This Outdoor Oasis Is an Overnight Escape in the Hudson Valley
Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club is a secret, natural retreat on the edge of Ulster County.
Photos by Peter Crosby
Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club feels like a secret.
At first glance, the name raises eyebrows. Fly fishing? Really?
Don’t give up just yet, dear reader. For while fly fishing is part of the experience at Livingston Manor, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The reality is a splash of Huckleberry Finn, a dash of Robinson Crusoe, and a cupful of Rip Van Winkle and Pippi Longstocking all in one. In short, it’s a veritable outdoor oasis in Sullivan County. Nowadays, it serves as a temporary home for visitors as they reconnect with nature, with the Valley, and, ultimately, with themselves.
Oasis-making wasn’t always the goal, of course. In fact, a few years ago, fly fishing and the Hudson Valley weren’t even on the spectrum of possibility for Tom Roberts, one of the club’s three co-owners. As a youth growing up in England, Roberts steered clear of fly fishing, even though his grandfather, father, and brother all regularly enjoyed the sport. It was not until a friend suggested a trip upstate to fly fish on the river that Roberts began to reconsider.
“We went up and my eyes were opened,” he says. In no time at all, he, his friend Mikael Larsson, and his then-girlfriend Anna Aberg were regularly making the weekend trek upstate from New York City to fish and disconnect from metropolitan life. After a few years, the trio decided to take the next step and search for a property.
Together, they scoured real estate listings and online tips for a year and a half before finally stumbling onto two homes that boasted 300 feet of private riverfront.
“The houses were in terrible shape, but we loved the town,” Roberts explains. “it was worth it for the river.”
And so they bought the land. Slowly, but surely, they began the renovation process in summer 2016, reaching out to local contractors and weeding through every Craigslist posting they saw for usable scraps and knickknacks. Soon enough, word began to spread about the project and friends started to reach out to lend a hand.
“The property started becoming a canvas,” Roberts observed.
Unsurprisingly, as friends came to Livingston Manor to build and destress, they all would up asking the inevitable question: “So what are you going to do with the place?”
Around the same time, Roberts and Aberg found the mental and physical commute back to NYC to be more and more of a challenge. They knew it was time to make a change, and a big one at that. They said farewell to the Big Apple and settled into a permanent life at their new home in Livingston Manor, a home they planned to shape into a weekend excape for friends and guests.
Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club came to life over Labor Day weekend in 2017. Roberts, Larsson, and Aberg collaborated with Escape Brooklyn to invite a group of guests who had never met each other to attend a retreat on the property. Needless to say, it was a success.
“It was great,” Roberts enthuses. “It was really inspiring to see a bunch of people who didn’t know each other previously sharing a dinner table and connecting.”
Since then, the club has expanded to offer both memberships and weekend packages. For $300 a year, members receive merchandise, a field guide, a welcome pack, discounts, and an open invitation to two weekend experiences per year. Non-members can also attend the weekends, which often center around themes like “Friendsgiving” and “Winter Weekends on the River.” Then there are the builders’ weekends, in which interested individuals can stay for free in exchange for a little manual labor to help spruce up the place.
To say that these retreats at Livingston are appealing would be an understatement. In an era that moves faster than your Instagram feed, Livingston invites visitors to take a break from it all. Guests can pop the social bubble (temporarily, at least) to fly fish on the Willowemoc River, snowshoe through the forests, take a breather in the wood-burning sauna, explore on a foraging walk, and chat with the escapist community around the campfire.
Livingston Manor is a destination to do nothing. It’s a chance for people to step outside of their everyday schedules to embrace slow living in the Valley. It’s a temptation to escape, a temptation that has held a mightily significant appeal thus far. As of press time, the club boasts around 20 members. Thanks to a slew of successful weekend getaways and word of mouth, the owners now have plans to open the reservation calendar earlier in 2019.
Then there’s the inn. After Roberts and Aberg got married at the end of summer in 2017, they wanted to find a place near the club that could loop in their past experiences in marketing and hospitality, respectively. They opened the Lady Pomona B&B this summer as a way to host others and create a more curated overnight experience that complements the rustic one at the fly fishing club.
“it’s a very different look [than the one at Livingston Manor], but the feeling is somewhat similar,” Roberts says. “We want to make people feel like they’re in a comfortable home.”
To this end, he and Aberg go out of their way to incorporate special touches into their guests’ stays. In the morning, for instance, the couple build artful breakfast baskets with local supplies for overnighters to build their own meals in the comfort of their rooms.
Roberts and Aberg at Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club
While Robert and Aberg have quite a bit on their hands as is, they, along with Larsson, are already thinking about ways to make Livingston Manor even more unique than it currently is. Nothing is confirmed yet, but the trio are in talks to host very intimate (think 25 people at the most) weddings, birthday retreats, and outdoor dinner parties. The owners also want to expand the number of onsite lodging options, which currently accommodate 18 people (nine rooms and multiple outdoor safari tents).
First though, they want to take a moment to enjoy the holiday season in the Hudson Valley.
“We’re taking the month of December off to put together a winter program,” Roberts reveals. “It’s beautiful up here in winter.”