My husband and I were hoping for the perfect four-day escape, but we had a tight budget, a short time frame, and two kids in tow. That meant Fiji was out. We limited our search to destinations that were within driving distance from New York City (a two-hour drive would mean less time for our 2-year-old to have a meltdown in the back seat). I wanted to avoid overpriced hotel rooms filled with New Yorkers, so the Hamptons were out. More than anything, though, we wanted to feel like we were away — no cities, no suburbs, no stress. I wanted rolling hills, winding country roads, and a lake to jump into before fall really hit. That’s when we discovered the Catskills.
Unlike its heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, when the area was chock-full of big, splashy summer resorts, the newest Catskills hotels are small, hip, and well-priced. Given that I hadn’t explored the region before and there was a crop of new openings, the travel writer in me got ambitious. We did four hotels in four nights (totally crazy, but very fun). Here’s my firsthand report on where to stay in the Catskills right now.
The Graham & Co. is a rustic getaway. (Photo: The Graham & Co.)
The vibe: Brooklyn meets the Catskills
Rooms & amenities: The former motel has been reimagined as a hipster hideaway, with the rustic design sense that is big in trendy urban destinations (i.e., Brooklyn). Rooms boast walls covered in reclaimed wood planks; a gray, black, and white palette; and bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling (on purpose, this is somehow a design trend). However, the design scheme injects a fresh, modern sensibility into the retro motel backdrop. With kitchenettes and double queen beds in several rooms, the hotel is a great option for families, too. While families probably aren’t the clientele the owners had in mind when they designed the hip getaway, the motel’s pool, wide lawn with a badminton net, and a fire pit perfect for s’mores are a lot to love for little ones. Older kids will love the free bikes and walking distance to Town Tinker Tube for river tubing. The intended audience — single hipsters on a budget — will appreciate the bunk rooms. They are a steal for $99 a night thanks to a shared bath.
Hamptons vs. Catskills T-shirts are on sale at the hotel. (Photo: The Graham & Co.)
The experience: When you arrive at the Graham & Co. and head into the former garage that has been transformed into the front desk, you will most likely be greeted by someone sporting a beard. You’ll be offered a brief description of the property and a free beer (an awesome touch), and then you’re on your way. The vibe is low-key, and that extends to the service as well. They are there if you need them, but you’re left alone otherwise.
Laid-back life at The Graham & Co. (Photo: The Graham & Co.)
While I’m not a huge fan of motels turned into hip hotels, this one works for many reasons. There are tons of spots to spread out beyond your room, so you never feel claustrophobic. Sprawl out in a hammock set between two trees, lounge in a floating tube in the pool with a cocktail, pull up an Adirondack chair by the fire pit, or eat lunch on one of the picnic tables on the sprawling lawn. You’re also two blocks from the town of Phoenicia, which is bustling and friendly and has funky vintage clothing shops, low-key restaurants, and a throwback pharmacy that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back into 1954. Nearby there is hiking and a few idyllic yet freezing swimming holes. Hunter Mountain is only 15 minutes away.
Whom it’s best for: Hip young people, along with families that want to believe they are still hip and young. Anyone who lives in Brooklyn.
Relax in the serenity of The Arnold House. (Photo: The Arnold House)
The vibe: Under-the-radar mountain serenity
Rooms & amenities: The Arnold House features nine rooms in a century-old tavern overlooking seven pretty acres (the rolling hills and bucolic backdrop I was looking for). Once inside, you’ll find the former chintz-filled inn features vintage furniture in a very cool glass-enclosed sunroom/living space. The rooms are cozy and cool with rich slate walls and plaid throws. The rooms facing away from the road overlook wide fields of flowers — a lovely view to wake up to. On select weekends, the hotel hosts bands in the barn out back. One of the biggest surprises for such a small hotel was the spa, which offers facials and massages, along with acupuncture treatments. If you’re inclined to go canoeing, kayaking, or swimming, a two-bedroom lake house one mile away is the newest addition to the property — and it’s easily accessible by bike. A bustling tavern with a retro jukebox, a pool table, and killer cocktails offers guests a cozy spot to enjoy lunch or dinner — this is key as there is a dearth of restaurants in the area.
