The Catskills Is Calling You. The New Catskills.
Take off your shoes. Then your socks. Put your toes in the grass. Wiggle them a little. There. That’s better. Now, you are ready. Ready to get lost. But not too lost. Don’t worry. I will be your guide. Just to get you started. Then, the momentum, the lure of the Catskills, will take over and you will be off and running … maybe even without your shoes and socks.
I have been coming to the Catskills since I was a kid. That said, a gap of a decade or two separated us. But once it’s in your system, it’s hard to shake. I share this sentiment with a lot of folks I meet in the Catskills. They fell in love with it unknowingly. Some never left. Others have done significant city time, nose to the grindstone in fashion, law, hospitality, design, finance, you name it. And they have reconnected with the hills and small towns to feed their souls, to soak their bodies in the ice-cold streams and to bring their passions to bear to lure us, to lure YOU to visit, to experience it, to stay a while.
How It All Started
In 2008, my husband and I bought a fixer-upper, fixed it up and sat back as its charms seeped in. A pond, trails to ride and hike, a garden to build and tend, three goats, two donkeys, eight hens and 10 beehives later and we are in deep. We split our time between the Catskills and New York City and the balance is rich.
In 2016, on a dare from a friend who had heard some of my funny farm stories, I started a weekly blog (#thankspeter). The Pitchfork — a collection of loose material lifted from country life, which featured some mishaps, farm tips, hilarious experiments, a donkey rescue, chicken tales and goat foibles — expanded to include accounts of some of the interesting folks I’ve met, stunning places I’ve visited and where I’ve found the best food.
My weekly blog, and its daily Insta (@xoxofarmgirl) seem to have led me here — to share more of the Catskills with you. Stories, people, places. Some of the magic is right there in front of you. Some of it is hidden behind the scenes. These hidden reasons — the heartbeat of the Catskills — are central to why you will love this place. You will see.
I Invite You
I love a good, long hike, winding through the forest, along a mountainside. A destination hike is my favorite. To end up at a crystal clear lake or a dramatic vista … be still my heart. But when I am done, I’d really like a hot shower, a stellar meal and a creative libation. Sue me.
Knitting together all of the natural beauty of the Catskills is a network of small towns, each one with its own personality. Inns and cottages. Breweries and eateries. Farms and farm stands. Interesting people and some special organizations that hold it all together.
The history of Rip Van Winkle, farming, Jewish resorts and fly fishing enrich the experience. The little towns of the Catskills have not forgotten this history; they exude it. The rivers and the hiking trails and the campsites are still here, as clean and as welcoming as ever.
But now, the Catskills is emerging in its renaissance as a place city dwellers need. A craving for nature, for farm-to-table food so close to the farm you can hear the cows moo, and for a combined experience that marries the opportunity to explore the great outdoors to the excitement of strolling down any number of Main Streets to unlock the hidden secrets within.
Step Back In Time
Long ago, the fresh, clear waters of the Delaware, the Beaverkill and the Willowemoc nourished the roots of expansive stands of Eastern Hemlock trees. The trees, with their tannic bark, and the rolling rivers became the perfect place to tan animal hides. As the tannery business grew in the early 1800s, the waters muddied and the trees dwindled. The lands — then bare — took time for rebirth and in that time the rivers washed clean, lured the likes of Theodore Gordon in the late 19th century, an outdoorsman credited as the founding father of American dry fly fishing. His famous fly, the Quill Gordon, is celebrated as a master lure in waters the world over. With a spreading appreciation for the great outdoors, the Catskills of the early 1900s became a destination for hunters, fishermen and nature lovers. Farms opened their doors to welcome visitors. Renaissance Numero Uno.
For 50 years, from the 1920s to the 1970s, the Catskills became a haven of summertime joy for Jewish families who found they were not welcome in city establishments. The summer resorts in the “Borscht Belt” lured vacationers to the cooler temperatures and promised tennis, golf, community dinners, talent shows and performances by many a great entertainer including Mel Brooks, George Burns and Jerry Lewis. Stars were born here. Thousands flocked to the Catskills each weekend and summer to visit resorts at the ready with hundreds of guest rooms, tennis courts by the dozens, golf, lessons and everything you remember from “Dirty Dancing.” Renaissance Number Two.
Then in the 1970s, air travel became more affordable and families took off for the Eiffel Tower and the Trevi Fountain. The Catskills hit a slower period. It’s cyclical like that. Now, we have an interesting new kind of renaissance. Today, the Theodore Gordon era meets a smaller scale hospitality version of the 1950s combined with an acceptance of the fact that global actually begins locally. The Catskills’ third renaissance is underway with a deft combination of nature immersion, stylish hospitality and a heightened consciousness of how this one might be sustainable.
Are the Catskills for You?
I am afraid of heights. Yet, I have zip-lined on a thin wire over a mile-wide canyon so high over the trees that they looked like toys … and I loved it. I crave a home that is cozy, elegant and even a little bit sparkly, but my favorite place is in a hay-filled barn. I am scared of the dark but love nothing more than walking on a trail in the pitch-black of night, coyotes howling.
Here is what I mean to say: The Catskills may not be for everyone. It is a special place and has more to offer different tastes than ever before. Shops with their own personalities and pace. Restaurants where farm-to-table has the shortest commute of all. Places to stay where the doorways are uneven and the wallpaper is from another era, peeling perhaps. If you “get” this and your heart skips a beat, the Catskills is probably for you. If you fear being lost, but are drawn to getting lost, the Catskills is probably for you. If you don’t think you’re lost, but you just want to check, come on in. I’ll be waiting.
Do It Right
It’s all up to you, really. Take your pick. A well-established little town with some notoriety or something much further off the beaten path. Eat and drink. Or add a hike. Glamp. Camp. Shower or don’t.
But here is one thing I beg you to try that will make your experience richer. Leave your city self at home. Not the one with the good taste and a craving for delicious food. That one is welcome. But the one that absolutely must have that cup o’ joe in under 30 seconds or the defibrillator has to come out. You should ditch that one at the county line. While you wait for your coffee or your sandwich (and you will) … browse, people watch, talk to folks, squeeze your mate. You will wait, and I promise, my way is more fun.
Locals, Weekenders & Transplants, too.
We all have our haunts. The places we go again and again. They become comfortable like an old pair of jeans. They fit us and define us. I have always loved to explore the Catskills. Even though I could spend from dawn to dusk wrestling the fence line on my farm, turning the manure piles in preparation for the spring, pruning the garden, clearing fallen trees off my hiking trail, I like to get out to new discoveries.
Sometimes the place that thrills me most is the one I find when I’m looking for something else. Or the one that my neighbor knows I will like (the donkey rescue farm on Upper Dingle Hill, oh yeah!).
Well, Farm Girl's Guide is for you too. Because I know you want to get out and see more, but you’re so in love with where you already go that you don’t even think to look for a new adventure. It’s time. Come on. New favorites await.
Become a Part of the Renaissance
The Catskills' renaissance is just beginning, again. It’s a bit of a running joke. A town gets a critical mass and looks like it’s making it … and then, no. It’s hard to hold on. When I talk with locals about what makes a town thrive, they say “Luck.” And people. That’s YOU. Each town in the Catskills has something to offer. And beautiful stretches of road in between that are so stunning that you will relish the journey from hamlet to hamlet almost as much as getting there. Or maybe even more.
I think what’s special about this time is important. It’s not just new places popping up and lasting. There’s that for sure, but something has shifted … in YOU. You want a balance. You crave nature. You are drawn to wholesome exploration. You want to wind your way down a country road. You just must. You, my friend, are the key to the Catskills’ latest renaissance. You are IT, actually. It’s time to do your part.
Your New Best Friend
Farm Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost and Found in the Catskills is your starting point. Pick any post. Each one is short and to the point. Get in the car. Get there. Each entry gives you something to explore. You will have your own finds in between. It is designed that way.
Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. Many towns are without cellular service. It’s a blessing and a curse, especially if you have trained yourself to google everything. Never fear. Farm Girl’s Guide will take good care of you. If you are serious about hitting a particular spot, it’s best to check in beforehand. Hours change and each season brings a new energy, for visitors, restauranteurs and shopkeepers alike.
As you explore what’s here, you will see that each post gives you all the info you need to find where to go (street address, phone number), to keep up with new developments (websites) and then to check in with all your favorites once you’re back to your regular life (@instas).
Ultimately covering seven counties and all their towns and many of their hamlets, Farm Girl’s Guide introduces you to places to sleep, eat, see, shop, try and love. Behind each one is interesting people. Meeting the people here is half the fun. Don’t be shy.
So, before you head out, pick a few new spots from Farm Girl’s Guide and get busy getting lost. I’ll see you out there.
XOXO Farm Girl
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