Looking to escape the busy summer tourism season on Long Island and New York City, I decided to be a tourist myself. Thankfully, after scanning New York By Rail‘s convenient travel itineraries, I came across the perfect escape in Columbia County. With the first distillery since before Prohibition, cozy boarding, Broadway-style musicals, classic American BBQ, historic landscapes and a mansion to explore, what more could I ask for? So, after altering the program for a day trip adventure, I packed my bag, booked my ticket, and hit the rails to the “City of Hudson and Beyond.”
TO THE CITY OF HUDSON & BEYOND
The first Amtrak train from Penn Station toward the historic whaling town of Hudson leaves at 7:15 A.M. on the Maple Leaf line. The two-hour ride was a quiet one, filled with commuters and those looking to get a jump on their weekend away. Looking around the train car, many read a book or took advantage of the free wifi available on Amtrak trains. While some rested for the day ahead, I found it hard to look away from what was happening outside the window.
Anyone who has ridden Amtrak north from Manhattan is well aware of the beauty that sits to the left of your passing rail car. With some of the most scenic views of the Hudson River available, on an early morning ride, you will see the sunrise, light shimmering off the water caps and illuminating the Palisades that border America’s Rhine. It’s difficult to resist the urge of snapping a photo from your seat—or in my case, over the sleeping passenger seated next to me. This warm setting is truly something you can not fully appreciate with any other form of travel.
Approaching Hudson with a few stops to go—and as hunger consumed me, it was time to hit the Cafe Car. There you can find the early-birds relaxing, chatting over a cup of coffee, or some of the great Taste NY products available on the train. (As a Long Island native, there may be some bias in this statement, but be sure to grab a bagel from Always Bagels of Bohemia, LI now available on the train!)
As I stepped off the train at Hudson Station there was an immediate impression of serenity. The surrounding area is calm and quiet, the air clear and cool, and the station itself has a charmingly antiquated aesthetic. The red-brick building, located about a five-minute walk from the banks of the Hudson River, was built in 1874 and is the oldest continuously operated station in the state—currently serving four different Amtrak lines!
But, what’s even more relieving than Hudson’s atmosphere is knowing that an Enterprise employee had been waiting at the station to take me to my reserved rental car.
The staff at the Hudson Enterprise office are as friendly, accommodating and knowledgeable as can be. If you’re new to the area they are more than willing to give you a rundown on local favorites and hotspots you have to visit before the end of your trip. One happened to be my first stop. So, with the keys in my hand, I was on the road to Olana State Historic Site.
TAKING IN THE BEAUTY OF OLANA STATE HISTORIC SITE
Olana can be characterized by one word: stunning.
Upon my arrival, it became easy to understand how over the last 40 years of his life, Frederic Edwin Church remained captivated by this awe-inspiring 250-acre estate. While traversing the winding road towards the top of the hill, there is an overwhelming sense of mysticism in the air. Glimpses of the notorious villa that rests at the peak begin to poke through the tree line. After a few minutes into a tour, I quickly learned that this was the intention of the artist.
Church, a renowned figure in the Hudson River School of landscape painting, purchased the first half of Olana in 1860—15 years after he had first sketched on the property as a student of Thomas Cole. From then on Church began to continuously make improvements to the land. Working to combine the natural countryside with the careful layout of carriage drives, and meticulous plantings of trees and shrubs to conceal, reveal and frame vistas of his own property and the wider Hudson Valley.
To wander the property firsthand is the only way to fully admire the natural elegance of this historic landscape. Alone, visitors could spend an entire day exploring the main house—the details of the decor so refined, yet so easy to overlook on a brief tour. For example, the amber glass windows overlaid with cut-paper, the lavish furnishings Frederic and Isabel acquired over their lifetimes and the large windows that not only act as frames of the surrounding gorgeous countryside but serve as a vista into the artist’s fastidious intentions.
But, with all of the time you could spend learning the history of the land, you could also spend taking in its beauty on your own terms. The site allows for a plethora of recreational activities like hiking, picnicking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, fishing, kayaking and non-motorized boating—all available seasonally along with programs and special events.
The Olana Partnership currently has two groundbreaking and immersive exhibitions available for viewing too. OVERLOOK is Teresita Fernández’ site-specific examination of Church and his contemporaries’ response to the cultures and landscapes they experienced during their 19th-century Latin American travels. The late Venezuelan artist, Jesús Rafael Soto’s Penetrable, an iconic, interactive sculpture is currently on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The latter of the two you can actually walk through!
Unfortunately, due to some time constraints, my visit to Olana was cut short, but it is first on my list to revisit next time the opportunity arrives. For now, it was time to move on to my next stop.
