I can pinpoint the exact moment when I knew I wanted to return to the Hudson River Valley as soon and as often as I could.
I was at Millbrook Winery on a quintessential autumn day — the air was chilled to perfection, the rolling hills were alive with gold and red leaves, and the grape harvest had just begun. A black lab, the beloved winery dog, made a not-so-subtle appeal for treats and affection.
Those close to me know gourmet grocery stores and markets are my Kryptonite. But during that first visit to the valley, I had overestimated just how much local granola, cheese, olive oil, wine, and, — strangely — popcorn kernels a city dweller could consume.
The landscapes painted by artists from the Hudson River School evoke an America that seems to be long gone. But, hints of it remain. On a recent road trip, a friend remarked that the Hudson Valley carries us through the seasons, and that each one draws us back for a different purpose. Promises of the perfect “fall” day may have drawn me here in the first place, but I now return for the quaint shops, historical treasures, and sophisticated dining. There’s always something new to discover.
When the long winter starts to thaw, the first small batches of fresh produce are put to use throughout the spring edition of Hudson Valley Restaurant Week (March 11-24 this year). More than 200 restaurants — like Crabtree’s Kittle House, Gigi Trattoria, and X20 Xaviars on the Hudson — offer prix fixe meals for lunch and dinner. March is also prime-time maple season, so be sure to stop by Madava Farms for a tour and a taste of their Crown Maple Syrup.
This May brings the 65th Annual Albany Tulip Festival, with 100,000 bulbs in bloom, and even a Royal Tulip Ball. Spring is my favorite time of year to visit the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a stunning campus on a river plateau that George Washington considered to be highly strategic. It’s also my Dad’s alma mater!
This season brings a flood of farmers market produce into the valley. Visit Fishkill Farms and Greig Farms to pick your own juicy strawberries, tart blueberries, and sweet peaches. Summer brings the most delectable dishes at Blue Hill at Stone Barn, a world-renowned restaurant ideal for that special occasion, and Sprout Creek Farm, while known for its award-winning cheese, offers camps where kids can learn how a farm actually works.
There are over 25 wineries in the region, including my favorites, Millbrook and Clinton, perfect to visit on a languid summer day. Keep an eye out for an even bigger influx of spirits like vodka and bourbon in the valley, led by distilleries like Tuthilltown Spirits, makers of Hudson Baby Bourbon, and Black Dirt Distillery.
And the perfect end-of-summer event awaits at the Dutchess County Fair, where thousands of farm animals and turn-of-the-century treasures (like a one-room schoolhouse and cider mill) are on proud display.
Autumn in New York
Fall is by far my favorite time of year in the Hudson Valley. It’s the time to get lost on purpose while exploring back roads and ending up in adorable towns like Rhinebeck and Millerton. It’s the time to stroll the Walkway Over the Hudson, a 1.28-mile bridge that affords the most impressive views, and to visit the Storm King Art Center to see more than 100 sculptures on display.
Halloween in Sleepy Hollow is the best kind of creepy: with cemetery tours, Horseman’s Hollow trail, and haunted hayrides. More than 4,000 pumpkins glow at The Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze, held at Van Cortlandt Manor.
You won’t want to miss the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in Saugerties, where thousands of garlic lovers gather each September, or the second Hudson Valley Restaurant Week of the year, on November 4-17. But don’t even think about leaving town without grabbing a few apple-cider doughnuts from Adams Fairacre Farms, a huge family-owned market in Poughkeepsie.
Days are short in the winter, which makes it the ideal time to take advantage of all the indoor activities. Like Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s home, the Rockefeller Estate, Kykuit, and Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving. The Culinary Institute of America, which graduates class after class of talented chefs, many of whom stay to open their own restaurants in the area, has a spacious campus near the river. It’s well worth a visit — for a meal or a quick stop in the gift shop.
And for those of you who love theater, dance, and music, there is a always something worth seeing at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, in a striking building designed by Frank Gehry.
Where to Stay: If you’re thinking about spending a night or a weekend in the valley, there is a bevy of smaller B&Bs and inns to choose from. A favorite is Buttermilk Falls Inn and Spa, nestled right next to the river with sense-of-place views, a swan pond, tennis courts, and a spa with an indoor pool. The inn’s restaurant, Henry’s Farm to Table, is a must for dinner even if you stay elsewhere, much of the food is grown on site at their own Millstone Farm. If you’re traveling with a family or a larger group, there are plenty of rentable houses overlooking the river. You can also stay overnight night at the historic Saugerties Lighthouse.