Weekender: The Catskills
Published: April 2009
By Sunshine Flint
Bluestone terraces, fresh trout, pumpkin patches, Huguenot houses, leaf-peeping, Woodstock Memorial
The Catskill Mountains, some 100 miles northwest of New York City, were originally popularized in the 19th century by artists of the Hudson River school, who romanticized the region's rugged beauty. Opulent hotels quickly sprang up, and the upper crust of Victorian New York flocked here to escape the summer heat. During the 1950's, the Catskills came to be called the borscht belt as sprawling family resorts gave comedians like Mel Brooks and Red Buttons their start. Today, adventurers from Manhattan's art and fashion worlds are exchanging the overcrowded haunts of the Hamptons for the Catskill counties of Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, and Ulster. Replacing "the scene" with "the scenic," they're discovering winding country roads, endless mountain valleys, and enough open space to hide away in—at least until Monday.
Where to Stay
River Run Bed & Breakfast Inn Main St., Fleischmanns, Delaware Co.; 845/254-4884; doubles from $70. Settle into one of the streamside hammocks or snuggle by the parlor fireplace. At this inn right in the center of town, the eight rooms, half of which have private baths, are named for Catskill Mountain rivers. The two-bedroom fifties-style suite, with a separate entrance and kitchen, is a deal at $150.
Fairlawn Inn Main St., Hunter, Greene Co.; phone and fax 518/263-5025; doubles from $100. Built in 1902 as a summerhouse for a New York businessman, the Fairlawn stayed in the same family until 1993. That means much of the original woodwork, such as the wainscoting and parquet floors, is still intact. All nine rooms have bathrooms with pedestal sinks and claw-foot tubs.
Christman's Windham House 5742 Rte. 23, Windham, Greene Co.; 518/734-4230; doubles from $170, including meals. Falling somewhere between an inn and a resort, Christman's has 49 rooms, including nine in the 1820's Colonial main house. The rest are in five cottages near the golf course, tennis courts, and pool.
Beaverkill Valley Inn 7 Barnhart Rd., Lew Beach, Ulster Co.; 845/439-4844, fax 845/439-3884; doubles from $350, meals included. While fly-fishing is taken seriously here, relaxing on a porch swing is just as highly valued. The 20 rooms are decorated with solid antiques, but not over-doilied. Saturday dinner is a three-course, Continental affair in the dining room, with a preceding cocktail hour.
Copperhood Inn & Spa 70-39 Rte. 28, Shandaken, Ulster Co.; 845/688-2460, fax 845/688-7484; doubles from $570 for two nights (the minimum stay), including meals and one spa treatment. A wooden suspension bridge crosses Esopus Creek to a private island where miles of grassy paths wend past apple trees, tennis courts, and a low building housing 18 guest rooms. The spa menu lists a full range of luxury treatments, but the emphasis is on fitness, with classes such as the popular daybreak meditation session.
Emerson Inn & Spa 146 Mount Pleasant Rd., Mount Tremper, Ulster Co.; 877/688-2828 or 845/688-7900, fax 845/688-2789; doubles from $500, including meals. The attentive yet unobtrusive service will make you feel like a long-lost relative. Find solitude in a nook on the book-lined upstairs hallway, or socialize at one of chef Gilbert Steiner's celebrated French-inspired dinners, where a sommelier will gladly give you the wine label so you can find that vintage again.
Mohonk Mountain House 1000 Mountain Rest Rd., New Paltz, Ulster Co.; 800/772-6646 or 845/255-1000, fax 845/256-2100; doubles from $310, including meals and activities. Of the many upscale mountain houses that were once prevalent in the Catskills, Mohonk is the only one left. Built in 1869, the 251-room hotel retains the Victorian notion of a family retreat: there's no cocktail lounge, jackets are required at dinner, and air-conditioning has yet to be installed. Ask for a room on the west side, where views of the misty Catskill peaks are unimpeded.
Where to Eat
The Kitchen 4879 Rte. 52, Jeffersonville, Sullivan Co.; 845/482-9332; dinner for two $40. Since June, Sullivan County locals and weekenders alike have had a place to find home cooking away from home, thanks to owners Jill Rowe and Randy Florke. Rich Southern food fills the menu (don't be afraid of the fried dill pickles), but regulars know to save room for dessert. The three-layer cakes—you can choose red velvet, chocolate, or hummingbird (a vanilla-cream filling)—are the stuff of dreams.
1906 Restaurant 41 Lower Main St., Callicoon, Sullivan Co.; 845/887-1906; dinner for two $60. In a building just a block away from the Delaware River, it's surprising to find exotic game, such as ostrich, instead of trout on the specials list. The extensive wine cellar holds vintages from Alsace to Australia; perhaps one of those bottles will take your mind off the pink décor.
Café on Main Main St., Margaretville, Delaware Co.; 845/586-2343; dinner for two $60. Chef-owner Domenico Rana takes pride in experimenting with unusual combinations, such as red-mustard greens stuffed with baby shrimp. Portions are generous, so come hungry: the whole red snapper arrives hanging off the plate.
The Bellavista At the Point Lookout Mountain Inn, Rte. 23, East Windham, Greene Co.; 518/734-3381; dinner for two $80. On a clear day, you can see five states, including a smidgen of New Hampshire's White Mountains, from the glass-walled restaurant. The owners recently hired two graduates from the Culinary Institute of America, and the new chefs are redoing the menu in hopes of receiving a Michelin star. Go before the guidebooks get here.
Bear Café Rte. 212, Bearsville, Ulster Co.; 845/679-5555; dinner for two $70. Dishes at this local favorite fall into the fusion category, such as the sesame-crusted salmon with sushi-rice croquettes and napa cabbage. Just keep your cool if you find Uma and Ethan, the newest celebrity residents in nearby Woodstock, dining à deux.
Depuy Canal House Rte. 213, High Falls, Ulster Co.; 845/687-7700; dinner for two $110. Owner and chef John Novi has been turning out original cuisine in this historic building for more than 30 years. The creamy four-mushroom soup, duck confit, roast poussin, and many other dishes are made with organic ingredients from local farms.
The Catskills are laced with roller-coaster hills and steep valleys, and every road is worth exploring. Here, some especially fun drives:
Rte. 28A to 42 from West Shokan, Ulster County, to Grahamsville, Sullivan County. Wind through deep woods and steep clefts in the Catskill mountain range.
Rte. 149 from Livingston Manor to Youngsville, Sullivan County. A bucolic vision of curving hills and hayfields.
Rte. 55 from Neversink to Liberty, Sullivan County. Neversink reservoir's dark blue water on one side, dense green valley on the other.
Rte. 23 from Acra to East Windham, Greene County. Race up the mountain switchbacks for a heart-stopping, five-state vista.
Rte. 23A from Tannersville to Palenville, Greene County. Hairpin turns make for a white-knuckle drive along Kaaterskill Clove.
Where to Shop
The Potager 116 Sullivan St., Wurtsboro, Sullivan Co.; 845/888-4086. A combination nursery and gift shop run by a mother-daughter team, where you can pick up handmade quilts, gardening books, plants, and even old gas ranges from the early 1900's. In the café (lunch for two $15), the place mats are patchwork and the pies freshly made.
Country Emporium 134 Delaware St., Walton, Delaware Co.; 607/865-8440. In winter, the owners of this four-story brick Georgian go on shopping expeditions to Central and South America. That accounts for the hand-painted dishes from Mexico and the downy alpaca slippers from Peru. There are plenty of country goods, as well: jars of jam, Hoosier cabinets and hutches, pie safes with punched-tin doors.
Mercantile Main St., Andes, Delaware Co.; 845/676-4477. Across from the Trailways bus stop sits a long, low building whose ground floor is devoted to pristine mid-century modern furniture. The toy and game room, with some pieces dating back to the 1930's, provides gift solutions for the adult who has it all.
Pakatakan Farmers' Market Rte. 30, Halcottsville, Delaware Co.; 845/586-4177; open May—October. There are roadside farmers' markets throughout the Catskills, but this is the mother of them all. Thirty stalls fill the barn and the pavilion, peddling such items as fresh local trout, just-picked produce, and handmade goat cheese. Bread Alone, the local bakery whose wares have spread to New York City and beyond, has a stall here.
