By: Nicole Pensiero
Our excitement was genuine as we drove the 3.5 hours from South Jersey to the Northern Catskills of New York State. The main reason was that our visit was coinciding with the peak of fall foliage — and the fact that a hotel we’d stayed at several years ago had been brought back to life as an “adventure resort,” just minutes away from the popular ski resort, Windham Mountain.
The newly opened Wylder Windham – which opened in July of this year – came with some amazing history. When I’d stayed there, nearly five years ago, it was the historic Thompson House, a family run business since 1880. Now as the Wylder, it’s billed as the “Gem of the Catskills,” keeping much of the Thompson House heritage, while bringing a new level of amenities and comfort.
According to Wylder Resorts President John Flannigan – himself a native of upstate New York – the decision to purchase and remodel the property for about $27 million was easy to make. The Windham property is the third resort in the California-based Wylder portfolio – all three hotels are re-dos of classic, older resorts, with a focus on outdoor activities. (That’s where the “Wylder” name comes in, get it?).
“I was intrigued as soon as I heard The Thompson House was up for sale,” Flannigan recalled. “It’s next to a great ski resort – Windham Mountain – and next to a great golf course. It’s in a hugely popular destination; it was a family heirloom. I toured it, and made an offer. I guess you could say it was love at first sight.”
Located on 20 acres of land, there’s an enjoyable “summer camp” vibe to the Wylder Windham, which offers seven different lodging options, as well as Babblers – an on onsite café/bakery and an adjoining restaurant and bar – a year-round outdoor heated pool and many other amenities. Our recent mid-October stay gave us the opportunity to explore the region, while also enjoying included onsite activities, such as a mushroom foraging walk with local chef/artist Renee Bauman, and a Friday night S’mores cookout behind the main lodge. There is also included yoga, European-style wood-fired saunas — which we found beyond blissful – and pickle ball and lawn games. There’s even an area for people to let their dogs exercise (yes, it’s dog-friendly).
We enjoyed a casual breakfast of egg sandwiches on croissants at Babblers one morning; and a relaxing, yet elegant, dinner there the next night. (Desserts are deliciously limited to the pies baked at Babblers; the mixed fruit pie was a genuine highlight).
The Wylder has been remodeled in a way that honors its impressive history, while adding a sort of casual elegance to the sprawling property, located on both sides NY-296. Each of Wylder Windham’s seven historic lodges, inns, manors, and cottages have been restored by local craftsmen, and there’s also a 4,000 square-foot ballroom for special events. Our room, located in the motel-like Evergreen building had a private balcony facing the local golf course and Windham Mountain. The views – with the mountains ablaze in shades or red and gold – were magnificent. We were especially pleased to be only minutes from the popular (and very lovely) Windham Path, a walking trail that winds through beautiful meadows and woodlands, with the mountains as its backdrop.
While we didn’t have time to try out everything at the Wylder, we were big fans of the outdoor heated pool and sauna; next time, we’ll be sure to check out the included electric bicycles and hammocks. My traveling companion, a lifelong skier, loved the fact that the Wylder Windham was only a two-minute drive to Windham Mountain, which is a huge draw in the winter (but also popular in the summer months for mountain biking and live music). And only 10 miles away is the equally popular Hunter Mountain. The resort is also very close to downtown Windham, with its array of shops and restaurants – The Catskill Mountain Country Store & Restaurant is a popular favorite.
During our stay, we enjoyed a yummy breakfast one morning at Higher Grounds Coffee Co., located next door to Windham Mountain Outfitters (same owners, in fact) — which is expanding to a second location nearby, called Across the Street Ski & Board Rentals. Perhaps the most beautiful attraction within a half-hour’s drive of Windham is the famed Kaaterskill Falls. There is an easy-to-access viewing platform, as well as hiking trails. It is nature at its very finest.
As Patti Austin, Director of Tourism for Greene County told me, “The pandemic has definitely increased tourism … people are looking for the great outdoors and wide open spaces” – which are plentiful in the Catskills.
A few other suggestions for visitors include:
- A visit to Thomas Cole House in Catskill, NY. Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was a British- born artist and founder of the Hudson River School art movement. His equally acclaimed student, Frederic Church (1826-1900), lived just across the Hudson River in his mansion, Olana, which is also open for tours. You can actually do the one-hour walk between the two homes via the Rip Van Winkle Bridge along the newly named Hudson River Skywalk. For an even more sweeping view of the Hudson, check out the pedestrian-only (and pet- and bike-friendly) Walkway Over the Hudson further south in the Hudson Valley.
- A visit to Opus 40 in Saugerties, a fascinating stone creation formed out of an abandoned rock quarry, is definitely worth a few hours of your time.
- Enjoy some gourmet diner food (really!) in nearby Phoenicia Diner in Ulster County. There’s also a new “sister” restaurant, Dixon Roadside, in Woodstock (a great town for shopping and munching). For dinner, check out Miss Lucy’s Kitchen in nearby Saugerties. From its tomato bisque, to its craft cocktails, a great meal is guaranteed.
- Ride along the rails through the Catskills via Rail Explorers. This is eight-miles of genuine fun and appropriate for all ages. (It will start up again in the spring.)
- In Kingston, the capital of Ulster County, Hudson River Cruises offer daytime, sunset, and evening cruises. While you’re there, head to Frank Guido’s Little Italy for some delectable Italian food – it’s popular with locals and visitors alike; you might even catch a celeb enjoying a meal.
- A visit to historic Jones Farm in Orange County (Cornwall, NY) on your way back to South Jersey is always worth the trip. There, you can enjoy homemade baked goods, lunch at their café and peruse the lovely gift shop – along with greeting the many farm animals who call the farm their home.
Our three-night stay in Greene County provided the ideal “jumping off” spot for many autumn adventures in one of upstate New York’s most beautiful areas. For more information about the Hudson Valley and Catskills region of New York State, visit: www.Iloveny.com.
Nicole Pensiero is a South Jersey based travel writer and a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. Follow her on Twitter at @NicoleWrytr
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