I’ve met up with my college roommate in New York’s Catskills Mountains, midway between her home upstate and mine downstate for a “gal getaway” consisting of three days of hiking and exploring this area of the mid-Hudson River Valley. We are following the Hudson River School Art Trail – literally following the footsteps of great landscape artists like Thomas Cole, the founder of America’s first major art movement, and Frederick Edwin Church and others. Eight of the 22 sites along the trail are located within this mid-Hudson Valley section in Greene County, perhaps best known for Hunter Mountain and Windham.
So after a full day of hiking, we get back in our cars and set out for our lodging.
Just where Route 296 intersects with Route 23, at the quaint village of Windham, we arrive at The Thompson House.
Thompson House is perfect for our purpose – an ideal combination of inn, bed-and-breakfast, hotel and resort in the finest tradition of the Catskills resorts, when city dwellers would come to the mountains for weeks and months at a time.
In fact, The Thompson House, which dates back to 1880, was one of the earliest of the Catskills’ famed resorts, literally at the start of tourism in America. Today, it is owned and operated by the fifth and sixth generation of its founder, Ira Thompson (Eric Goettsche and his son Curt).
Eric tells us that his great, great grandfather was a farmer who was encouraged by his next door neighbor Eibert Osborne, also a farmer, to follow in his footsteps and open a boarding house on this arduous route to market, midway between Hensonville and Windham.
I’m impressed because at the Manor House – which dates from 1865 and is one of several buildings that make up the Thompson House – you can find a photo gallery of the family going back through the generations. The Manor House now hosts a beautiful conference center where they show movies nightly (real theater seats). It has a beautiful wraparound Victorian porch, wicker chairs, and on the expansive lawn, a fountain and gazebo and more Adirondack-style chairs.
Thompson House is really a complex of buildings that are next door and across the street from one another, just south of the bridge over a creek and just within the boundary for Catskill Park, as the family business grew over time. It presently offers 70 rooms.
Our room in the Evergreen building, which is relatively new, is really spacious, charming and comfortable with two queen beds, refrigerator, free WiFi, a bay window, and a lovely back porch that overlooks Windham’s golf course. (Windham Mountain, a delightful ski area, also has an adventure park in summer.)
And just as they did going back to the 1880s, Thompson House still offers breakfast and for those who want the MAP plan, dinner as well (though we arrive too late on the first night for dinner, which is served 6-7 pm).
Back in those days, city folks would come and stay “the season” from July through Labor Day – some would come each year and even stay in the same room.
In many ways, the Thompson House reclaims the tradition from what the Catskills resorts later became – megalopolis-sized like the Concord and Grossinger’s with massive nightclubs (much in the way cruise ships have become gi-normous).
The Thompson House harkens back to the earliest tradition of hospitality, when resorts were personal and intimate. It is downright homey, with a warmth you would associate with a family-run small hotel where guests would come for weeks at a time, often year after year.
The service was truly personal and warm and very much lives up to its slogan, “The resort with the personal touch.”
Thompson offers resort-style amenities and a schedule of activities – also a tradition of the Catskills resorts – a beautiful outdoor pool, tennis court, putting green, bocce ball, shuffleboard, badminton, croquet (the equipment in a wood closet), a nightly movie. It is ideally located for a day spent exploring and then returning for these activities.
There are also many different cozy places for people to sit and be together- in lobbies, lounges, porches, gazebo, around the pool and on the lawns.
Coffee is put out beginning at 7 am (no coffee maker in the room).
The dining room is quite nice, and in the tradition of the Catskills, you have the same table during your stay.
Breakfast at Thompson House is a full menu with a selection of fruits, cereals, special of day (corned beef with poached or fried egg), omelettes and various eggs, griddle (applesauce on French toast).
Dinner is included in MAP, but keep in mind, dinner is served 6-7 pm. One night’s menu offered Chicken Gina – chicken breast lightly sauteed and finished with sun-dried tomatoes in garlic cream sauce; Yankee pot roast served with egg noodles; Greek salad, blueberry pie, rice pudding.
The Thompson House is the ideal mix of inn, bed-and-breakfast, hotel and resort that harkens back to the earliest tradition of hospitality, when resorts were personal and intimate. The service was truly personal and warm and very much lives up to its slogan, “The resort with the personal touch.”
It is ideal for our gal-getaway, but is also ideal for family travelers and especially for multi-generational travelers, and groups, and longer stays – much in the tradition of the Catskills resorts (the biggest ones are now mostly gone).
It is well situated to reach all the attractions – Windham just next door, including Windham ski mountain which in summer offers an Adventure center, golf course, and a pleasant village; Hunter (another ski mountain which has an ambitious Zip-Line Adventure Center) is about 20 minutes away.
The Hudson River School Art Trail sites, including the hiking trails, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site and Olana are also about 20-30 minutes away (get maps, directions and photographs of all the sites on the Trail at www.hudsonriverschool.org), as well as Prattsville and the most interesting Zadock Pratt Museum.
We also enjoyed exploring the wonderfully quaint village of Hudson, with its charming galleries, shops and restaurants and stunning architecture. There is kayaking at Athens. And just north of Athens, the most remarkable 350-year old historic site, the Bronck House.
Eric can point you to the back roads from the Thompson House to reach Cooperstown in 1 1/2 hours, and Howe Caverns (one of the most phenomenal natural attractions NYS has to offer) in about an hour.
All in all, enough to keep a family occupied for a season.
(The Thompson House, 19 Route 296 Windham NY 12496, 518-734-4510, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.thompsonhouse.com).
Our gal-getaway along the Hudson River School Art Trail is centered in Greene County in the Great Northern Catskill Mountains and the verdant Hudson River Valley. The region is home to five of the 10 highest Catskill Peaks and the Catskill State Park and is known as the nation’s first wilderness. In addition to being renowned as the home of Thomas Cole’s Hudson River School (America’s first art movement), it was the inspiration for Washington Irving’s literary legend, Rip Van Winkle, and figured prominently in James Fenimore Cooper’s novels. Named in honor of American Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene, this 705,500 acre wilderness offers abundant year-round outdoor recreation and unique cultural events. More about Catskills packages and events at www.GreatNorthernCatskills.com.
A gal getaway hiking New York’s Hudson River School Art Trail and slideshow
Karen Rubin, National Eclectic Travel Examiner
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