Blue Pearl 7751 Rte. 23, East Windham, Greene Co.; 518/734-6525. This three-floor emporium is packed with so many Chinese, Mexican, and Spanish imports, it could fill a maharajah's palace. The store is also the main gallery for Ulla Darni, a Danish artist and lighting designer whose hand-painted glass shades adorn custom lamps, chandeliers, and sconces.
Grandpa's Antiques Station Square, Rtes. 44 and 55, Gardiner, Ulster Co.; 845/255-6217. In the town's old train depot, nine dealers sell well-worn antiques. You won't find any Chippendale, but there's a trove of inexpensive furnishings, especially if you're hunting for something like a mirror or picture frame to brighten a hallway.
Clouds 1 Mill Hill Rd., Woodstock, Ulster Co.; 845/679-8155. For 27 years, Clouds has been selling one-of-a-kind glassware—such as Donald Carlson's red vases and bowls—and jewelry, like the opalescent pink seed-pearl necklace from Julie Shaw.
Apple Picking and Autumn Festivals
The roads in Ulster County are lined with orchards where you can forage for Empire, Fuji, Cortland, and Gala apples. Or you can venture into a pumpkin patch and pick your jack-o'-lantern right off the vine.
Heritage Craft Fair Bronck Museum, Rte. 9W, Coxsackie, Greene Co.; 518/731-6490; Oct. 14. Quilters, weavers, and candlemakers peddle traditional crafts in an old Dutch homestead.
Fall Garden Harvest Market Woodstock concert site, Hurd Rd., Bethel, Sullivan Co.; 845/295-2448; Sundays, Sept. 2—Oct. 7. Hit the market for crafts, fresh produce, and musical performances.
Catskill Harvest Festival Delaware County Fairgrounds, Walton; 800/835-1747; Oct. 6. At this seasonal gathering, see why Walton calls itself the "scarecrow capital of the world."
What to Do
With so many trails in the Catskills, it can be hard to know where to start. A good bet is to drop by the Catskills Hiking Shack (169 Sullivan St., Wurtsboro, Sullivan Co.; 845/888-4453; www.catskillshikes.com), where you can collect trail information, buy gear, or just grill a salesperson about nearby hikes. Pick up a copy of the Catskill Adventure pamphlet just about anywhere (to order, call 845/256-3082 or 607/652-7364); it lists 15 hikes around Catskill Park's 700,000 acres. Here are a few other choice paths to get you started.
Devil's Tombstone Off Rte. 214, Hunter, Greene Co. Park near the small mountain lake. The trail starts in a narrow notch between two peaks.
Slide Mountain Shandaken, Ulster Co. Take Oliverea Drive south to Route 47, past Winnisook Lake, and look for a sign that says slide mountain trailhead parking. The trail leads to the top of the Catskills' highest peak, at 4,180 feet.
Kaaterskill Falls Off Rte. 23A, just east of Tannersville, Greene Co. Hike to the site depicted in the Hudson River school's most famous painting, Thomas Cole's The Falls of Kaaterskill.
Overlook Mountain Meads Mountain Rd., Woodstock, Ulster Co. The trail begins across from the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, where monks and students spend their days meditating.
D&H Canal Trail Rte. 209, Summitville, Ulster Co. Take a more level-ground stroll on this canal-side path.
The Catskills are crisscrossed with tracks from now-defunct rail lines, many of which have been converted into trails. The Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, in Ulster County, runs for 12 miles along the Wallkill River from Gardiner to Rosendale (www.railtrails.org). The gently-graded Catskill Scenic Trail, in Delaware County, stretches for 19 miles from Bloomville to Grand Gorge.
Just a mile down the road from the Beaverkill Valley Inn, the Wulff School of Fly Fishing (845/439-5020) runs intensive weekend courses. Floyd Franke (607/498-4508), a knowledgeable guide, works at the school and also gives private lessons. Rent waders or take a class at the Beaverkill Angler Fly Fishing School (607/498-5194) in Roscoe.
The ski season doesn't begin until November, but you can still take the lifts up to the peaks for spectacular views of the autumn leaves.
Belleayre Mountain Ulster Co., 800/942-6904 or 845/254-5600; off-season lift ticket $8.
Hunter Mountain Greene Co., 888/486-8376 or 518/263-4223; off-season lift ticket $6.
Windham Mountain Greene Co., 518/734-4300; off-season lift ticket $5.
Catskill Mountain Railroad (Rte. 28, Mount Pleasant, Ulster Co.; 845/688-7400; round-trip $6) runs along Esopus Creek to the Phoenicia depot, a National Historic Landmark, and back. (Or you can tube down the creek to Mount Pleasant and take the train back.) The Delaware & Ulster Rail Ride (Rte. 28, Arkville, Delaware Co.; 800/225-4132 or 845/586-3877; round-trip $10) takes riders on a trip from Halcottsville to Roxbury.
Spend a day or a week at the New Age Health Spa (Neversink, Sullivan Co.; 800/682-4348 or 845/985-7600; doubles from $140, $882 weekly, including meals), surrounded by endless fields and wooded paths. The spa has a full range of activities and treatments, and lives up to its name with such services as astrological charting, tarot readings, and hypnotherapy. The Spa at the Emerson (845/688-7900; day packages from $370) lets non-guests book one of four daylong packages, which may include skin brushing and sea-salt exfoliation, massage, algae and mud wraps, reflexology, and an aromatherapy facial.
Floating down Esopus Creek isn't a sport—it's a leisurely pursuit. Town Tinker Tube Rental (Bridge St., Phoenicia, Ulster Co.; 845/688-5553; $15) loans out inner tubes for a 2 1/2-mile trip; tubers return via Tinker Tube taxis or on the Catskill Mountain Railroad.
Museums and Historic Places
A monument to the 1969 Woodstock festival stands in a roadside corner of a nondescript, fenced-off field (Hurd Rd., Bethel, Sullivan Co.). Owner Alan Gerry plans to begin a Tanglewood-like summer concert series in 2004 on an adjoining property; the New York Philharmonic has already signed on for six performances. Plans call for a Richard Meier—designed pavilion, an indoor hall, and a festival stage.
Get a taste of 19th-century technology at the Hanford Mills Museum (County Rtes. 10 and 12, East Meredith, Delaware Co.; 800/295-4992; admission $6), a working water-powered sawmill. When the guide opens the millpond's floodgates, the water wheel begins to move, the leather belts and pulleys start to whip around, and the gears make the saws sing. Somehow it seems a lot more sensible than an electric switch.
John Burroughs, a 19th-century naturalist who wrote often about his native Catskills, influenced the likes of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt. The Burroughs Memorial (Burroughs Rd., Roxbury, Delaware Co.; 315/768-7224) includes the rustic lodge where he summered, as well as his burial site at Boyhood Rock.
To see what the Catskills were like when New York State was a Dutch colony, visit the buildings that make up the Huguenot Historic Society (18 Broadhead Ave., New Paltz, Ulster Co.; 845/255-1660). Some of the stone houses, built by settlers fleeing religious persecution in France, date back to 1692. The same people also built the houses you can still see off Route 209, in the town of Hurley.
John Roebling, who designed the Brooklyn Bridge, also engineered the aqueducts above the D&H Canal to bring coal from Pennsylvania to Kingston. Walk the locks at the D&H Canal Historical Society & Museum (Mohonk Rd., High Falls, Ulster Co.; 845/687-9311; $3).
Opus 40 (High Woods, Saugerties, Ulster Co.; 845/246-3400) gives new meaning to the word handcrafted. For almost 40 years, until 1976, sculptor Harvey Fite worked on his "environmental" sculpture—six acres of steps, terraces, pools, and arches made entirely out of bluestone, fit together without mortar. Concerts are held here in the warm months.
Best Caffeine Fix
Sometimes you just need an iced latte. Or an iced Chai latte. Or a nonfat iced Chai latte. Pick up any of these at Plain & Fancy (Stewart Ave., Roscoe, Sullivan Co.; 607/498-4149; iced latte $3.50), where you can also buy specialty foods for a picnic.
Before You Go
Dirty Dancing isn't the only film set in the Catskills. See the region through different eyes with these two films and a book:
A Walk on the Moon A Jewish housewife falls in love with a hippie in the summer of Woodstock.
You Can Count on Me The story of a small-town single mother and her wandering brother, filmed in Phoenicia.
Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman. A novel about an Orthodox Jewish family's summer in the bungalow communities of the 1970's.