August 9, 2022

Our Town: A Travel Editor’s Guide to the Catskills

My family considers the Catskills to be a second home, and for us, spending time at our weekend house in Windham, NY, is synonymous with spending time outdoors. Just a few hours drive from New York City, the area is an ideal escape for urbanites like us. When we’re not skiing, gardening, or exploring the area, you can find us cooking at home using ingredients from local farmers and meat purveyors.

The drive up from the city has always been part of the adventure. In the spring and summer we stop in towns like Saugerties to explore antique shops, collecting vintage milk glass, old meat scales, and retro sunglasses along the way. In the fall, we take the scenic drive up the Taconic Parkway, relishing in the burnt red, copper, and golden hues of autumn foliage while stopping at farm stands to buy freshly picked Honey Crisp apples and various kinds of crazy looking squash.

From skiing to fishing, shopping to hiking, the Catskills provide the perfect ingredients for the ultimate weekend retreat. Here is my guide to the area.

Where to Eat

Since my family usually cooks most meals at home, a trip to the Catskills is never complete without a stop at Smoke House of the Catskills, an off-the-beaten-path butcher shop in Saugerties that has served the area for decades. In the winter we indulge in rashers of their double-smoked bacon for breakfast before hitting the slopes, and spicy salami for après-ski snacks (to go with our après-ski beers). During the summertime, their house-made German sausages and generous cuts of beef and lamb always make their way to our charcoal grill.

When we’re not in the mood to cook, our family favorite is Vesuvio Restaurant in Hensonville. Chef-owner Joe Baglio was born in Genoa and moved to the Catskills in the late 1970s. He serves a mean Sunday gravy, and an on-the-bone veal chop Milanese big enough to make Fred Flintstone weak at the knees. If you’re craving a simple spaghetti pomodoro or rigatoni Bolognese, Joe has perfected those too.

For sweets, Hartmann’s Kaffeehaus in Round Top is one of my family’s best-kept secrets. Part-restaurant and part-bakery, this eatery is run by older German-American women who have an endearing affinity for white lattice doilies. Their no-frills kitchen is outfitted with midcentury stoves that churn out equally old-fashioned, traditional German treats like nüssecken (chocolate dipped hazelnut cookies), fürst pückler (layer cake), and linzer tarts filled with house-made raspberry jam. Note: Hartmann’s Kaffeehause is closed in the winter months.

If you’re in an all-American mood, head to Catskill Mountain Country Store on Route 23 in Windham for some of the best pies you’ll ever taste in your life. I’m a traditionalist and never stray from their classic apple, with chunks of sugary, cinnamon-coated fruit and a buttery crust that’s more savory than sweet. Owners Drew and Natasha are always around, either whipping up fresh cider donuts in the kitchen or ringing up customers at the register.

What to Do

In the winter, skiers and riders visiting the northern Catskills have a handful of amazing mountains to choose from—each one with its own character. I’m partial to Windham Mountain because it’s where I grew up skiing. With an impressive ski school and six terrain parks for freestylers of all ages, Windham is the perfect spot for families. There’s night skiing and riding for those who don’t want the day to end with the sunset, and an adjacent tubing park and ice skating rink that offer even more hours of fun in the snow.

If you love snow but downhill isn’t your thing, I recommend spending a day at Mountain Trails Cross Country Ski Center in nearby Tannersville. With 300 picturesque acres of groomed nature trails—all marked for their varying degrees of difficulty—this ski area is a treat for cross country skiers and snowshoers alike.

During warmer months, hike to Fawn’s Leap Falls in Palenville for a scenic swim. Or if you’re seeking adventure, grab your kayak for some whitewater action up Kaaterskill Creek. While there, you have no choice but to visit nearby Kaaterskill Falls, one of the highest and most breathtaking waterfalls in New York State.

If you’re an avid angler, then you must visit Livingston Manor, the birthplace of American fly-fishing. There, the waters of Little Beaverkill River are abundant with various species of trout including Brown, Rainbow and Brook—some wild and some stocked. The town is also home to the Catskill Fly Fishing Museum, which displays historical angling equipment and hosts educational programs on everything from river ecology to angling etiquette and fly casting.

Where to Stay

During its heyday, the Catskills had tons of large, full-service resorts teeming with guests. These days, more design-focused, intimate hotels are attracting visitors who come up from the city for short weekend trips.

West Kill’s Spruceton Inn is the perfect place to unplug and enjoy the outdoors. The nine-room bed and bar, as it’s known, has no Wi-Fi or televisions, and barely any cell service on the property. Guests who want to make up for lack of screen time can socialize with one another and the inn’s owners in Conan’s Corner, a fully stocked bar located in room 1 of the hotel. The bar offers drinks and small nibbles such as smoked trout—a local favorite—as well as charcoal and sausages in case you’d like to whip up dinner on one of the four grills outside, and s’mores fixings and firewood for the three fire pits on the property.

Located in Tannersville and surrounded by almost 200 acres of lush green landscape and carefully mapped hiking trails, Deer Mountain Inn makes it easy for guests to enjoy the fresh mountain air. The hotel is a short drive from Hunter Mountain and Mountain Trails Cross Country Ski Center, making it a great destination in the winter. If you’re staying there during the warmer months, you can walk to one of the swimming ponds scattered throughout the property for a dip, or head to Colgate Lake, a popular fly-fishing spot stocked with trout. The exquisite three-course prix fixe at the hotel’s restaurant is also not to be missed.

What to See

Lined with historic buildings, shops, and restaurants, Main Street Saugerties is a charming destination for a day trip. While there, I always stop into Saugerties Antiques Center to browse their broad selection of period pieces and collectibles like 1950s dinette sets, vintage hats and gloves, and hand-painted tea sets. I also recommend visiting Saugerties Lighthouse. Built in 1886, the old redbrick structure still functions as a lighthouse as well as a museum and bed and breakfast. On a clear day, climb up to the light tower for unforgettable, panoramic views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains.

Literary buffs traveling to the southern tip of the Catskills must visit One Grand in Narrowsburg. The independent bookshop offers a refined collection of books curated by influencers like Gloria Steinem, Tilda Swinton, and John Irving. Also on offer is a selection of Bellocq teas including a rooibos blend called “Little Dickens,” ideal for sipping while perusing the shelves.

In Woodstock, Upstate Films at Tinker Street shows an interesting selection of noteworthy independent and foreign films in a historic, single-screen theater. Prefer shopping to cinema? Then head down the street to Shop Little House to stock up on both modern and vintage gifts for the home, or Woodstock General Store for a fashionable selection of outerwear and accessories.

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