CATCH A SHOW AT MAC-HAYDN THEATRE
After a morning trekking Olana’s vast carriage trails, there is no better way to unwind than with a performance at Mac-Haydn for a true “hiking by day, Broadway by night” experience. About a 30-minute, scenic drive north through Main Streets, farmlands and suburbs, tucked away on the border of the village of Chatham is this charming, 350-seat theater-in-the-round that has a history as extensive as the catalog they produce.
Founded in a rented cow barn, the late Linda MacNish, an off-Broadway writer and producer, and aspiring actress, Lynne Haydn, began putting on intimate performances of fan-favorite musical theater in 1969. Each season the famous question arose: “Are you going to do this again next year?” again, and again, leading to the prep work for the theater’s 50th anniversary in 2019. Despite the theater’s humble beginnings, it has become a staple in the off-broadway circuit, seeing enormous on-stage talent throughout the years. Most notably, Tony Award-winner Nathan Lane, known for his roles in The Producers, Guys and Dolls and many other performances.
Today, Mac-Haydn employs about 100 up-and-comers in all departments throughout their summer theater season, creating a nurturing community for the talent they attract from all over the country. From set design to costumes, they do it all! Everything you will see on stage is created in-house.
Each season about 10 shows are produced, ranging from main stage performances to children’s theatre. During my visit, while Saturday Night Fever was in production, I accidentally stumbled into a table reading of the cast’s next performance, Sweeney Todd—sorry!
This hidden gem of the Hudson Valley is a must-visit for those seeking an intimate, Broadway-esque theater experience. Join the 35,000 yearly theatergoers, and witness the talent of tomorrow’s Broadway stars firsthand.
A BITE AND A BREW IN THE VILLAGE OF CHATHAM
As lunchtime approached, and hunger began to rear its ugly head once again, it was time to grab a bite to eat. I headed back towards the appealing stretch of Main Street I passed on the drive to Mac-Haydn, when I was stopped in my tracks by the stunning facade of Yianni’s Restaurant at the Chatham House.
Surrounded by a diverse selection of shops on Hudson Ave. in Chatham, Yianni’s is a warm and welcoming dining experience that “dazzles not only the eyes but pallets as well.” The restaurant occupies the landmark Chatham House, a luxuriously renovated 1859 hotel, and serves phenomenal cuisine. Be sure to try the California chicken wrap off the lunch menu!
The interior’s quaint atmosphere makes for a comfortable sanctuary for patrons searching for a great variety of domestic and local beer—including Chatham Brewing Co., wine, and house-made cocktails. If you’re looking to eat outdoors, request a table on the balcony to enjoy a nice view of Main Street and the railroad tracks across the street. You might be able to spot Amtrak passing through en route to Albany!
After stuffing my face with more grilled chicken and avocado than most people can handle, washing it down with a refreshing pint of one of Chatham Brewing Co.’s best, I took a short walk through the quaint village of Chatham to meet one of the masterminds behind the cold craft beverage causing quite a stir throughout the Hudson Valley.
A PINT AT CHATHAM BREWING CO.
Winner of the coveted 2017 Matthew Vassar Cup for Best Craft Brewery in the Hudson Valley at TAPNY, Chatham Brewing Co. is producing some of the top beer in New York. Its great location, refined vibe and incredible craft beer and food have quickly designated the award-winning brewery a cornerstone of the surrounding community.
Their production facility—located on-site, is truly impressive. Not only is the brewing done throughout the rear of the building, but so are the canning and kegging processes. They’re not kidding when they say their beer is “imported from Main Street.”
When it comes to using the freshest ingredients, Chatham Brewing Co. is the real deal, and with 14 varieties of savory and unique beers on tap at the tasting room, there’s something for any preference. Offering seasonal brews, order a flight or have a pint of your favorite while enjoying farm-fresh fare from their latest addition—Main Street Kitchen, serving a variety of small and large plates of Asian fusion cuisine prepared by the People’s Pub—also based in Chatham.
Bite into a piquant, Korean pulled pork sandwich, some flavorful pork belly sliders or wonton nachos, and celebrate the 10-year anniversary of this award-winning brewery with outdoor dining and live music on the weekend.
Following a tour of the brewery and tasting room, I decided to explore more of Chatham.
PERUSING THE VILLAGE’S PLETHORA OF SHOPS
The village of Chatham has plenty to offer first-time visitors to the area. Filled with independently-owned, one-of-a-kind retail stores, restaurants and galleries, Chatham is a quintessential upstate New York community. It was so relaxing to unwind and spend the afternoon perusing their inviting selection of specialty shops, an array of casual and fine dining restaurants, and the village’s vivid art scene.
A personal favorite: Chatham Bookstore, is located right in the heart of Main Street. A delightful shop with a wide variety of current and classic books, art supplies and other offerings, the bookstore has been open and “building community through books” since 1977. Look for its approachable brick storefront, tucked beneath a large orange awning, and enjoy the cozy atmosphere the interior offers while you search for your next read.
A few storefronts north of Chatham Bookstore are the friendly volunteers of the Columbia Land Conservancy. These members of the surrounding area work to conserve the farmland, forests, wildlife habitat and the rural character of Columbia County.
This dynamic force has permanently protected over 26,000 acres of private land, assisted with open space and trail development throughout the area, and so much more since their inception! Stop in their shop to learn about all of the great programs and events they host throughout the county that highlight the land they work to protect.
The Village of Chatham really has it all. You can taste locally sourced food at the area’s restaurants and farm stands, hear history in the village’s hourly clock tower bell and the roar of the trains that pass through the countryside. Tap your foot to live music in a number of great taverns throughout the village, or explore the outskirts of town to experience gorgeous landscapes or witness an immense wealth of talent at one of the area’s performance spaces.
Although I could have spent all day wandering this beautiful village, it was time to head to my next destination, Art Omi.
EXPLORING ART OMI
A trip to the Omi International Arts Center is unlike anything you’ll ever experience. Located south of Chatham in Ghent, NY, Art Omi is situated on 300 acres of undulating farmland with gorgeous views of the Catskills and Hudson Valley. To date, the site has hosted over 1,800 unique and varied artists, writers, musicians, and dancers from more than 100 countries, creating a quirky and unique experience of discovery.
The drive there was filled with overwhelming anticipation and anyone who has seen photos of Omi will understand. Located on a highway bordered by thick forest and brush, as you approach the sculpture park the treeline begins to recede, uncovering a massive field—a breathtaking, grand reveal. From the road, you will be able to sight some of the massive art pieces scattered throughout Omi’s rolling hills, most notably Tony Tasset’s Deer, a 12-foot tall, 20-foot long—you guessed it, deer that guards the entrance to the parking lot.
But, before exploring the Fields Sculpture Park, I stopped in the Charles B. Benenson Visitors Center, a 4,200 square-foot LEED-certified building that showcases state of the art “green” systems. The center houses a 1,500 square-foot gallery, for paintings, sculpture and video exhibitions, is home to the adult and children’s art education programs, while also accommodating concerts, lectures, readings and dance recitals developed during the Omi residency program.
It’s also the location of Café Omi, a sleek, spacious outdoor terrace that serves an enticing array of seasonal, locally-sourced lunch specials on a weekly rotating schedule. Still full from lunch, and knowing about the dinner ahead, it took all of my strength not to order something. The menu had me salivating.
THE SCULPTURE PARK AT ART OMI
After exploring the visitors center’s gallery and grabbing a bite at Café Omi, it was time to explore the fields! Founded in 1998, Omi’s Sculpture Park presents nearly 80 works of art on view from internationally recognized, contemporary and modern artists.
With a map of the property and my trusty steed—an all-terrain golf cart (there are also mountain bikes available for free use), I meandered twisting trails and crossed narrow footbridges on an incredibly unique, unguided art safari. Some not-to-miss exhibits include: Tom Burr’s A Few Golden Moments, a deliberately ambiguous piece that enables viewers to invest it with their own life experiences; Rob Fischer’s Omi Pond House, a site-specific sculptural installation inspired by the artist’s visit to Omi; and the habitable sculpture—and newest work in an experimental, performative series of “social relationship architecture,” ReActor, designed and built by internationally renowned architect-artist duo Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley.
My time at Omi flew by way too fast, and as quickly as I sped off in my trusty cart, I was throwing on the parking brake back at the entrance to the fields. But before I was off for dinner at Wm. Farmer & Sons, I was sure not to miss American sculptor and conceptual artist, Dennis Adams’ Bus Shelter XI (Heidegger), an installation that examines the relationship of art and urban environment, hidden near the parking lot exit.
RETURNING THE ENTERPRISE RENT-A-CAR
Before an amazing dinner at Wm. Farm & Sons, it was time to return my Enterprise rental. En route to the Hudson office that earlier that day, my driver kindly pointed out that the barroom was only a few minutes walk from the station, and that I could easily drop my car off and walk over. So I did exactly that.
Conveniently located at the station, Enterprise now has several parking spaces for their rental cars to be left in, along with a drop-off box for the keys. But, figuring that I’d have some time after dinner to collect my things before boarding, I left my backpack in the car and took a short, peaceful walk to the grand, 1830’s Mansard-style edifice of Wm. Farmer & Sons.
