By Vikki Moran
Like a short nap, a short overnight or day trip can recharge you. The good news is that options aplenty exist just hours from the Capital Region. The Catskills, Berkshires, Vermont and the Adirondack Park are on our collective doorsteps. And that means you can play outdoors, do some sightseeing, and, of course, eat.
The Catskill region is quickly becoming a respite for New York City chefs seeking a change of pace. New and state-of-the-art properties are sprouting everywhere as word spreads of this culinary hub.
The short drive south from Albany is a scenic one, as the Hudson River and the small yet mighty Esopus weave in and out of the landscape. As an agricultural haven, the Catskills is now a mecca for brews, spirits, and farm-raised meats that are touted and recognized worldwide.
Driving and stopping at various roadside properties and farm stands will not only fill your pantries but will tickle your creative juices in the kitchen. I never fail to come home with a few wonderful recipes to add to my repertoire for treating family and friends.
Inspiration for new adult libations featuring local spirits, as well as a diverse offering of homegrown wines from neighboring vineyards, top off this culinary mecca. I always treat myself to a tasting and some home wine fridge shopping at Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery. Located on McKinstry Road in Gardiner, tastings are done in one-hour blocks. As with all New York wineries, masks are required for all visitors until you are seated. There is limited indoor seating for these colder spring times so dress in layers if chilly as there is plenty of outdoor seating.
If Pinot Noir is your go-to wine, Eminence Farm Road Farm Winery on Eminence Road is a must-stop. Pair it with some outstanding Hudson Valley lamb for a dinner that will be memorable for sure.
One of my favorite restaurants is at the Shandaken Inn. The Inn pays homage to the once locally famous Rip Van Winkle Golf Course by naming the Inn’s restaurant, The Clubhouse . The Clubhouse offers dinners Wednesdays through Sundays, serving up the bounty of both the Catskills and Hudson Valley. Start with the blistered shishito peppers. They prepare them with mezcal salt and fresh cilantro and it is some of the best that I have tried. The Beaverkill trout is another stellar dish. If you stay for the night you will be blown away with their Catskill-themed rooms as well as their special breakfast. Ask for Shakshuka and maybe even their recipe!
Whether planning a fishing trip or gentle kayak on the beautiful Adirondack waters or just driving into the world-class setting, the Adirondacks offer something for everyone.
A visit to High Falls Gorge is a fun afternoon that is accessible to all skill levels and ages. A 30-minute trek through the hidden wonders of the Adirondacks, the gorge and its surroundings are truly breathtaking with plenty of opportunities to stop, rest and enjoy. The area includes trails, waterfalls, a river walk, and a gift shop and cafe. A glass walkway bridges the gorge and is well worth the look below even for the squeamish, like me. High Falls Gorge is easily accessible by heading to Route 86 in Wilmington.
You will get hungry fast in the crisp mountain air and the Adirondacks are full of family-owned gems along Routes 9 and 86. If you veer off into Lake Placid, you can find excellent BBQ at Smoke Signals. Wash it down with one of their many brews, or better yet, head over for a post-lunch beer at Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, which sits across from Mirror Lake Inn on Mirror Lake Road. You need to try the Ubu when there. President Bill Clinton was such a huge fan of this beer that he asked his aides to order some for the White House. Now that is an endorsement!
A road trip across the border into Vermont has to begin with a Creemee. A Creemee is soft-serve ice cream with a high-fat content (don’t judge) producing the smoothest, most velvety texture you can imagine. Sprinkles or not — that’s your call — but either way, make certain you try a maple-flavored one. The Charlotte Berry Farm (4702 Ethan Allen Hwy, Charlotte,) is a friendly, fun farm boasting a variety of berries including black raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. You can pick during berry season and finish your day with a Creemee swirled with the farm’s bounty.
Vermont is an awesome spot for cheese shopping but you can also find fantastic Italian food for your home cooking in Manchester. Fortuna’s Sausage & Italian Market ships all over the country but visiting their gourmet market in person to gather their homemade sausages and stunning recipes are so much more fun. The owners are always happy to explain the tastes and textures of their products and steer your own taste buds in the right direction. No need to go to NYC’s Eataly or Arthur Avenue in the Bronx when Fortuna’s is a short drive away.
The cheese options are almost endless in a state dotted by dairy cows. The MKT in lovely Grafton Village is a great place to stop to get a good sampling of Vermont’s variety of cheeses. Grab a fresh sandwich while you’re there.
If you plan on having a nice dinner on the drive back home, try The Silver Fork in Manchester. I have always been blown away by the food and ambiance. Make certain that you save room for the bread pudding.
Health, all things botanical, and world-class live performing arts thrive within a short drive from us in the Capital Region. In this travel writer’s humble opinion, a trip to the Berkshire Botanical Gardens are a must and feeds the soul. You can plan a picnic and attend one of their many events and sales. BBG is a 15-acre botanical garden in Stockbridge that features over 3,000 species and varieties with an emphasis on plants that flourish in the Berkshires.
I love to drop by for a cocktail on the Red Lion Inn porch just minutes away from the gardens. Rock and sip and then make your way to their dining room when ready for some iconic New England fare served up with the right amount of local history and mystique.
The Clark Art Museum in Williamstown is my happy place. During Covid, pre-purchasing reserved-time tickets is necessary but it is a small measure of preparedness to see the visiting exhibits as well as their stunning rotating collection. The collection is especially rich in French Impressionist and Academic paintings, British oil sketches, drawings, silver, and the work of American artists Winslow Homer, George Inness, and John Singer Sargent.
A trip to Williamstown should not be considered complete without dropping by Hot Tomatoes Neapolitan Pizza on Water Street, not far from The Clark. The pizza is astonishing and it can stay warm if you want to drive home with it…I know, I tried.
The Mount in Lenox is the Lenox estate of author Edith Wharton. House and garden tours, music, theater, and sculpture are available to visitors, much of which is safely outdoors. This dazzling property is expertly tended and simply strolling through the grounds can brighten your spirits.
While prowling the Berkshires, know that food and restaurant offerings are as varied as their art scene. Greek, Japanese, Mexican and so much more are found in unassuming little establishments. One of my faves is The Haven in Lenox. Breakfast and lunch are wonderful and you will certainly leave full. Pancakes for me, please.
For a dinner option that could be the sole focus of the trip, head to the John Andrews Farmhouse in South Egremont Chef Dan Smith creates scratch soups each day. His soup creation and an appetizer of the grilled octopus is more than enough for me but all his entrees are amazing.
Not sure where to start? No worries. The warm weather is coming and you can take the summer to visit all four areas. Enjoy!