Rustic Retreat and Tasty Eats in the Catskills

Written by Anita

January 12, 2014

Looking for a winter weekend getaway? Then look no further than Ulster County, NY. Nestled in the Catskill Mountains of the Hudson River valley, the area is about a six-hour drive from DC and offers plenty of winter fun. We recently spent some time there skiing, relaxing, and (of course) eating and drinking! Here are our picks for the best that the area has to offer.

The Emerson Resort & Spa in Mount Temper offers the perfect home base from which to explore the riches of the region. Built on the site of a dairy farm dating to the mid-1800s, the barn’s original silo has been turned into what is billed as the world’s largest kaleidoscope. (The country store sells several significantly smaller versions…). The property includes both a family- (and dog-) friendly inn and several lodge buildings. The lodge’s cozy and comfortable rustic décor set the stage for our relaxing retreat. (FYI—cell phone service is spotty, but the resort offers free Wi-Fi and free domestic calls from your in-room phone.)

Snuggle up in the resort’s great room in front of its huge wood-burning fireplace. Bring a book (or choose one from the resort’s collection) and enjoy the fire’s crackle and hiss. Or gather some friends and play a board game.

Make sure to spend some time in the resort’s luxurious spa, where you can take fitness classes (including yoga, pilates, and body sculpting) or enjoy a variety of western and Ayurvedic treatments. As you walk through the spa’s 17th century Rajasthani palace doors and curl up in a lounge chair in its serene relaxation room, your stress is certain to melt away! We got into the groove with the Indian head massage (designed to clear your body’s energy flow) and the botanical body scrub (which leaves you smooth and polished). The spa also offers guests access to a state-of-the art fitness center, steam room, sauna, and outdoor Jacuzzi.

Looking for something more active? The resort also offers access to hiking/cross-country skiing trails and an ice-skating pond. Additional trails are accessible in the surrounding area and in Catskill Park. Or stroll along nearby Esopus Creek, where we stumbled across several of nature’s ice sculptures! If skiing is your thing, then Belleayre Mountain in Highmount offers over 2,000 acres of trails, glades, and parks (over 50 altogether) to accommodate skiers at a range of levels. Emerson guests receive ski rental and lift ticket discounts, making a day trip up the mountain particularly affordable.

You’ll probably be tuckered out after all this activity, but if you’re looking for a bustling bar scene, swing by Peekamoose Restaurant & Tap Room in Big Indian. The tap room offers a variety of beverages, including several local beers on tap. The rustic (and sometime raucous) atmosphere will make you feel like a local yourself!

Of course, dining is an important part of any getaway. For breakfast, Sweet Sue’s on Main Street in Phoenicia can’t be missed. At this bustling café, Sue (yes, there really is a Sue) serves up the Hudson Valley’s best pancakes. (You don’t have to take our word for it, Sweet Sue’s was named one of the best breakfasts in this month’s issue of Hudson Valley Magazine.) Pancake flavors include chocolate chip, buckwheat, cornmeal, peach, Hawaiian, apple, blueberry, buttermilk, blueberry and banana…you get the picture. Our favorites included the lemon ricotta (served with a deliciously decadent lemon custard topping) and the pumpkin (served with a cumin-infused applesauce topping.) Since pancakes can be ordered individually, there’s no reason you can’t try all of them!

For a nice dinner out, try Cucina in Woodstock. The picturesque yellow-sided farmhouse with its broad front porch (would love to return in the summer!) provides a perfect setting for enjoying the restaurant’s creative contemporary Italian fare. Warm up with the ravioli filled with pumpkin, brown butter, sage, and poppy seeds or enjoy the kitchen’s special risotto of the day (ours was topped with tender shredded short rib).

For dessert, stop by Brio’s Pizzeria and Restaurant on Main Street in Phoenicia. We dove into the coconut custard cake—a mile high confection with alternating layers of moist cake, creamy coconut custard, and flaked coconut. (Next time, we’ll have to try the chocolate cannoli or the caramel turtle cheesecake...) All baked fresh in-house, cakes and pies can be purchased whole or by the slice. Brio’s even makes flourless gluten-free cakes and cookies for those who are so inclined.

On your way out of the area, don’t forget to stop by Bread Alone (with three locations in Woodstock, Boiceville, and Rhinebeck.) Most local restaurants use Bread Alone’s loaves, and for good reason! The breads are fresh, organic, wholesome, and delicious. Pick up a loaf (or three) and enjoy a taste of the Hudson Valley at home.

Spotlight Type: