Best Hudson Valley Fall Getaways and Vacations in 2012

Seven historic hotels and fall getaways that make it easy to celebrate the season



Photograph courtesy of Skytop Lodge

So long, summer! It’s that time of year again, when we welcome the fabulous fall season. The leaves are changing, the air is crisp, and pretty pumpkins dot the landscape. And with the crowds mostly gone, it’s also the ideal time to hit the road. Here, we outline seven one-of-a-kind escapes, all within three-and-a-half hours of Poughkeepsie, and all centered around a historic building. So, whether you’re a history buff or just want to relax like it’s the good old days, read on.

Skip to:
» 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)

 

 
skytop lodge

Skytop Lodge (Skytop, PA)

Sprawling across 5,500 acres in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, Skytop Lodge is an all-inclusive resort that combines stunning natural beauty with a seemingly limitless list of activities and amenities. Built in the mid-1920s by a quartet of businessmen determined to create a grand resort playground, the site is now listed as one of the National Trust’s Historic Hotels of America. It is dominated by the Main Lodge, an imposing Dutch Colonial-style manor house made of stone and wood harvested from the surrounding property. The lodge includes 125 guest rooms, as well as the main dining room and other common areas; in addition, cottages of various sizes are available for family reunions and corporate retreats.
And those cottages get plenty of use, as multigenerational gatherings are very popular here. “It started after World War II,” says Robert Baldassari, Skytop’s sales and marketing director. “The soldiers came home, got married, and came here for their honeymoon. They liked the place, came back again with their kids, and then eventually with their grandkids. They just keep coming back, year after year. We have one family that brings four generations each year — about 30 or 40 people.”

It’s not difficult to understand how such loyalty develops. Located on a high plateau near West Mountain, surrounded by sweeping lawns, gardens, and deep forests, Skytop is physically spectacular. Our mini-suite in the Main Lodge was roomy and comfortable; large windows looked out on the formal garden, and the English country-style furnishings — overstuffed sofa and armchairs, tieback curtains, wainscoting on the walls — hinted at an earlier time period without in any way feeling “old-fashioned.”

golfGolf is only one of the many activities for guests at Skytop

Along with the beautiful landscape and comfy digs, the number and scope of activities available at Skytop is certainly a big draw. A (very) short list: swimming, hiking, biking, golf, tennis, archery, rowing, fishing, skeet shooting, lawn bowling, badminton. Keeping all of their multigenerational clientele happy is obviously a priority here: There’s a huge arcade/game room for kids; a brand-new adventure center with — among other pursuits — a zip-line course perfect for teens; a spa for harried boomer-types; and shuffleboard, a well-stocked library, and a board-game room for seniors. And in the winter, Baldassari tells us, you can even go dog-sledding with a team of huskies that has raced in the Iditarod.

But it’s the emphasis on tradition that gives Skytop its unique character. We opened our guest room door, for instance, with an old-fashioned skeleton key (no swiping of plastic cards here). Big Band music plays in the lodge’s Pine Room (an enormous lobby just made for lounging, chatting, and checking your e-mail). In the main dining room, guests are asked to “dress” for dinner: sports jackets for men, appropriate attire for women and kids, and no jeans, sneakers, or hats on anyone. Most noticeable, however, was the unfailing friendliness and attention paid to us by Skytop’s employees. From the smiling valet who parked our car to the bow-tie-clad waiter who poured our coffee at breakfast, we received exceptionally courteous, friendly, and unhurried service. The obvious goal of all concerned was to make each guest feel relaxed and well taken care of — and, when it comes down to it, what more could you want from a getaway vacation?

Room and cottage rates range from $390-$710 per night (based on double occupancy); prices vary with the seasons. Three meals a day are included; certain activities (such as golf and spa services) are available for an additional fee.

To get there: Off Rte. 390, near Canadensis, PA. 800-345-7759; www.skytop.com

steak and shrimpSteak and shrimp is a typical entrée offered in the resort’s dining room

What to do

Along with myriad activities available every day, Skytop offers seasonal “themed weekends” all year long. This fall’s Film Festival (Sept. 7-16) focuses on the work of perennial funnyman Jack Lemmon; son Chris Lemmon regales guests with stories of his father’s life on Sept. 8. The traditional Harvest Festival (Oct. 5-14) features the nontraditional Lake Stroll (Oct. 14), an annual event in which local chefs offer samples of their tastiest fare at tasting stations around picturesque Skytop Lake.

