At century-old Catskills resort Callicoon Hills, there’s a sense of nostalgia as cosy as the cuddle of a vintage blanket as you toast a s’more over a fire pit. Food is decidedly in the ‘comfort’ camp (stacked burgers, sticky wings, buttermilk biscuits), rooms look like something taped into a ‘cherished memories’ scrapbook, and pursuits are as old as the hills that you’ll joyfully ramble over. But, it doesn’t live in the past – modern artworks and furnishings commissioned from local carpenters; cool cocktails and cult cans; and menus starring quail, microgreen salads and rabbit ragout have shifted the stay from the fuzziness of memory lane to sharp modernity.
11am. Earliest check-in, 4pm. If the room isn’t occupied after check-out there’s some wiggle room for time (until about 12 noon), but for $100 you can check out at 3pm, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £154.23 ($196), including tax at 18.65 per cent.
Rates don’t include breakfast, but à la carte items start at $12.
Guests with mobility issues will be most comfortable in one of the four ADA-approved Pool House Standard Queen rooms, set on the ground floor. One of which has a roll-in shower.
At the hotel
Outdoor lounges and terraces with fire pits, game room with a pool table and video games, indoor lounge with a fireplace, lawn games, free WiFi. In rooms: air-conditioning, Malin + Goetz bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Rooms’ decor is similar throughout, and nods back to the hotel’s Hills Resort days, giving them a retro look. There’s white wood panelling and wood floors, local carpenters have been called on to craft statement headboards and freeform coffee tables, and snuggly wool throws and dainty artworks have been added. Choose between the Pool House for easy swimming access, the house set on a ridge for a bit more peace and quiet (and a small climb), or main hub the Boarding House to be at the centre of the action.
The king-size pool (open from 9am to 6pm, from June to October) is a promising shade of turquoise and overlooks the undulating greenery. There’s a bank of shaded loungers to one side and floats on request. Please note that it's not possible to swim in the pool unless two adults are present.
There’s no spa onsite, but there are plenty around that the hotel can vouch for. Say Hemlock Spa at Kenoza Hall, with its hydrotherapy circuit, serious facials and varied yoga classes; River Family Wellness for acupuncture, reiki and intuitive healing; Bodies and Plants for Pilates classes; or Right Foot Yoga for more soothing stretches.
Bring hiking boots with a strong constitution, a French market bag for toting all your Catskills edibles, and gentle bug spray. The hotel has vintage blankets to keep you warm after dark, but a cosy sweater won’t go amiss, especially during leaf-peeping season.
To encourage you to go out into nature, plus keep the peace, there are no TVs in rooms. And, FYI, romantics, the 19th-century English Haypress Barn is ideal for a rustic ceremony.
Dogs can stay in some rooms (the Pool House is dog-friendly) for $60 a night. Only two dogs can stay in a room, they must be leashed in public, and you’ll need to complete the online registration form before your stay to avoid a higher fee. See more pet-friendly hotels in Catskills.
Welcome to stay, but under-16s must be supervised at the pool. A baby cot and pack and play can be added to any rooms at no cost.
Older swim-confident kids.
The Pool House Standard Two Full room sleeps up to four and has easy access for swimming.
This is all about getting out into the green, so there’ll be family hikes, fly-fishing sessions, kayaking trips and horse riding, alongside trips to small towns and the local alpaca farm. Plus there’s a games room with a pool table and video consoles.
The king-size pool – large enough for little ones to frolic alongside those doing laps – will be a welcome distraction, but swimming under-16s must be accompanied by an adult at all times.
The kids’ menu is a short and sweet round-up of faves: PB&J, grilled cheese, mini cheeseburgers, buttered gnocchi, with either a chocolate chip cookie or berries and cream for dessert and chocolate milk or juice to wash it down. And below that there’s a puzzle section with a wordsearch and ‘tic, tac toe’.
No need to pack
Bring any baby kit and toys for rainy days.
Callicoon Hills has had a few upgrades since it started life as the Wenzel Boarding House back in 1905, but the latest owners have done their utmost to honour the hotel’s past, whether it’s restoring original decor or taking inspiration from vintage branding. And the kitchen works very closely with local farms, fisheries and breweries, each of which is listed on their dinner menu.
Sit on the terrace to admire the profusion of balsam firs, maple and birch trees, which are even more spectacular come autumn’s fiery hues.
‘Hey! I’m hiking hee-yah!’
