A trip to New York City is many (wonderful) things, but one thing it most certainly isn’t, is relaxing. Pounding those pavements, hitting the shops, non-stop eating and drinking – it can all take its toll. Which is why a top tip for anyone visiting Manhattan would be to factor in a half-time 48-hour break in the Catskills, a beautiful scenic area of New York State, to recharge batteries and breathe some fresh air.
Just a couple of hours north of the crowds and noise of the city, the Catskills really is another world, a beautiful open landscape dotted with woods, mountains, charming little towns, and farms. It’s so quiet here, that you can drive for miles and not see another car.
Far from being merely a rural getaway however, the Catskills has become a hot destination in its own right in recent years, as boutique hotels have popped up and chefs, tired of working in Manhattan, have moved to the Catskills and opened acclaimed restaurants. Many still flock to the area to visit towns like Woodstock and Hudson with their hippy heritage and thriving artist communities too. From hiking trails and hot hotels to distilleries, breweries, and diners, here’s how to spend an awesome 48 hours in the Catskills.
The Packing Edit
Foster Supply Hospitality has been leading the charge for charming boutique hotels in the Catskills for the past few years and now has a collection of properties that makes up some of the best places to stay in the area. Kenoza Hall is one of their newest, having opened in the summer of 2020. The stunning white clapboard mansion perched on a slope above Kenoza Lake, was previously a private family home and the property retains a very homely feel, despite the transformation into a 22-room boutique hotel. Rooms are a striking blend of traditional and contemporary with velvet chairs, old wooden writing desks, and original hardwood flooring, juxtaposed with bright patterned wallpaper, modern white bathtubs, gold-hued drapes, and designer light fixtures to create a welcoming, eye-catching aesthetic. Many rooms offer private balconies overlooking the lake too. The common areas are designed to make you feel at home, with a cosy dining room, bar, and a living area strewn with books and comfy armchairs. Outside, Adirondack chairs are scattered out on the porch and around a fireplace that’s lit each night allowing guests to gather after dinner (see Eat and Drink for more on the food!) for stargazing. Impressively, Kenoza Hall also features a spa and free classes such as yoga each day, as well as a hot tub and an outdoor pool for the summer months. And, opening soon are ten new standalone bungalows set away from the main house which will offer greater privacy and more room for families.
The DeBruce, set in a grand old boarding house amongst acres of wilderness, offers another beautiful option from Foster Supply. The charmingly creaky building dates from 1880 and has now been given a new lease of life, with wooden floors, comfy leather armchairs and walls strewn with vintage map prints. With just 12 luxurious rooms in the property, it makes for an intimate, exclusive stay – you could easily just spend a day here, relaxing in the reading room or hanging out by the pool. Don’t miss the restaurant either, surely the region’s fanciest – and priciest, at $225 for the tasting menu – dining experience, featuring dishes like smoked eel with black truffle and duck, smoked onions, and wild mushroom.
Scribner’s Catskill Lodge
One of the smartest hotels in the area, Scribner’s Catskill Lodge is part Scandi-cool hotel and part ski lodge (yes, it gets pretty cold here in the winter). Fireplaces, comfy sofas, and a pool table can be found in the communal areas, whilst the minimalist and comfy 38 rooms all have postcard views of nearby Hunter Mountain. Outside, there’s a heated pool and a campfire where guests gather to make s’mores each night.
EAT + DRINK
There’s no better place to start your day than at Phoenicia Diner with the ‘farmer’s skillet’, a huge plate of bacon, potatoes, cheese, and two eggs – but be prepared to queue as this place draws crowds from miles around. The interiors are so classic they could be straight out of a movie set, with shiny booths, counter seating, and pegboard menus. Originally opened in 1962, new owners have transformed the menu, using local organic produce to bring all your favourite diner classics right up to date. An essential stop.