Where to eat

Stays include three square meals a day. Unlike similar resorts we’ve visited — where the food is something of an afterthought — the fare at Skytop is top-notch, rivaling some meals we’ve had in the Valley’s finest restaurants. There are five different places on the property serving food, ranging from the formal Windsor dining room to the cozy Tearoom (don’t miss the freshly made milkshakes, which are to die for).

Fall Foliage Report: Lots of options here. The drive along Route 390 up to the lodge passes through two state parks, which offer miles of colorful flora. Guests can take guided hikes on any of the 30 miles of trails for up-close looks at the scenery; those seeking less exercise — but equally great views — head to the lodge’s rooftop observation deck, which offers a 360-degree panorama of the surrounding mountains and the nearby Delaware Water Gap.

Skip to:
» 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)

 

 

gideon putnam resort and spaA horse-drawn carriage greets guests at the Gideon Putnam’s stately entrance

Gideon Putnam Resort & Spa (Saratoga Springs, NY)

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.

gideon spaThe spa

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

hattie's restaurant

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

Skip to:
» 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)

 

 

oheka castleAn aerial view of Oheka Castle and gardens

Oheka Castle (Huntington, NY)

Later this year, Leonardo DiCaprio will star in another big-screen version of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s evisceration of the “one percent” who inhabited Long Island’s Gold Coast in the early 20th century (see our 1920s-themed fashion shoot here). Now — as the island’s summer crowds thin out and its fall colors rush in — is the perfect time to explore the over-the-top lifestyle these swells enjoyed.

In the 1930s, hundreds of mansions filled Long Island’s North Shore from Great Neck to Huntington. Providing a weekend and summer retreat for America’s titans of industry and finance, homes on the Gold Coast ranged in style from English Tudor to Chinese Farmhouse. Their landscaped grounds offered every possible amenity — golf links, polo fields, even airstrips. Today a few dozen of these estates remain, the rest victims of dwindling fortunes, high property taxes, and subdivisions.

Several of these palaces are maintained as house museums, where you get a sense of the good times and the enormous staffs who made them possible. But the best way to experience Gold Coast grandeur is by spending a night in Oheka Castle, the largest and arguably most spectacular of its mansions, which now serves as a popular wedding venue and hotel.

Oheka was the dream home of mega-financier Otto Hermann Kahn (O-He-Ka), son of a wealthy German-Jewish banker and allegedly the inspiration for Mr. Monopoly of board-game fame. The estate emphatically validated his membership in high society at a time when anti-Semitism denied him access to many of its privileges. After he purchased 443 acres a few miles from Long Island Sound in 1914, workmen spent two years constructing a hill, creating the second-highest point on the island. To sit atop this new promontory, architects Delano and Aldrich designed a French Renaissance-style chateau, which was completed in 1919. Sporting 127 rooms encompassing 109,000 square feet, it’s America’s second-largest house, exceeded only by the Biltmore mansion in North Carolina.

ohekaOne of the lavishly renovated rooms at Oheka

Driving into Oheka elicits one of life’s “Holy cow!” moments. The gravel road courses arrow-straight down an allée of tall cedars that block all but a view of a picturesque gatehouse in the distance. Once through its portal, you reach the wide cobblestone forecourt, coming face to face with the mansion’s immensity. Clad in stone, Oheka rises a jaw-dropping four stories to a steep, slate-covered roof studded with dormers and peaked towers. More wonders await inside, beginning with the über-dramatic double curving staircase leading from the lobby to the house’s main floor. Not surprisingly, when directors need a backdrop screaming wealth, they come to Oheka; starting with Citizen Kane, it’s been featured in a host of movies and TV shows, including the current cable hit Royal Pains.

Kahn entertained lavishly at Oheka (a little too much for his retiring wife, Addie, who called it “the zoo”). Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, George Gershwin, and Harpo Marx are just a few of the guests who enjoyed his hospitality. As a guest today, you’ll breakfast in the dining room where 50 or more people — a servant standing behind each chair — sat down for sumptuous repasts in Kahn’s day. You can wander through the ornate, high-ceilinged ballroom where Enrico Caruso sang for his supper; or curl up with a book on a plush sofa in Kahn’s library (the “paneled” walls actually are plaster painted to resemble wood). You can arrange to play 18 holes at the country club surrounding the estate, once Kahn’s private course. Perhaps best of all, you can retire upstairs to one of the 32 elegant and comfortable guest rooms. There you can luxuriate in a claw-footed tub or arrange for an in-room massage. If you get hungry, head back downstairs to Oheka’s restaurant, which offers a delicious but, at the moment, limited selection. (The kitchen is in the process of being expanded.)

As you wander through the house, take notice of photographs in each room that tell the story of Oheka’s miraculous preservation. The mansion served a variety of purposes after Addie Kahn sold the property in 1939, five years following her husband’s death. But from 1979 to 1983 it stood abandoned, easy prey for vandals. The photos show the damage inflicted on Oheka — so much that after developer Gary Melius purchased the house and 23 remaining acres in 1984, it took nearly two years just to empty it of debris. Thanks to the most expensive private house restoration project in history, Oheka’s original splendor has returned. Today, it enjoys pride of place on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s roster of Historic Hotels of America.

Oheka’s grounds also are a joy to explore, especially in fall when surrounding trees offer a riot of color. Saunter through the meticulously tended formal garden, with its myriad reflecting pools and fountains, and enjoy vistas of Long Island Sound from the broad terrace. Wherever you wind up during your stay at Oheka, inside or out, you’ll feel like the king of this quintessential Gatsby-era castle. Rooms range from $395-$495 per night, with breakfast included; a special package is available that includes tours of other Gold Coast mansions. You can also book a guided tour of the house and grounds starting at $25.

To get there: 135 West Gate Dr. 631-659-1400; www.oheka.com

What to do

No visit to Long Island is complete without hitting the beach. At Caumsett State Historic Park in Lloyd Harbor, 15 minutes from Oheka, trails in the former estate of Marshall Field III (of department store fame) skirt rolling fields and pass through wildlife-filled woodlands on their way to a picturesque stretch of shoreline perfect for sunning, strolling, and picnicking. Also check out the magnificent estate barns — one for Field’s polo ponies, the other for his prize-winning Guernsey cows.

The village of Huntington, five miles north of Oheka, also is worth a stop. Voted Long Island’s top downtown for five years running in a regional poll, it’s got a humming Chelsea vibe, with scads of boutiques, art galleries, and antiques shops. The Long Island Fall Festival takes place in the village’s Heckscher Park (Oct. 5-8, www.lifall.com). The Heckscher Museum features a small but impressive collection, including works by many artists who called Long Island home; a show of nine illustrations by Robert S. Neuman is on view through Nov. 25. Huntington also has restaurants offering every cuisine imaginable. One very popular spot with locals is Cassis, a classic French bistro.

For information about other Gold Coast mansions available for touring, visit www.goldcoastmansionsoflongisland.com.

Skip to:
» 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)

 

 

great stone dwellingThe imposing Great Stone Dwelling was once the largest building north of Boston

Great Stone Dwelling (Enfield, NH)

For history lovers on the hunt for a good deal for a special event or group getaway, the Great Stone Dwelling in the Enfield Shaker Village is the place to try. Here, guests can experience some aspects of life during the mid-1800s without burning a hole in their pockets.

The group known as the Shakers — named for (you guessed it) their emphatic movements during moments of religious fervor — first crossed the Atlantic in 1774 and settled in the Valley near Albany. Later, they expanded to other parts of the country; one group moved to Enfield, New Hampshire in 1793. It wasn’t until 1837 that this sect began construction on a stone structure meant to house most of their community, though there was not a single experienced stone worker in their group. “They had no stonemasons among their company, but they went into the quarry and learned how to cut blocks of granite and built the whole thing themselves,” says Kate Mortimer of the Enfield Shaker Museum — the nonprofit that currently maintains the Dwelling and the historic village. The project took four years, but yielded the largest building north of Boston at the time, and the largest Shaker residence ever built in the nation. “At the community’s height — around 1850 — there were 128 people living in it,” says Mortimer.

