a violin. He was taught to make the instruments aged just 11, by his great-uncle. It was to be the start of a lifetime of invention and entrepreneurship. Afflicted by tuberculosis, he built the hotel after deciding to live some of the year in the Rockies’ restorative climes, and as part of the project led the construction of the Fall River Hydroplant, bringing electricity to the Estes Park for the first time.
To learn more about the hotel’s history, guests can take a night-time tour, revealing some of the secrets of Freelan and his wife Flora, and other events over the last 110 years. Other events hosted at the hotel include concerts, gigs, and an illusionist ‘séance’. If none of these appeal, why not organise your own occasion? The venue is available for hire for Shining-inspired (or not!) weddings – just remember to keep an eye out for ghostly guests stealing your canapés.