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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Hudson Valley Retreat: Exploring the Wonders of Columbia County

Researching breathtaking locales for an upcoming fall yoga retreat was the perfect excuse to explore the area.

If you’ve been following me in your hypothetical camper on my quest to visit every county in New York State this year, you might be wondering how the heck I have all of this free time. And you would be right if you guessed it was COVID-related: From Thailand to Egypt and beyond, I specialize in making exotic corners of the world accessible to the average traveler but was temporarily grounded by the pandemic. That’s when I headed back to my roots in Upstate New York, and local travel quickly consumed me. When New York’s COVID restrictions were lifted in June, instead of immediately hopping on a plane to the Middle East, I decided to start a new chapter and offer a retreat in my own neck of the woods.

I quickly landed on the iconic Hudson Valley and checked off another one of my counties with Columbia County. Plans for a perfect long-weekend retreat emerged: We would flow through asanas with llamas, kayak beside changing leaves, sip on spirits at a craft distillery, and enjoy nourishing farm-to-picnic bites along the way.

One of the unique shelters at Gatherwild Ranch.

But all of this took planning. (Hey, someone’s gotta do it!) I headed south from Albany to poke around and experience all of the magical Hudson Valley myself, before inviting my eager fellow yoginis.

The charming town of Hudson may be the star of the region, but nearby Germantown quickly won me over on my research trip there to explore glamping options. I settled on Gatherwild Ranch (gatherwild.com), where seven Insta-ready bell tents, charming A-frames and eccentric cabins are spread across 15 acres of land. Amenities include a wooden hot tub, barn-turned-yoga-sala from the 1800s, firepit for nightly storytelling, communal outdoor kitchen, and medicinal herb garden with free-range goats and chickens underfoot. It’s a bohemian paradise run by a couple from Brooklyn that moved upstate for a more peaceful life, and they now provide refuge largely to other city-dwellers looking for the same.

Otto’s Market on Main Street in Germantown.

Up the road, in Germantown’s modestly sized but immensely stylish downtown, I wandered by antique shops and design stores before grabbing lunch at Otto’s (ottosmarket.com), a market selling sundries and prepared foods. There, you can pick up wildflower bouquets, specialty soaps, craft beers and ciders, and on Friday nights, specialty pizzas. (My retreat’s chef will be baking pies to perfection in Gatherwild’s wood-fired oven this October.)

On my retreats, I try to mix things up a bit, treating my retreat-ees to onsite dining on some nights, while taking them out to support local restaurants on others. That’s why I’ll be bringing them to Gaskin’s (gaskinsny.com), Germantown’s finest dining option, for the final dinner on my itinerary. The menu, packed with creative botanical cocktails and dishes prepared with an abundance of local, organic ingredients, also features the “Pay it Forward Cheeseburger,” which allows you to buy a burger for any community member.

Yogi (and retreat organizer) Alexandra Baackes showing off her best triangle pose.

Good food is fuel for the mind, body and soul, and my guests will need plenty of it to power through their daily yoga sessions led by this really great yogi I know—me! I’m anticipating my upstate retreat’s yoga highlight being a class at Clover Brooke Farm (cloverbrookefarm.com), where we’ll be joined by curious alpacas and adorable pygmy goats, before crafting lavender loofahs from wool sourced from the farm. But we’ll also get blissed out off the mat. As a cheerleader for the New York State Parks system, I had to include a foliage-drenched kayaking trip to Lake Taghkanic State Park (parks.ny.gov) in Ancram, and hiking to the beautiful waterfalls at High Falls
in Philmont.

Of course, I couldn’t host a trip in Upstate New York—actually, anywhere in the State (see my last column)—without nodding to its burgeoning craft beverage scene. And what better way to toast to a retreat weekend than enjoying a flight at the woman-owned distillery Cooper’s Daughter Spirits (oldeyorkfarm.com) in Claverack? The Buddha-Tini, made from its own distilled vodka and local dry cider, feels particularly fitting for an offbeat yoga retreat.

With all this planning done, I celebrated my new retreat’s launch at the chic nearby winery Hudson Chatham Winery (hudsonchathamwinery.com). Whatever you’re drinking, be it herbal tea or a glass of local New York wine, I’m raising a toast to Columbia County, truly a retreat-worthy trip.

While Alexandra’s popular retreat largely sold out upon launch, a few special glamping spots remain. Visit alexinwanderland.com/wander-women-retreats for details or contact [email protected].

Alexandra Baackes
Alexandra Baackes
A native of Latham, Alexandra Baackes is a travel influencer and blogger, whose work can be found in Capital Region Living, Forbes and Men's Fitness, as well as on her travel blog, Alex In Wanderland.

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