Standing 80 feet at its highest point, the Dwelling is divided into six floors and a basement. On the first, you find the giant dining area, which is still used today for special catered events. (There is no on-site restaurant, but the staff is happy to recommend establishments in town.) The second floor is home to a 58-by-40-foot meeting room in which the community gathered for worship. Twenty sleeping rooms make up the third and fourth floors, which were originally segregated by gender. “The Dwelling was divided into a women’s and men’s section, because the Shakers were celibate,” Mortimer explains. “They weren’t allowed to mingle.”

Fortunately for guests, no such rules exist now, and men and women can share one of the original bedrooms — all with at least one queen-sized bed — that have now been outfitted with private bathrooms. Inside, you’ll find typical Shaker-designed furnishings: The décor is simple but comfortable, with the wardrobes, cabinets, and drawers all built into the walls. Just like during the 19th century, there are no TVs or phones; but, paradoxically, there is free Wi-Fi service, so you don’t need to worry too much about being out of the loop. Rooms are often rented to groups holding a wedding or conference on the site; however, individuals booking blocks of five rooms or more are also encouraged to visit.

bedroom

One activity you’ll want to check out is the guided tour of the whole village — beginning with the Dwelling itself, which boasts intricate woodwork and two sets of enormous arches. “All of the structure rests on them,” explains Mortimer. “The whole thing is very strong and unlike any other Shaker building.” Another huge hit on the tour — especially with children — is the excursion up to the Dwelling’s fifth floor to see the 600-pound bell; some lucky little tykes even get to ring it.

But the Dwelling isn’t the only building worth seeing. The West Brethren’s Workshop is also open to the public and exhibits an impressive collection of Shaker artifacts; also on view is the stunning Mary Keane Chapel. By the 1920s, the Shaker population had dwindled significantly, and they sold the property to an order of Catholic brothers who used it as a seminary. The chapel they built still showcases the original and very intricate stained-glass windows and pipe organ.

Save the date: On October 6, you can get outside for the annual Harvest Festival. Guests make their own candles, take horse-drawn wagon rides, and crank their own ice cream, among other fun activities.

Can’t make it to this event? Mascoma Lake is available for a visit any day. Not far from the Shaker Village, the crystal-clear body of water begs visitors to go boating and fishing. Outdoorsy types can also follow in the Shakers’ footsteps — literally — and hike up Mt. Assurance, which the faithful used for religious retreats. “When you get up to the top of the hill, you can see all over, past the Dwelling, over the lake,” Mortimer says. “In the fall it’s just really beautiful.”

Single room: $95 per night; double room: $125; corner room: $135.

To get there: 447 NH Rte. 4A. 603-632-4346; www.shakermuseum.org

Fall Foliage Report: In its entirety, US Route 4 spans 253 miles from East Greenbush, New York to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Passing through Enfield, the 106 miles of the New Hampshire portion leads drivers through the heart of the state, with a particularly leafy leg from Salisbury to Danbury.

What to do

AVA Gallery and Art Center (603-448-3117 or www.avagallery.org): This gallery has been supporting and promoting New Hampshire and Vermont artists for nearly 40 years.

Lebanon Opera House (603-448-0400 or www.lebanonoperahouse.org) The 88-year-old performing arts facility is the largest proscenium theater in the Upper Connecticut River Valley. Performers this fall include the Village People (Sept. 14), and guitarists Steve Vai (Sept. 16) and Buddy Guy (Oct. 28).

Where to eat

Mickey’s (603-632-9400 or www.mickeycafe.net): Part café, part tavern, part drive-thru, this eatery serves everything from pasta to quesadillas to chowder, seven days a week.

Skip to:
» 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)

 

 

1850 house inn and tavernThe stately 1850 House Inn & Tavern faces Rosendale’s Main Street

The 1850 House Inn & Tavern (Rosendale, NY)

When the village of Rosendale was known as a cement-mining town in the 1800s, its streets were lined with saloons, casinos, and brothels. “Practically every building on Main Street with a high balcony was a brothel,” says Amy Stroope, innkeeper at the 1850 House Inn and Tavern. “Our building was not one of them — it’s been a hotel as long as anyone can remember.”

Today, Rosendale provides a touch of slow-paced, small-town life nestled between college-town New Paltz and mini metro Kingston. But it is undeniably a place filled with stories — a stroll down Main Street, with its boutiques and bistros, shows you buildings and houses that have been in place for so long it looks as though they’ve exhaled into the earth. There is a church that’s been transformed into an art gallery; a spiritual awareness store steps away from a sports bar; and trails that lead to abandoned cement mines and other sites that encourage exploration. A combination boutique hotel and B&B with an attached pub, the 1850 House Inn and Tavern is in the thick of it all, and is just as full of tales as the historic small town.