Conover Club has a retro feel, with sage wood-lined walls, and cosy banquettes, plus a terrace overlooking the greenery. It excels in American comfort food, putting its own spin on the classics, say serving eggs Benny on latkes, and breakfast sandwiches on cheddar and jalapeño Grizzly Bagels, or making French toast savory, dipped in a parmesan-and-herb batter for brunch. And country dining gets chic at dinner, when there’s quail with ramp chimichurri, panzanella, and gnocchi in rabbit ragout. But, there are also ‘sammies’ (the signature Hills burger is a big meaty hug in a bun), wings with lavender honey and blue cheese, and fried cheese curds dipped in chilli-lime ranch. Plus, the list of Catskills suppliers given top billing on the menu – even before you hit the appetizers – will reassure you of the ingredients’ fine provenance. Occasionally the hotel holds special themed dinners too, such as the popular offal-themed evening (much nicer than it sounds). And, keep-you-going breakfasts are served in the Rise & Shine Coffee Shop, including yoghurt parfait with pomegranate, cocoa nibs and honey; overnight oats with apple, pecan and cinnamon; and chia pudding with mandarin and cranberries. Or more bakes from Grizzly Bagels and house-made pastries.
The Catskills’ craft-beer scene is well represented with taps frequently updated with new IPAs, ales and more from the likes of the Upward Brewing Co or Roscoe Brewery. Plus, there’s an edit of classic bottle-aged cocktails and cult cans: Graft’s bourbon-citrus cider, Crafters’ Union wines, High Noon’s vodka sodas. And in the Conover Club, the mixologists shake things up according to season, so you’ll get sippers such as the Sleepy Hollow with Wild Turkey bourbon, blueberries, lemon and mint, or the Beaverkill with El Dorado rum, peach, lime and a dash of maple syrup.
Breakfast in Rise & Shine Coffee Shop is from 8am. The Conover Club serves dinner from 5pm, Thursday to Sunday, and brunch from 10am to 1pm on weekends.
Callicoon Hills rests in a river valley on the west side of the Catskills, close to the Pennsylvania border. Vividly green, this is the side back-to-nature seekers are drawn to.
The closest airport is New York Stewart International in Newburgh, which has good links across the Eastern Seaboard, but somewhat random direct routes if you’re arriving from outside the States (if your launch point is Bangladesh or Iceland, you’re golden). If you’re landing in NYC, Newark is the closest hub, at two-and-a-half-hours away, while JFK is closer to three.
From New Jersey you could take the Port Jervis line to Port Jervis station, but then you’d still be an hour’s drive from the hotel.
Yes, without a doubt you’ll need a car. The hotel’s river valley and surrounding hills are beautiful but do set you apart from the larger towns and attractions, plus the western Catskills is sparsely served by public transport. There’s a parking lot just across from the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
We can guarantee you’ll find yourself on a hike here – Callicoon Hills (previously known as Hill’s Villa and Hills Resort) might take its name from the Hill family, who purchased it in the 1940s – but it’s surrounded by some delightfully unruly topography, luxuriously coated in trees. Staff can point you in the right direction for roaming about nearby greenery, or you can drive out to tackle the grander, sometimes more challenging, trails: the majestic Walnut Mountain Park; the lakes, ponds and falls of Willowemoc Wild Forest; or Bouchoux trailhead for a panorama of the Delaware River Valley. Alternatively, you can ride along the water in a kayak, canoe, tubing ring and more, with Lander’s River Trips, or saddle up with Rolling Stone Ranch for a leisurely horse ride. Nearby small town Roscoe is renowned for its angling and fly-fishing opportunities, home to five of the US’s top trout streams. Callicoon itself is worth a visit for its vintage cinema, bountiful farmer’s market (one of the most renowned in the region), and quaint boutiques – we like Spruce Homegoods for handicrafts and the Antique Center for rummaging. Livingston Manor might host an annual Trout Parade and the Catskill Fly-Fishing Museum, but it’s becoming increasingly hip, so those looking for a different angle are off the hook and can explore the sweet indie shops, delicious farm delis, natural-wine bars and breweries. And, in Narrowsburg you can pick up cosy-making homewares at Sunny’s Pop or Catskills Curated, find picnic fixings (homemade preserves, aged cheeses, local charcuterie) at Narrowsburg Proper, or pet and feed alpacas at the Buck Brook Farm. Head into Sullivan County to see the Callicoon Center Band, who’ve been playing since 1934, and swing by the old Woodstock site, still a lively place of peace and love as the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, where there’s a museum, wellness workshops, concerts and festivals, such as October’s wine-focused the Big Sip. And though the hotel is more a place to relax after a jaunt into nature, they often hold events too, such as axe-throwing, reiki, sound healing, drag brunches, and seasonal happenings – for Halloween they tell ghost stories in the woods and hold tarot readings.
