Best of the Catskills – Where to Stay and Dine, What to See and Do
I have lived in New York for six months now, and as the days have gotten longer and my thermals and puffa jackets have gradually been replaced by bare legs and short-sleeve tops, my desire to get out of the city has increased. After many word of mouth recommendations, and minimal online research it quickly became clear that if I wanted an easily-accessible-from-New York weekend getaway, then the Catskills should be top of my list.
Source: Wikipedia by Daniel Case
We picked up the rental car in Manhattan and hit the road. It was a mere two hours to the inn we had booked, nestled in the heart of the Catskills in Ulster County. I have so many lovely things to say about the Foxfire Mountain House that they won’t all fit on this page but I’ll make a start. The beautiful 11 room inn is set on ten private acres surrounded by woodlands and mountains, and the grounds are complete with a pond, fire pit, and a rustic outdoor pavilion for nights under the stars.
We checked in, and after exclaiming in delight at our beautiful room – all sun bleached wood and linen, not to mention the gift of a delicious scented candle to take home – we headed out to popular hipster-y food spot, the Phoenicia Diner for a late lunch. Reopened in 2012, the decor original 60s architecture has been gutted and updated with modern chrome, hanging globe lights and rippled glass dividers. Similarly, the menu features revamped diner classics as well as modish modern options, but I’m a sucker for a good burger so I went with that, washed down with a sparkling cider.
The sun was high in the sky by now and I wanted to shed my city-dwelling skin and get out into nature, so we drove the short distance to the start of Kaaterskill Falls. Towering at 260 feet – that’s 90 feet higher than Niagara Falls, FYI – Kaaterskill Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in New York State. It’s one of the most popular Catskills hikes, and has captivated everyone from daytripping out-of-towners, to renowned painters and photographers. The hike was fairly steep and around a mile long but the views of the two-tiered waterfall from the top were absolutely worth it!
We took full advantage of the late afternoon sun, and sat out by the natural lily lond back at Foxfire, enjoying a cool aperitif of regional white wine from their bar.
Dinner that night was authentic Catskills farm-to-table food at The Pines. We ate delicious chicken and cauliflower tacos with all the trimmings, and enjoyed live music. They let us take away a bottle from the bar, and we went back to Foxfire and drank wine, listened to their extensive vinyl collection and played board games by the open fire in their sprawling living room.
Fully rested, we woke to a nordic style breakfast that was laid out for us the next morning. We hung out on the long Moroccan-tiled veranda, helping ourselves to more freshly made biscuits and fresh fruit, and the extensive collection of premium teas and coffees.
Woodstock (yes, that Woodstock) is exactly what you’d expect from a place with such a rich history of music, arts, and culture. VW buses with peace signs in the windows park in overgrown driveways and every store and the small town is is jam-packed with endlessly quirky shops and restaurants. After exploring, we ate at the Garden Cafe, a beautiful little vegan spot in the centre of town and grabbed some pastries at the bustling Bread Alone, a community bakery selling organic breads made in a wood-fired brick oven.
After eating, we headed to Peekamoose Blue Hole, a gorgeous local swimming hole for sunbathing and a dip. Hours later, bronzed but a little chilly, we headed back to Foxfire and again satoutside for a pre-dinner drink.
Dinner that night was at Silvia in Woodstock. Another farm-to-table gem that is somehow both cozy and minimal. We shared four or five small plates of absolutely delicious food – stand outs being the burrata, bibimbap, and and seared scallops, accompanied by a carafe of white wine.
It would have been a shame to be to Woodstock and not go to local institution Station Bar and Curio, an unusual old joint located in – surprise – an old train station, so we stopped for a nightcap before heading back to the inn.
After another leisurely breakfast it was time to check out and say a tearful goodbye to Foxfire. The place is charm in building form, every design-oriented corner is a real labour of love, and we loved the bohemian-cum-country manor vibe. Every effort is made to make guests feel welcome and it really felt like home. If home is a 100-year-old vintage inn in upstate New York.
Our final day was due to be stormy so we planned a full day of town-hopping, with the intention of driving around the area and hitting as many of the quaint little towns as possible. Number one was the tiny town of Phoenicia, mere minutes from where we were staying. We’d already eaten at the diner there so this was an opportunity to mosey on down the little main street, watching the groups of white-water tubers (for more info on this, head to Tinker Town Tube Rental) and to check out Mystery Spot Antiques and grab a bite for the road at Brio’s Pizzeria.
Next on the list was the historic city of Kingston (after a quick detour around the Ashokan Reservoir), at the heart of which lies the Rondout area, by the foot of the Hudson River. Broadway, its picturesque main street, is lined with cute shops and cafes on a steep hill, making it feel vaguely reminiscent of San Francisco. Highlights were Brunette Wine Bar (self explanatory) and Clove and Creek for beautiful gifts.
Our next pit stop was Saugerties, via an all-too-short visit to the very special Opus 40, a breathtaking sculpture park and museum, constructed around a sprawling 6.5 acre bluestone sculpture built by by Harvey Fite over 37 years out of an abandoned quarry in Ulster County. It’s a labyrinthian maze of swirling ramps, paths, and terraces that frame quarry springs and trees with an unimpeded view of Overlook Mountain.
Anyone in the know will tell you that Miss Lucy’s Kitchen is *the* place to eat in Saugerties; their seasonal menu changes almost daily but the locally-sourced American fare in kid-friendly, rustic surroundings means you can’t really go wrong.
Keen to work off all the food we walked out to the Saugerties Lighthouse, a restored lighthouse just outside the town. As we hiked the scenic half-mile trail through a nature reserve, a sudden thunderstorm sprung up, and we emerged from the overgrown path to a clearing at the end of the peninsula to see the historic lighthouse (now an airbnb) and surrounding views of the Hudson lit up by spectacular flashes of lightning which was rather terrifying but wonderful!
Soaking wet, but safely back in the car we made our way back to Woodstock for our final meal of the trip; this time at Cucina, a name that kept coming up when we asked where we asked for culinary recommendations from the area. Cucina is gorgeous; an old farmhouse, complete with a wrap-around porch and lots of natural light inside. The food did not disappoint, I got fettuccine with asparagus, leeks and prosciutto and it was worth every penny of the hefty $20 price tag.
Content, we dragged reluctantly ourselves back to the car and mentally prepared to return once more to the hustle and bustle of the city. The Catskills is full of absolutely treasures, whether it’s food, lodging or culture, and my only regret is that we didn’t have more time. All the more reason to return!
About The Author: Lindsay Harvey recently moved to New York City having spent the last five years working in London in the film industry. She has lived in three continents and visited 50+ countries. Her favorite thing to do is to go on long road trips around the United States and write about them.