Travel: Natural Fit

  • Judith Kirkwood

Some people may still think of the Catskills as chopped liver, but the Emerson Inn & Spa, the first small luxury hotel in the Catskill Forest Preserve, is quickly changing that image to foie gras. Located in Mt. Tremper, a two-hour drive from New York City and 15 minutes from Woodstock, the Emerson is part of the resurrection of the Catskills as a refuge from the rat race of not only the city, but of the Hamptons as well.
Emerson Inn owner Dean Gitter envisioned the forests and mountains of the Catskills as the perfect setting for an outpost of civilized living. At a cost of $7 million, Gitter transformed a Victorian inn built in 1874 into an estate that combines Ralph Waldo Emerson’s philosophy of nature—a copy of his 1836 “Nature” essay is in each room—with an incredible collection of single-malt Scotches and whiskeys. Add to that a celebrated wine list (550 labels, 5,000 bottles), a comprehensive cigar menu, French-inspired cuisine from Alsatian chef Gilbert Steiner, and spa treatments such as a stress-busting skin brushing. The result is a getaway that addresses both Mother Nature and human nature.

The spa, a freestanding pagoda, is intimate and discreet, offering the convenience of one room and one technician, who provides head-to-toe service that includes everything from a gentleman’s facial to a warm paraffin wax for tired feet. You will especially appreciate not having to pad through a lobby in robe and slippers between services. The perfect follow-up to spa services—a nap—can be had back in your room, which may pay tribute to Persia, Africa, Asia, the colonial West Indies, or Victorian style. Choose frills and lace, tassels and fringe, or leopard skin.

After your Emerson recharge, let the European staff arrange a connection with the outdoors. The Hudson Valley region is ripe with activity, such as kayaking on the Hudson River or fishing in Esopus Creek, a Class A trout stream.


Of course, for many, a visit to the Emerson provides an opportunity to visit (or revisit) the area that best defined the 1960s. A ramble around the galleries and shops in the town of Woodstock is mandatory, even though Max Yasgur’s farm, the site of the Woodstock phenomenon, is 70 miles away in a different county. If you’re intrigued by the Tibetan art displayed at the Emerson, a stop at the Tibetan Emporium in Woodstock is in order. Better yet, visit the town’s Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Buddhist monastery, which offers a daily schedule of teachings open to the public.
Across the road from the Emerson is Kaleidoworld at Catskill Corners, another Dean Gitter enterprise. More than Woodstock, this is where a certain generation can flash back to their hippie days. The world’s largest kaleidoscopes feature images more than 50 feet in diameter. (Tip: The best way to take in the Dolby surround-sound show is by lying down in the former silo.) Afterward, it’s a bit of a jolt to see BMWs and Audis on the road instead of painted vans and buses. But it’s nice to walk back to the Emerson and be old enough to drink and choose to smoke something legal, such as a Cohiba Corona Especial—a cigar with a great ash, as a Borscht Belt comedian might say.

The Emerson Inn & Spa, 845.688.7900, www.theemerson.com

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