Exploring the Hudson Valley

Free-associate…Hudson Valley…go: school of painting, the Vanderbilts, fall foliage, culinary institute, hippies, Chelsea Clinton, antiquing, farm-to-table. But in reality, the massive region in New York State, mushrooming out from Westchester County and spanning both sides of the majestic Hudson river, is far more complex than the associations that readily come to mind.

The area has long endured hype about celebrities and wealthy city dwellers coming—and staying—here in search of bucolic serenity. This is, after all the place where the Vanderbilts built one of the country’s most magnificent Beaux Arts mansions, in Hyde Park, in the late 1800s. Low-key celebs like Robert de Niro, Claire Danes and Ben Stiller own homes here today. But any attempts to Disneyfy the valley into a place full of manicured apple orchards and bleating pygmy goats have utterly failed (though both do exist).

Luckily, it’s too large, too varied, too esoteric and too real a place to be in danger of becoming a caricature of itself. And for a visitor, this means myriad interests and activities to explore. Here are the types of travelers who will be most happy in the Hudson Valley:

Outdoor Enthusiasts

It’s no wonder that the region has drawn so many spiritual hippie types: there’s something magical about the landscapes. The lush hills that rise into majestic mountain ranges cast in fog in the early morning, and the rushing waters of the Hudson that perfectly split the two sides of the valley into mirror images. There are many hikes, ranging from easy/scenic (like the gorgeous Poet’s Walk) to challenging/climbing (especially in the Shawgunks and Catskills). There’s mountain biking, bird watching, horseback riding and leaf gazing. And, best of all, most hikes are in close proximity to cute towns with delicious restaurants, making an active morning all the more rewarding.

Art & Americana Aficionados

The painters of the Hudson River School knew a pretty place when they saw one. Frederic Edwin Church, one of the circle’s most famous members, put it this way: “About one hour this side of Albany is the center of the world, and I own it.” (Modesty apparently not an issue of Church’s.) Visitors can tour the artist’s admittedly spectacular hilltop property Olana, offering one of the best views in the valley. Lovers of contemporary art should not miss the Dia: Beacon and, almost directly across the river, Storm King Art Center (the latter is a favorite of families due to the expansive sculpture park). And if you have a good eye, you might also find treasures in the antiques stores and galleries of Hudson. Suffice it to say that the area still draws artists galore.

Food Lovers

The Culinary Institute of America has turned out some of the country’s most acclaimed chefs (Grant Achatz and Michael Mina are both alumnus), but the Hudson Valley’s smaller towns are also experiencing a culinary revival. The biggest news were restaurateur/chef Zak Pelaccio and chefs John McCarthy and Ben Freemole arriving in Hudson. Pelaccio’s Fish & Game is an ultra-cozy, farm-to-table affair with a weekly changing menu and uber-nice wait staff. Local star chefs include Gianni Scappin, who heads the utterly charming Market Street in Rhinebeck. And en route back from New York, stop by Blue Hill at Stone Barns, one of the country’s most exquisite culinary temples.


The Hudson Valley has long drawn hippies, spiritualists, health and wellness seekers. On the western side of the river, towns like New Paltz and Woodstock are hubs, while along the eastern shore, it’s focused around Rhinebeck’s famous Omega Institute, offering seminars on everything from health to relationships. Close to Omega, in the beautiful countryside close to Rhinebeck, Old Stone Farm is a new spiritual retreat and wellness enclave. The owner is passionate about helping guests find social awakening through personal transformation — all while staying in a beautiful ten-room inn, with a boutique spa and set on fantastic grounds.

Many people always remember the Hudson Valley during the height of leaf season—and, obviously, these golden weeks are a prime time to visit—but thanks to this wealth of activities is wonderful year-round.

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