Best Hudson Valley Fall Getaways and Vacations in 2012
Seven historic hotels and fall getaways that make it easy to celebrate the season
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A horse-drawn carriage greets guests at the Gideon Putnam’s stately entrance
Gideon Putnam Resort & Spa (Saratoga Springs, NY)
By Jennifer Leba
When you pull up to the circular drive in front of the Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa, it’s easy to imagine that you have somehow slipped back in time; back to a better time. It’s not just the imposing grand brick edifice, punctuated with elegant white pillars, or the horse-drawn carriage that often sits out front. Of course, you probably already experienced that, “oh, I’m somewhere special” sensation when you turned onto the stately Avenue of the Pines, which weaves its way through the 2,200-acre Saratoga Spa State Park on the way to the National Historic Landmark hotel. No, it’s a combination of things that lets you know that you have arrived at a completely unique destination, one that bursts with nostalgia at every turn.
Opened in 1935, the Georgian-style hotel originally catered to well-healed clients (including a host of Hollywood hotshots) who came to “take the waters.” Among the few naturally carbonated springs in the country (and the only ones east of the Mississippi), the mineral springs of Saratoga have been luring visitors for generations with the promise of a multitude of health benefits. By the middle of the 19th century, Saratoga had transformed into a bustling spa town with an unrivaled summer social scene. Bathhouses continued to pop up, but the grandest one of all — the European-style Roosevelt Baths & Spa (spearheaded by FDR himself), also opened in 1935, just a short walk away from the hotel.
Decorated in vivid colors by the iconic designer Dorothy Draper (who also fashioned the interiors for West Virginia’s famous Greenbrier Resort), the original hotel had 87 guest rooms. In 2011, a major renovation project updated both the public spaces and the guest rooms, while preserving the hotel’s elegant, old-world charm. While Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs are now de rigueur, make no mistake: This is still an old hotel. There is only one guest elevator, some of the rooms are small and bathrooms can be awkward, but devotees don’t care about such things. They are too busy exploring the building’s many nooks and crannies, and checking out the wall of old phone booths (the phones actually work inside the hotel) and the murals in Putnam’s Restaurant and Bar, which were hand-painted in 1939 by Irish artist James Reynolds.
The fact that the hotel sits in the middle of a stunning state park is, perhaps, its greatest asset. Just steps away from the hotel you can access miles of multiuse trails for hiking, running, and biking. There are tennis courts and two golf courses (the park’s two outdoor swimming pools close in early September); the world-famous Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) is just a 10-minute stroll from the hotel. The park is also home to two small, but beloved, enthusiast museums: the Saratoga Automobile Museum and the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame.
History buffs (and Frisbee enthusiasts) will enjoy walking around the original spa complex — a collection of ornate brick buildings laid out in geometric precision, along with seemingly endless, well-manicured lawns. Some of the buildings have not been used for years; if you are so inclined, it’s fun to take a peek. But the Roosevelt Baths & Spa reopened in 2004 after an extensive renovation and now offers one of the most unique spa experiences in the country — their mineral baths. The setting is also one-of-a-kind. The tiled, institutional-style treatment rooms (there are 42), all with their own extra-deep porcelain tubs, may at first intimidate those who are accustomed to a more modern spa. Then you have to get past the murky brown bath water. The mineral water is actually piped directly from a spring beneath the building, but it oxidizes and turns brown when it mixes with the air. In most rooms, the mineral water is then combined with hot fresh water to bring the overall temperature to 97 degrees; this keeps the carbonation at its peak. Many describe the experience as akin to bathing in Champagne. Cheers to old-fashioned comfort.
A 40-minute mineral bath is $30; a full-service spa menu is also available. Fall room rates range from $139 to $249; suites from $199 to $349. Get up close and personal with the fall foliage by splurging on a “porch suite,” with a sunroom with two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows.
To get there: 24 Gideon Putnam Rd. 866-890-1171; www.gideonputnam.com
What to do
Saratoga comes alive during the summer when the Saratoga Race Course is in season. But all the hoopla also comes with mega crowds and greatly inflated price tags. After Labor Day, there is still lots to do — and fewer lines to wait in.
At the resort, the Pack n’ Pedal Package includes one night’s accomodation, two box lunches, and two two-hour bike rentals, starting at $219 per night. And the annual Saratoga Wine & Food and Fall Ferrari Festival takes place Sept. 7-9 at SPAC.
Where to eat
Hattie’s Restaurant The fried chicken (shown) at this casual Saratoga institution is legendary (as are the unique cocktails). The Southern cooking joint recently opened a second location. 518-584-4790; www.hattiesrestaurant.com
» Skytop Lodge (Skytop, PA)
» Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa (Saratoga Springs, NY)
» Oheka Castle (Huntington, NY)
» Great Stone Dwelling (Enfield, NH)
» 1850 House Inn and Tavern (Rosendale, NY)
» Grafton Inn (Grafton, VT)
» Vanderbilt House Hotel (Philmont, NY)