Long Weekend Report-Hudson and the Berkshires

Don't be confused. You're not in Brooklyn anymore.

Don’t be confused. You’re not in Brooklyn anymore.

The holidays have passed. The long slog of January, February and March are upon us. As cabin fever inevitably sets in, you may look for ways to breakout without breaking your bank.  An affordable adventure can be found just two hours north of NYC in Columbia County and the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. There is of course the considerable and well-deserved buzz around the town of Hudson, but this is not the only reason to visit the region. People who know will point to the skiing, historic estates, and performing arts venues. However, when you have kids sometimes these plans fail and you need to consider a strategy I call “detourism.”  Detourism is when there is a mutiny in your minivan and you need to negotiate an alternative. My family and I recently explored, Columbia County and the Berkshires through some creative detours.

Driving north on the Taconic, complaints began to bubble up outside of Poughkeepsie.  We had hoped to make a straight shot for the small city of Hudson, but we had already been in the car for over 2 hours. I began to recall the sad fate of Henry Hudson, who was set adrift to die in Hudson Bay by his crew because he wanted to keep going. With that in mind, we detoured to the Walkway over the Hudson, a state park on an abandoned railway bridge with sweeping views of the entire Hudson Valley. There is parking and facilities on both the Poughkeepsie and Highland sides of the bridge. If the weather doesn’t permit, the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum will probably keep the kids quiet especially if followed up by Sfogliatelle in the Mt. Carmel district (Poughkeepsie’s Little Italy).

Onward we traveled through Hyde Park and Rhinebeck, then past Bard College, and Tivoli to Clermont Winery. Clermont’s proprietors, Tony and Louise Trigo of Carroll Gardens, greeted us from their beautiful deck, where you can sit, sip and enjoy the dramatic views of the Catskills across the Hudson. The kids got to stretch their legs on a tour of Tony’s vineyard and winery. They tasted the grapes right off the vine (the sweetest I’d ever tasted) and got an up close look at the chemistry of wine making. During the winter months the winery is only open by appointment. Tony will be there pruning and burning the vines in a wheel barrow, which has the added benefit of keeping him warm as he works. Consequently, he warns that if you visit in the winter he may smell like “smoked sausages.” Clermont Winery will open again with regular, less smokey hours in April.

By the way, the views seen at Clermont Winery are some of the same views Frederick Edwin Church painted at his nearby home Olana, a Middle-Eastern inspired stone fortress that is not be missed. You can see both Church’s painting Winter Sunset from Olana and the real thing out one of the Persian arched windows. You may need to make a reservation for a guided tour so plan ahead.

When you finally make it to Hudson (after all the detours) there are countless clothing boutiques, book stores, antique shops and galleries, but your kids might just want to eat. Grazin’ Diner is a great place to bring the kids. It’s a classic chrome retro diner that serves farm to table fare, grass-fed burgers, and has a soda fountain with swivel stools. After the milkshakes, you and the kids may just be content to walk around admiring the well-preserved and diverse architecture or pet the astoundingly soft stuffed alpaca dolls at Spruce Ridge Alpaca. I truly regret not buying a 3’ toy alpaca (for myself), but you can visit real live alpacas in the spring at their nearby farm. If you need to pick up some picnic snacks or groceries for your Airbnb, you can peruse the extensive gourmet offerings at Olde Hudson. Why do I suggest an Airbnb? Having kids you probably won’t stay in a boutique b&b like the Barlow or the Hudson Merchant House.  Fortunately though, Hudson has more Airbnb’s per capita than most small towns.

Hudson was founded by Nantucket whalers who took a little detour themselves. After the Revolutionary War they were concerned King George might still attack to reclaim the colonies he’d just lost. Feeling that Nantucket was a vulnerable location on which to hinge their whaling livelihood, they detoured up the Hudson to find a good port. This explains the whales on all of Hudson’s street signs. Be forewarned, as a Brooklyner you’ll read the street signs and fear that you’ve stepped into a parallel universe. You’ll see the address where you currently live, but it looks different. Warren St. is the main drag. Prospect Ave. leads out of town. You’ll run into Court St., Columbia St., Union St., and State St. in the dense town center. I think this explains the influx of young hipsters to Hudson. They must have spent the weekend, gotten confused when they couldn’t find the F train and stayed.

We also had a great time strolling through Hudson’s holiday craft fair, Basilica Farm and Flea. Mark your calendars for next year. The kids loved the maple cotton candy, ramen, and giant gingerbread men. You can pick up a super hero cape and hand-carved wood sword, or an up-cycled cashmere dress and all manor of jewelry. Felt foxes, this season’s “it” critter, were everywhere. My only criticism is that vendors at the fair seemed to be pricing things arbitrarily and high. Of course these items are unique and the craftsman’s time is valuable. Just don’t be shocked when that 4” felt fox you pick up costs $50 and two stalls over there is a slightly different 4” fox for $35. The latter price even seemed bizarrely high to me by NYC standards.

We stayed in an Airbnb in Egremont just over the Massachusetts border in the Berkshires close to family friendly ski resorts: Catamount, Ski Butternut, Bousquet Ski Area, Jiminy Peak, Otis Ridge, and Notchview. Butternut and Bousquet have snow tubing, though check for open trails. Notchview boasts snow shoeing and cross-country skiing. Sadly for us, it rained and we had to resort to further detourism. Great Barrington, Stockbridge and Lenox are what I call fudge and taffy towns. A candy shop definitely helps on a rainy day, but you can also visit the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge or Edith Wharton’s home The Mount in Lenox. You could also take a tour of Ventfort Hall, summer home of Sarah Morgan, and learn about the Guilded Age.

While at Ventfort Hall we learned that the Morgans and subsequent Vanderbilts enjoyed a bowling alley in the basement of the estate. This inspired a detour to Pittsfield to do something apparently quite aristocratic; so patrician you’ve probably never even heard of it. It’s called Candlepin Bowling and it’s the perfect way for 5 to 10 year olds to bowl! In New England they bowl with 4 1/2” balls and skinny pins. Even more obscure is Duckpin bowling, known primarily in Connecticut and Rhode Island, where they use similarly small balls and short stumpy pins. Candlepin bowling allows each player 3 balls to knock down 10 pins. Because the pins are thinner, they tend not to ricochet off each other as they fall which makes strikes nearly impossible. However, the size of the ball makes the game accessible and fun for small children. Since there’s no Candlepin bowling in Brooklyn, you’ve got to take the kids to Pittsfield! It will prove the perfect detour on a rainy day in the Berkshires. Fair warning–Pittsfield is no fudge and taffy town. It’s mildly gritty in a way Brooklyners will find familiar. Interesting fact, though, Moby Dick was written here.

Oddly, it was the whales that kept following us on this trip, but we had a great long weekend and none of the kids got harpooned. The skiing, historic postcard towns, beautiful landscapes, architecture, museums and especially the burgeoning craft and food culture of Columbia County make this a great destination for a long winter weekend or extended break. The region is close to NYC with many sites along the way to break up the driving and prevent young mutineers from rebelling. With some planning and flexibility kid-friendly activities can be found both on and off the slopes. In any event, you’ll enjoy a view of Rip Van Winkle sleeping in the Catskills as you follow whalers, aristocrats, and other “detourists” into the Berkshire mountains east of the Hudson River.

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