UNWINDING AT WM. FARMER & SONS
Stepping into the barroom on the corner of South Front and Union Streets in the city of Hudson, I was in awe. Everything about Wm. Farmer And Sons is of the highest quality; its location, rustic-chic décor, staff, atmosphere, food, cocktails—the list goes on.
At a table with a view of the crowds entering and passing by the lounge, I was seated near the barroom’s brick fireplace, unlit, but cozy nonetheless. A quick scan of the cocktail and dinner menus caused the inability to decide what to have that evening—each description sounded better than the last! But, before I could decide, a colorful salad with diced cucumber, what appeared to be seaweed, caviar, and red callaloo, topped with a house-made dressing was placed in front of me. Wide-eyed, I dug in before the server could even finish explaining the dish. It was a great, refreshing surprise after a long humid day.
When it came time to order, I decided on the duck confit from Fazio Farms, plated over Jefferson red rice perloo, with radish and an oyster dressing. To drink, the Artist’s Special, shaken bourbon, manzanilla sherry, a house-made grenadine and fresh lemon juice served straight up. Needless to say, it was amazing.
— Andrew Frey (@freyd_) July 14, 2017
The duck skin was crispy, the meat was tender, and each bite was better than the one before—I genuinely did not want it to end. The Jefferson rice was moist and the oyster sauce—made from fresh oysters, shucked on-site, had great flavor, and I usually avoid anything that includes the word “oyster.” The cocktail was not too sweet, not too bitter and perfectly poured.
As I sat there, digesting and taking in the restaurant’s charming qualities, my server brought me one last cocktail by his recommendation, a Kentucky Maid. Made with bourbon, lime juice, simple syrup and garnished with mint and cucumber, it is the ultimate refresher on a summer evening.
CONSIDERING A STAY AT WM. FARMER & SONS
While I now lament my decision to decline dessert, it was almost time to leave the beautiful barroom and depart for New York City. But, before I did, I decided to browse my options for an overnight stay. Conveniently, like the food and service available on the main floor of this gorgeous building, the lodging options offered by Wm. Farmer & Sons are also top of the line.
Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a family trip, or more of an apartment-like suite for a longer stay, Wm. Farmer & Sons have just the room.
Guest rooms are available in three consecutive buildings on South Front St.; The Merchant House, a beautiful historical building, featuring four unique guest rooms and suites, and a serene and secluded back garden found through the lovely common space—perfect for private events; Wm. Farmer, the main building, features beautifully appointed rooms and suites of various sizes, amenities, décor, and layout—each named for a Farmer family member; and The Annex Suites, offering the Pint and the Half Pint, ground-floor suites perfect for families in need of a roomier, apartment-like setting.
I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a few of these gorgeous guestrooms before check-in, but unfortunately, all of these stunning suites were booked for the evening—I was cutting it close to my train time anyway… [sniffles woefully]
It was a quiet walk back to the station, the wind blowing off the shore of the Hudson. It was the perfect way to the end the busy day. When I arrived at the station, I grabbed my backpack out of the Enterprise rental, locked up and placed the key in the convenient drop-off box to the left of lot.
The air began to cool, so I sat for a bit on the benches outside the station and was able to see an Empire Service train heading north up the Hudson to Albany. As it started to get a little colder I headed inside the station’s waiting area. Inside, there was a great display of information about nearly all of the places I had visited that day—and even a New York By Rail poster!
The announcement that the train was approaching echoed over the speakers, so I quickly lined up to board. It was a bit sad stepping on the train to depart Hudson. I had an amazing time exploring the beautiful, vast Columbia County and couldn’t wait to plan a longer trip in the area.
Grabbing a spot in the quiet car, I settled in my seat with a movie—taking advantage of the wifi, and enjoyed a peaceful, relaxing ride home to New York City.
GETTING TO COLUMBIA COUNTY
Amtrak’s Empire Service, Maple Leaf, Adirondack and Ethan Allen Express lines service the Hudson Station; a two-hour ride from Penn Station, and a 25-minute ride from Albany-Rensselaer Station. The cost is $38 for a one-way, off-peak ticket from Penn Station, and $18 from Albany-Rensselaer with sufficient advance purchase, but price can vary. The earliest trains to Hudson leave Penn Station at 7:15 a.m. and Albany-Rensselaer at 5:05 a.m, arriving at 9:20 a.m and 5:30 a.m. respectively. For schedules visit amtrak.com.
Get picked up at the Hudson Station by Enterprise Rent-a-Car and taken to your reserved rental car! Use code NYTRAIN for a discount when making your reservation. Reach the Hudson office at 518-828-5492.
Don’t forget to use the See New York and Save 15% Discount when purchasing tickets!