The three-story brick building went through a series of owners before Michael Ruger — former proprietor of the now-defunct Clove Valley Trading Company restaurant in High Falls — took over in 2004. After several years, he decided to give it a complete overhaul, including the name change from its longtime moniker, the Astoria Hotel (1940-2011). The goal was to maintain the building’s historical integrity while incorporating some of the most modern conveniences he, himself, enjoys during a hotel stay. “Renovations took a year and a half; we opened in March, but fin­ished the largest room in May,” Ruger says. “We were going to use period furnishings, but it was difficult to find the right pieces; it seemed that combining the past with the present was the way to go. All in all, I wanted to build a place where I’d like to stay. So we included a fireplace in the main room, a bathroom in every room, AC and heat that guests can control, flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi, docking stations for iPods, and really comfortable beds — we have our linens specially made for us.” And they cover all the bases down to the smallest details; a packaged toothbrush sits on the bathroom sink for those who were in such a rush to get away that they forgot to pack one. There are 12 rooms, including a two-bedroom suite, and rates vary seasonally from $130-$250 a night. Breakfast is served the next morning, and is locally sourced whenever possible; eggs, for instance, are produced practically down the road.

blueberry oatmeal streusel

Options include omelets made to order, French toast bakes, casseroles, and the popular oatmeal-blueberry-streusel French toast. “While a complimentary breakfast is included with your stay, we’re more of a boutique hotel than a bed and breakfast,” Stroope says. “The 1850 House is not your traditional B&B with Victorian chintz, tchotchkes, and Laura Ashley prints. I guess you can describe us as ‘contemporary historical.’ ”

» Learn to make Oatmeal-Blueberry-Streusel French Toast with Maple Rum Sauce (recipe)

The past and present coexist harmoniously here; the hotel feels new, but there are enough antiques and historical embellishments to remind you that it is more than 150 years old. In the downstairs common room, for instance, a modern stainless-steel fireplace is encased within a wall of exposed brick. Guests can treat themselves to a cup of coffee from a Keurig machine while admiring the Rondout Creek from a weathered community table in the sunroom; later, they can mingle with locals sipping microbrews at the cozy tavern. Each room is outfitted with oversized photographs — which are usually hung over fluffy beds — of scenes from the town’s past. These landscapes of Rosendale’s timeline are worth admiring; some include glimpses of the time when the thoroughfare was a waterway. “We’ve actually had a guest who grew up in the area recognize his uncle and a few other men in a photo,” Ruger says. “We get a surprising amount of people telling us their own memories of the town and the hotel. One woman was married here about 50 years ago and brought in her wedding photo album to show us the building’s past, and another guy says he has a picture of Keith Richards in the tavern — we’ll need to see that one. But we love hearing those stories.”

To get there: 435 Main St. 845-658-7800; www.the1850house.com

1850 house inn roomA view of the modern lobby

What to do

The Rosendale Theatre Collective (845-658-8989 or www.rosendaletheatre.org): At one time used as a firehouse, this building screened its first film in 1949, and has not stopped since. Now exclusively a theater, it shows movies and hosts live performances, including dance and opera.

Widow Jane Mine (845-658-9900 or www.centuryhouse.org/facility.html): Nestled between High Falls and Kingston, this now-defunct limestone mine once provided materials for famous landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and Lady Liberty’s pedestal. Now under the care of the Century House Historical Society, it is open for exploration and occasionally is the site of musical performances and poetry readings.

Where to eat

The Rosendale Café (845-658-9048 or www.rosendalecafe.com): Pairing vegetarian meals with performances by local musicians, this snug eatery is great for a casual date night. Don’t miss out on the famous wheat-free Japanese dressing.

Skip to:
» 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)

 

 

grafton innThe Grafton Inn’s manicured lawn and cozy front porch

The Grafton Inn (Grafton, VT)

Driving into Grafton, Vermont is like taking a journey into the past: vinyl siding gives way to restored Colonials, cell phone reception dwindles to a single struggling bar (if that), and one of the three routes into town is actually a nine-mile dirt road (Route 121 — take heed in inclement weather). The miniscule village (population 600)is only two hours northeast of Albany, and is under the auspices of the Windham Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve the heritage of Vermont’s rural villages and small towns. The center of town is the Grafton Inn, established in 1801.