The Arnold House hotel in the Catskills (Photo: The Arnold House)
The experience: “Authentic” is a buzzword that boutique hotel owners like to throw around. Unlike most boutique hotels, the Arnold does feel authentic. The hotel is a labor of love by owners Sims and Kristen Foster. Sims, whose family goes back five generations in the area, has a splashy job as senior vice president of restaurants and nightlife for Commune Hotels in Manhattan. He’s brought his expertise to the Arnold — a move he made to celebrate the region’s sleepy charms. Whether guests want to see some alpacas or go hiking, fly-fishing, or swimming, Sims and Kristen have printed out detailed descriptions and directions.
The Arnold is the perfect hotel to let your kids explore nature. (Photo: The Arnold House/Facebook)
Unlike the three other Catskills hotels we visited, which are near vibrant towns and busy thoroughfares, the Arnold is set in a more remote location. Four miles north of the sleepy town of Livingston Manor, the hotel sits on a quiet road amid rolling hills. If you are looking for shopping, nightlife, and foodie buzz — this isn’t the hotel for you. It’s mellow and scenic — the place you go when you want to unplug and chill out. I loved everything about the Arnold — the backdrop, the rooms, the food, the vibe, the owners — it all works.
Whom it’s best for: People who want to get their zen on. Families who want their kids to connect with the outdoors.
Experience an upscale stay at the Emerson. (Photo: The Emerson/Facebook)
The vibe: Eastern design fused with a classic American resort
Rooms & amenities: The most upscale hotel we visited, the Emerson has all the bells and whistles of a classic resort. There are two restaurants serving American fare, a fitness center, and a small pool. The spa is one of the main draws here, with an extensive menu of options, including Ayurvedic treatments (the Indian head massage sounds amazing). The 26 newer rooms at the Emerson are all suites and boast luxe marble bathrooms, ornately carved Asian-style headboards, silk pillows, and small terraces. The more rustic lodge-rooms are housed in log-cabin buildings and have the bonus of starting at $159 a night.
You’ll feel transported with silk pillows and Asian-style headboards. (Photo: The Emerson)
The Emerson offers Ayurvedic spa treatments. (Photo: The Emerson/Facebook)
The experience: With its setting overlooking a broad and gorgeous river, the resort is often booked for weddings. It’s really lovely. And from a family perspective, it was nice to be in a real hotel with room to spread out and roam (there is even a playground). It’s dog-friendly and has a dog run. My kids were happy to see other children around. At the hipper hotels we stayed at, they were the only children around. The only drawback is that despite the cool Asian touches throughout, it feels a lot like the other resorts. Unlike the Graham or the Arnold, it didn’t have that unique standout feeling. So it all depends on what you’re looking for.
Whom it’s best for: Those who are looking for a more luxe option in the Catskills.
Love is all you need at this Hotel Dylan. (Photo: Hotel Dylan)
The vibe: Groovy, 1960s retro chic
Rooms and amenities: Husband and wife TV design darlings, Cortney and Robert Novogratz have transformed this 11-room roadside motel into a playful ode to the 1960s. The hotel celebrates the era of peace, love, and rock. The amazing rooms feature vintage turntables with a curated selection of vinyl (we had Van Morrison and the Ramones) along with photographs of rockers that the rooms are named after — think Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. These were hands down the coolest and most comfortable hotel rooms we stayed in. There are colorful, bright patterns on roomy chairs, vibrant rugs with cheery prints, candy-colored lighting, and pillows that declare “Love Is All You Need.”
A small lawn with a fire pit is up grabs at Hotel Dylan. (Photo: Phil Mansfield/Hotel Dylan)
The experience: The problem is that when it comes to a hotel, design is not all you need. The Dylan is in soft opening now and will soon have a restaurant and spa, but at the moment it is a motel that overlooks a parking lot and a very busy and noisy road. There are no communal spaces, just a small lawn with a fire pit and some bocce balls. But it is close to everything cool in the area — three miles from the lively town of Woodstock, a few minutes from Catskill Park and dozens of hiking trails — and it is a central, well-priced, and fun base.
Each room at Hotel Dylan is named after a rocker from the 1960’s. (Photo: Hotel Dylan)
Whom it’s best for: Design and music junkies who want to experience a fun and cool hotel room in the Catskills at a great price. Rooms start at $169 a night.
WATCH: Experience Nature in the Catskills: