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Tuesday, May 14, 2024

The Grateful Traveler: Back to the Future in the Catskill Mountains

CRL's travel columnist relives the region's heyday in quaint Shandaken, NY.
Shandaken Inn

Few vacation destinations in America rivaled the Catskills at the height of the 1950s and 1960s. Families, escaping the heat and drudgery of the surrounding towns and cities, found sanctuary in the mountain bungalow-style family camps. At the same time, over-the-top, all-inclusive resorts such as the Concord Resort Hotel and Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel peppered the landscape.

Families arrived with cars packed full of everything they’d need for
an extended mountain reprieve. As guests to the Catskills’ camp scene became more affluent, the elegant resorts also rose to prominence. One of the better movies to highlight that era was 1987’s Dirty Dancing, starring Jennifer Grey and the late Patrick Swayze, which takes place at the fictional Catskills-based Kellerman’s Resort in 1963. Although the resort was a figment of the screenwriter’s imagination, in the famous “last dance of the season” scene, we get a little taste of real-life foreshadowing, when we hear resort proprietor Mr. Kellerman lamenting to his band leader that “trips to Europe [are] what the kids want.” Sadly, the majority of the family camp properties soon closed, followed by the resorts a short decade later.

But lately, we’re beginning to see a Catskills renaissance. Artists have always been attracted to the banks of the Esopus Creek—especially Woodstock, NY—and the farm-to-market scene is beckoning culinary giants to the bounty of the area. Agricultural products of all kinds, including heirloom vegetables; locally produced beers, wines and spirits; artisanal cheeses; meat from sustainably raised livestock; and fish caught in the bucolic waterways have proven an irresistible draw to progressive chefs looking for the next “it” place. This trend could propel the Catskills to the popularity of (or even rival) the Berkshires.

I recently found the region’s revival in full swing in Shandaken, NY. The Shandaken Inn Built in the late 1920s as the clubhouse for the popular Rip Van Winkle Golf Course, the Shandaken Inn has been, in some capacity, welcoming guests to the northern Catskills for nearly a century. Today, after the property underwent an extensive renovation, reimagination and modernization at the end of 2019, the inn’s new owners and talented innkeepers have found a way to seamlessly weave modern amenities with rustic, country hospitality. Bordered by the Esopus and Catskill Mountain range, the inn’s 12 acres of picturesque grounds could’ve easily served as a muse for any of the famed Hudson River School painters. The Esopus is renowned for its world-class fly fishing, but if lures and baits aren’t your thing, it’s equally relaxing just sitting on the banks of the creek and letting your mind wander. The Shandaken Inn, which sits at 1 Golf Course Road in Shandaken, NY, features 15 wonderfully furnished guest rooms that pay homage to the storied past of the Catskill Mountain region. Vintage photos of the once-great resorts and camps line its walls;
books on the topic are ideally situated for you to enjoy; Frette linens and bathrobes beckon you to a great night’s sleep; and 17 on premise fireplaces set a cozy, romantic scene.

The inn’s lounge is picture-perfect and is right next to the quaint lobby bar, from which you can grab a glass of wine or pint of locally brewed beer. In the morning, a full breakfast of your choice, including homemade pastries and cakes and piping hot local coffee, is wonderfully prepared and served. Firepits, a large swimming pool and tennis courts are also available on the acreage. Additionally, the inn has a state-of-the-art fitness center, complete with Peloton bikes, just feet from your guest room.

Escaping to the spectacular setting of the Catskills is easy— and would be a shame to miss out on, given how close we are to it. If you can dream it—eating in excellent restaurants, shopping, art/antique hunting, skiing and hiking—it’s available to you in the Catskills. Get there fast before the crowds come back!

Vikki Moran
Vikki Moran
Vikki Moran is a travel writer and the founder of the Grateful Traveler.

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