Luckily, the inn has been updated since then. “Until the 1960s, it still had no private bathrooms, and people were demanding more modernized amenities,” says Melissa Gullotti, communications director of the Windham Foundation. Currently, it consists of 45 rooms, including seven suites and four separate guest houses. Guest rooms range in price seasonally from $165-$295; suites go for $235-$395. The four guest houses (with up to five bedrooms) cost $396-$884. All the rooms feature décor inspired by Victorian furnishings and local history — eight beds were made by a local woodworker. Each room has its own personality, with individual styles of wallpaper (traditional floral in one, bold damask in another) and solid wood furniture. “We have some regulars who have been coming here so long they’ll only stay in a particular room because they’ve grown so comfortable there; if we change one thing — a slipcover, a painting — they’ll complain as though we rearranged their personal furniture,” Gullotti laughs. Each suite also has a Jacuzzi or two-person tub, complimentary local cheese, central air, and tall, fluffy beds. (Overheard in the dining room: “I can’t believe how well I slept — if I hadn’t set my alarm, I would have slept for three weeks.”)

The only possible drawback is the thinness of the walls in the main house, but guests remain respectful of each other. Very young children are not permitted to stay in the main building, but the guest houses provide much more space for a kid to be a kid. “We do see families here, and it’s actually quite an amazing thing,” Gullotti explains. “They come in from city living: mom’s stressed, dad’s overworked, and the kids have their faces glued to electronics. But by the end of their stay, they’re smiling, relaxed, and outside riding our rental bikes together, doing some leaf-peeping.”

Though the past is precious here, innkeepers John and Kathy Cray understand the importance of updated amenities. While cell phone and Wi-Fi services are shaky, they are available; there are no TVs.

Dining options are limited to the Old Tavern Restaurant (reservations are suggested) or the casual Phelps Barn Pub next door. The Old Tavern has a list of small plates, entrées for omnivores, and a dessert list that’s a true homage to its former life as a tavern: Alcohol is incorporated into almost every dish.

The rustic Phelps Barn Pub is decorated with award-winning quilts — created by Kathy Cray — that are hung like tapestries. The barn is also the place to catch nightlife, with themed-menu evenings and live dance-rock or blues bands.

Within walking distance of the inn are three museums, three art galleries, a gourmet food and wine shop, a blacksmith’s forge, and a library. Take a short drive down the road and you’ll find Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center, with hiking and biking trails (occasionally they do wine and cheese-themed hikes), and the Grafton Village Cheese Company’s production facility, which offers cheese-making demonstrations.

Still, some people visit the Grafton Inn just to relax. “You’d be surprised how many people check in, spend all day on the porch in a rocking chair with a book and a glass of wine, then go to sleep,” Gullotti says.

To get there: 92 Main St. 800-843-1801; www.graftoninnvermont.com

grafton inn

What to do

Three tiny museums add a splash of culture to a tiny town. The Grafton Historical Society Museum (www.graftonhistory.info/Museum.html) is open Thurs.-Mon., through fall foliage season. At the Vermont Museum of Mining and Minerals (www.vtmmm.org), you can see a very large grossular garnet, Vermont’s state gem, and one of the largest ammonites ever found. The hands-on Nature Museum at Grafton (www.nature-museum.org) lets visitors crawl through an underground bear den or dig for fossils. Don’t miss the beloved Annual Fairy House Tour (Sept. 29-30). The woods behind the museum will be filled with dozens of magical fairy houses.

Cheese please

With more than 40 farms producing cheeses from the milk of cows, sheep, and goats, Vermont boasts more artisan cheesemakers per capita than any other state.

The Grafton Village Cheese Company (www.graftonvillagecheese.com) has a retail shop located next to the inn, and a larger facility down the road that hosts cheese-making demonstrations. Its most popular line is the aged raw cheddar; the new “cave-aged” cheeses includes the award-winning Leyden, a cow’s-milk cheese flavored with cumin for a uniquely spicy taste. The shop by the inn also has a selection of wines (don’t be shy about asking for pairing options) and other items for sale.

