When I decided to take an impulsive trip over the first weekend of December, I never imagined that I could truly feel “rest” in just 48-hours. My sister was in New York for her next batch of interviews for residency, and I figured she and I both needed a change in scene.
My love for journeying upstate starts and ends with the Catskills. Beautiful yet such a different experience in all seasons, the Catskill Mountains have been my go-to destination when my friends and I feel just a little restless; think camping at Spruceton Inn to a cozy wood-burning stove at the Table on Ten Studio on the Hill. Just under three hours away to the Catskills are must-see stops at: New Paltz, Kingston, Woodstock and Saugerties. So what’s stopping me from wearing the “Catskills vs. Hamptons” t-shirt like a true convert? (By the way, this t-shirt has even been sold out at the popular boutique hotel, Graham & Co.)
Perhaps it’s because of this recent trip to the Hudson Valley. 48-hours to explore the Hudson Valley is certainly not enough but the city of Hudson is a perfect destination for those who want convenience of transportation, an authentic vibe and cozy places to stay without excessively splurging.
It is common to hear the Hudson Valley and Catskills referenced interchangeably; Habitat Real Estate Group’s blog even distinguishes both as such: “Has it been half an hour since you’ve seen any kind of chain store other than a gas station? You’re probably in the Catskills… Do you have cell phone service? You’re probably in the Hudson Valley.” In fact, both areas sit in different counties, separated by the Hudson River; the Catskills and Hudson sit in Greene County and Columbia County respectively.
Our journey started on the Friday’s 3:15pm Amtrak on the Empire Service line, which was both on time and clean! Were my expectations just too low? It’s hard to not have such a sad mindset onboarding the train given this year’s Thanksgiving debacle. Two cars of the Adirondack line traveling from Montreal to New York detached on Thanksgiving Eve after passengers “heard a pop and a hiss, smelled electrical burning and felt a rush of cold air,” according to CBSNews. It was safe to say that both our journey to and from Hudson was pleasant – the view of the river was downright calming, and even when not sitting on the side of the main show, fall foliage was beautiful to see.
“Oh wow, that building looks amazing,” my sister said as the Uber from Hudson station turned into said building as if on cue. A former 1920s movie theater, Rivertown Lodge is lauded by social media and travel guides as a successful icon of design-forward entrepreneurs who have moved out of New York City and into upstate New York. Whether it’s because they felt stifled from the buzz of the City, outraged by rent or something entirely else, creatives have been venturing to the region with gusto in recent years. The co-owners of the hotel were ex-NYC hotel consultants themselves, bringing Brooklyn-based design to the area.
While its more cosmopolitan residents have brought a new surge of tourism into the area, it’s also had its negative impact. According to public radio WAMC, rent in Hudson has doubled and new leases, while now unaffordable to many locals, are being converted to Airbnb homes. Hudson Valley magazine recorded a 200 rent listing increase between last summer and this year’s, during which the Hudson Valley earned more than $27 million through Airbnb.
Regulation of Airbnb homes differ across the New York state, down to the county. According to Curbed New York, “upstaters don’t have to worry about the Multiple Dwelling Law, in which New York City restricts renting out a Class A multiple dwelling – so, your typical apartment – for fewer than 30 days without the full-time resident present.” While in Ulster County (which sits just under Greene), Airbnb has reached an agreement on occupancy tax collection, this doesn’t apply in Dutchess Country (just next door), where the modern art museum Dia: Beacon is located. Regulation is difficult to pass mainly because it’s unclear that rental homes should be subject to the same rules applied to hotels and B&Bs (bed and breakfast inns).
Yet, despite its negative effects, Airbnb has brought renewed economic rigor to the upstate region. A 2016 Airbnb report shows that short-term rentals have contributed to $75 million of economic activity, with $41 million or 55 percent going to direct spending at local businesses.
Back to the boutique hotel; we checked into a well-curated room number four with a fresh eucalyptus wreath on the door. The standard room was cozy with thoughtful accents (such as birch wooden door knobs). Overall, the vibe appeared perhaps a little too familiar. On the room’s bookshelf was a Marshall speaker that I’ve spotted at Urban Outfitters; in the lobby, there were Hasami Porcelain, the ceramic tableware you see everywhere (and also on Amazon); in the communal pantry, next to coffee, they had bone broth – how much more Brooklyn hipster could you get?
Needless to say, I stuck to my black coffee and got seated in the lobby next to a small wood stove, generous and continually fed by a kind staff. Across from my sister and I was a solo-traveler who was knitting. The staff was extremely pleasant and accommodating but after having seen the pristine lobby so many times on my Instagram, it hardly felt like I had stumbled upon a unique stay.
The next day, we walked down the mile-long Warren Street, the equivalent of main street filled with restaurants, cafes and shops on both sides. In abundance were antique stores, each with their own unique quirk. The luxury of a spontaneous trip for a severe Type A personality such as myself meant that no lunch reservations had been made in advance. So we peeked into the Cascades, a “deli restaurant and caterer,” whose lunch combo of soup and half signature sandwich had us filled to the brim. The table behind us appeared to be three ex-New Yorkers, who talked about interior design. In front of us were a local elderly couple celebrating a birthday; the birthday boy proceeded to order a “half glass of beer” as he dropped his cane behind the space heater.
We took a break from eating by ironically, indulging in dessert. The flourless chocolate at Patisserie Lenox was especially delicious. This was the kind of bakery where newspapers were spread across wooden tables, high school students worked part time behind the counter and the spiced apple cider came with a cinnamon stick. We sat by the window taking turns biting off each other’s pastries while reading the newspaper.
Weekends at Rivertown Lodge are usually full and late check outs on Saturdays didn’t appear to be common. So, after having checked out at 11:30am, we had left our duffle bag behind the check-in counter. Burning off dessert calories, we went back to retrieve it in the late afternoon. After watching an employee bring in the hotel’s Christmas tree for the season, we closed our laptops and headed back out down Warren Street, which was celebrating December with the Winter Walk. All the stores were still open and food tents dotted along the street where cars were no longer permitted. There were groups of carol singers dressed in Victorian outfits as well as petting zoos with sheep, alpaca and rabbits. There was kettle popcorn being sold in front of the fire department and an ice carver spelling the word “Hudson.” In the storefront of a dance studio near the Public Square, the city’s young ballerinas took turns dancing to the Nutcracker for a solo number.
The festivity on the first evening of December was contagious. As we rode the quiet Amtrak back into the City, all we could think about were the twinkling lights and the lingering smell of roasted chestnuts.
The Winter Walk in the Hudson is over, having drawn 20,000 people to Warren Street. If you’re looking for an equally jolly experience, visit the Winter Walk in Kingston (just south of Hudson and closer to New York City) on December 15th. Hosted by And North, a curated guide to upstate New York, the event will include: “wreath making, wine tastings, candlelit walks, courtyard celebrations, and so much more.”
For less time-sensitive events, check out sleigh rides on Lake Placid and visit North Pole, NY, or Kingston’s Polar Express!
Photo Credit: The Infatuation