Callicoon Wine Merchant
Callicoon is one of the loveliest little towns to visit in the area, with several shops, a distillery, and even a small 50s cinema. Best of all is Callicoon Wine Merchant, a bottle shop and bar that serves natural wine, local beers, and trendy small plates in a tiny indoor bar and an outdoor terrace that overlooks the Delaware river. Dishes showcase local produce, from artisan cheeses to smoked trout rillettes and seared pork tenderloin.
Kenoza Lake View Restaurant
The restaurant at Kenoza Hall packs serious flavour into hearty yet refined classic dishes. Dinner highlights include the must-order grilled Caesar salad with white anchovy and parmesan, the beef tartare with egg yolk cornichons, shallot, and truffle, the moules frites and red wine marinated Chilean sea bass with bouillabaisse sauce. Sliding doors frame perfect views of the lake and, in summer, the dining room opens out on to a lovely outdoor terrace for al fresco lunches in the sun.
Husband and wife team Marybeth and Devin Mills spent two decades working at several of Manhattan’s finest restaurants including Le Bernardin and Gramercy Tavern, before moving up to the Catskills and opening Peekamoose in 2003. Trailblazers for the Catskills revival, Peekamoose is a charming place with a lively bar in the front and a more formal dining room out the back. From beef tartare and homemade charcuterie to the epic pastrami sandwich, Peekamoose delivers simple satisfaction using the best local produce around.
Arnold House Tavern
The Arnold House Tavern is a classic slice of Americana, a big, welcoming wood-clad bar with pool table, jukebox, and a roaring stone fireplace. With the interiors much unchanged since it first opened 50 years ago, the food menu has been given an update by new owners Foster Supply and features the likes of local Beaverkill trout; pork chops with Yukon gold mash; and an excellent fried chicken sandwich. A great place to hang out with the locals.
Upward Brewing Company
Just down the road from the Arnold House Tavern is one of the Catskills’ best breweries, Upward Brewing Company. There are plenty of great breweries in the area, but few boast a tap room as impressive as Upward’s – a modern, light-filled space featuring a bar, kitchen, sofas, armchairs, and coffee tables laden with books. Huge windows look out on to the grounds and small pond, decked out with tables and chairs in summer. All beers are crafted on site using water drawn from the mountain spring that’s right on site – can’t say fresher than that. Particular favourites include the Breadwinner IPA and the BaseCamp lager.
Take a hike
A trip to the Catskills is all about enjoying the great outdoors. With mountains, woods, waterfalls, rivers, and lakes the area boasts stunning scenery and miles upon miles of hiking trails in which to enjoy at all. Walks cater to all difficulty levels, from gentle strolls to full on mountain scrambles. You’ll see plenty of fellow hikers on popular trails, but you may well have quieter ones all to yourself. A good place to start is the Visit Catskills sites which has lots of routes and tips to explore.
Visit the Woodstock festival site
Given how quiet the Catskills is, it’s hard to imagine that in the summer of 1969, nearly half a million people descended upon the area for the Woodstock festival. The pinnacle of the sixties and a landmark cultural moment, the original festival site is well worth a visit. Actually located near Bethel rather than Woodstock (the location was changed at the last minute by festival organisers but the Woodstock name stuck), there’s now a visitor centre and museum here – you can drive around the back to a small monument and look out over the site and where the stage once stood. Although it might seem strange to visit an empty field, there is something undeniably exciting about seeing it for yourself.
Tour the towns
There’s no shortage of charming little towns to explore, jam packed with shops, cafés, food markets, breweries, and distilleries to visit. As well as Callicoon (mentioned above), there’s Livingston Manor, Roscoe, Woodstock, Palenville, and Phoenicia to name just a few. It’s well worth stopping by as many of them as you can to get a feel of local life in the Catskills and be sure to look out for the weekly farmers markets too.
*DISCLAIMER: Travel restrictions are changing daily, so please check the latest government advice before you book anything. Visit Gov.uk for more information.