Skip to:
» 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)

 

 

vanderbilt house hotelA view of the Vanderbilt House from Main Street

Vanderbilt House Hotel (Philmont, NY)

If you can urge your car up the hill that is Philmont’s Route 217, you will be rewarded with the sight of the stately Vanderbilt House Hotel, which has been beckoning to weary travelers for 152 years.

In 1860, the Vanderbilt family built the half-inn, half-tavern directly across the street from the only railroad station around (which no longer exists today), and business boomed. Thirty years later, the property fell into the hands of a man named L. O. Mansfield, who hung a sign bearing his name over the wraparound porch and posed with his family for a photo beneath it. That picture is the reason Bob Mansfield — the current owner and L. O.’s great-grandson — bought the building in November 2009. “My grandmother sold the hotel in 1937 after my grandfather died. But our family always thought of that photo as ours,” he says. He stopped in the hotel and inquired if he could purchase the picture. “The owner said, ‘You can buy the picture, but you gotta buy the hotel first,’ ” Mansfield recalls with a laugh.

And so he did. Some renovations were in order, but Mansfield retained much of the turn-of-the-20th-century feel. As my sister and I hauled our luggage up the richly carpeted stairs, we both remarked on the cozy davenport sofas, billowing white curtains, and beautiful landscape painting in the lobby. When we got to the top floor we discovered eight guest rooms and a suite (which was under construction at press time). The doors are labeled one through seven, with the eighth bearing a large 12 — but it’s not misnumbered. “My father was born in that room, which at that time was room 12,” Mansfield explains.

Three rooms open onto a wooden deck draped with hanging plants and American flags. It offers a spectacular view of Summit Lake, which once served as Philmont’s reservoir. Adding to the charm is the thick forest surrounding the lake, and the view of the mountains.

Back inside, soft floral comforters cover the beds and tasty chocolates sit on the side tables. For those who need to stay in the know, HDTVs and Wi-Fi are ready to serve.

The original floors on both levels survived the renovation, as did the ceiling and a few doors in the tavern, which has three spacious areas for eating. The main dining room is painted a rich red; its most striking feature is the large glass window that faces the lake. Another option is al fresco dining on the patio, but we chose the rustic room by the bar. As we waited for our food, we were amused to see the vintage wooden ladders, skis, snowshoes, and wagon wheel adorning the space. There’s also a fantastic early 1900s telephone and an authentic World War II medal of honor.

And now to the food. My favorite options included the brandied pork tenderloin with apple and dried cherry jus, whipped potatoes, and vegetables. But, in keeping with the rustic theme of the room, my sister and I both went with a good old burger, heaped high with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and applewood smoked bacon — as well as a diet-busting portion of fries. If you happen to visit on a Tavern Tuesday, know that Mansfield himself will be your chef. And I must say, he’s a very good cook.

My sister best described our stay at Vanderbilt House: “This feels like a real house. I forgot we were in a hotel.”

Nightly rates are $125-$160, breakfast included.

To get there: 61 Main St., Philmont; 518-672-9993 or www.vanderbilt-house.com

Fall Foliage Report: Once you pass Poughkeepsie heading north on the Taconic State Parkway, the jam-packed lanes give way to a leisurely drive through the heart of the Valley’s foliage. And don’t just stay in the car: there are a few pull-off areas where you can get out and savor the view. For a more detailed report, visit hvmag.com.

vanderbilt house

What to do

High Falls Conservation Area: A few miles down the road from the hotel is this 47-acre property that sports hiking trails leading to the 150-foot-tall High Falls — the highest waterfall in Columbia County.

Warren Street, Hudson: Just a 15-minute drive away, this snazzy thoroughfare showcases some fine shopping, including numerous antiques stores and boutiques.

Mac-Haydn Theatre (Chatham; 518-392-9292): September brings their production of Smokey Joe’s Café, a fun musical full of Lieber and Stoller hit songs.

Where to eat

Local 111 (Philmont; 518-672-7801): With a local farm-to-table approach, this 39-seat restaurant draws in crowds with dishes like grilled steak with preserved pepper puree, fried potato, grilled onion, and garlic butter; and risotto with peas, carrots, mint, chèvre, and almonds.

Skip to:
» 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)

 

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