You only need to glance over the list of heritage trout hatcheries, beekeepers with side hustles in gin-making, growers of heirloom vegetables, even suppliers of fruit woods for the hotel’s smoker, to know that you’ll eat very well in the farm-fresh paradise that is the Catskills. You’ll find trout in various forms on all menus, and you’ll need to drive around 15 minutes at most to reach the tastiest local eateries, but it’s worth designated driver-ing for the night and giving the local delicacy a try. In Livingston Manor, pizza joint the Kaatskeller sources mozzarella made nearby for their wood-fired creations and toppings are beautifully conceived. Try the white pizza with Littleneck clams; the ‘wild one’ with boar pepperoni, harissa-spiked San Marzano tomatoes, and pepper-infused raw honey; or the ‘dreaming of Buffalo’, with chicken in buffalo-kombucha hot sauce, Tonjes Farm blue-cheese crumble and micro-basil. You might find yourself bursting into song at the Arnold House – it’s encouraged when the jukebox plays – but otherwise your mouth will be full with pork belly in cherry chutney, brown-butter-glazed Beaverkill trout with squash latkes, or Funyun-crusted-chicken sandwiches. For a magical tasting-menu journey, book the DeBruce, who’ll start you off with elderflower kombucha, walk you through oysters with pine, kohlrabi risotto with almonds and caviar and trout consommé, before finishing with foraged-tree-bark tea and madeleines. And Kenoza Hall’s dining is heavily French accented; crab-stuffed galettes come with a slick of dijon, Hudson Valley foie gras comes with red-grape mostarda and a black-sesame rouille, and there’s a menu of caviars, served with a dollop of vodka-and-black-pepper crème fraîche.
Callicoon Caffè’s all-day breakfast is very popular for its hefty serve of pancakes (drizzled with local maple syrup, natch), waffles and immense sandwiches. Over in Livingston manor, Main Street Farm’s sandwiches make excellent showcases for local produce – try the Beaverkill with smoked trout and vegan mayo, Catskill Comfort with applewood-smoked ham, Brooklyn-made sweet-and-spicy mustard and Remembrance Farm lettuce, or the Farmstead, a baguette simply filled with Tonjes Farm’s cave-aged raw cow cheese, olive oil and cracked black pepper.
Upward Brewing isn’t just an optimistic name although the brewery’s ascent has been fast, it’s called so because its 120-acre reserve has been dubbed ‘beer mountain’ and there’s an annual challenge to trail run across it – you get rewarded with their fine craft suds. But you don’t need to exert yourself, you can just get comfy in their tap room and taste away. The family who run Seminary Hill Cidery have been pressing apples for generations and honed their tippling art along the way while championing sustainable practices. Their tasting room is a modern marvel, and snacks (venison-liver mousse, fried chicken skin with hot sauce) will keep you on the level. And, the Callicoon Wine Merchant has a very urbane list, plus tempting tapas plates.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this spruced-up centenarian in the Catskills and unpacked their bottles of Seminary Hill cider and snaffled down their last fireside s’more, a full account of their trail-blazing break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Callicoon Hills in Upstate New York…
Much like a fine wine, harvest cider, heirloom tomato seed varietals or cheese in a cave, the fine products of the Catskills need to age into elegant maturity – and the same could be said for Callicoon Hills, a resort that’s honed its hospitality over more than a century. It’s always been a place of unhurried relaxation, cushioned in a glorious river valley furred with trees. In 1905 it was built as a boarding house to accompany the Wenzel family’s gristmill, in the 1960s’ ‘borscht belt’ era the Hill’s family eschewed ‘good morning, campers’ activity programmes of Dirty Dancing-style stays to let guests set their own pace, and in the 1970s, Walter and Anna Ambrozewicz bought the stay on a whim after telling the owner they ‘never wanted to leave’. Guests have always been tucked into the fold of whichever family was hosting them, while being left to revel in the Catskills’ natural beauty and engage in wholesome pursuits – before cocktail hour, that is. In its new guise, it carries the torch, leaves most of the decor untouched, and deferentially calls back to the resort’s past through mementoes, branding and sympathetic new touches: modern artworks, artisan furnishings made by local carpenters. And there’s enough to keep even the most abrasive New Yorker happy – craft brews, a menu that swings from ‘comfort’ to ‘cosmopolitan’, a deft barkeep, cool coffee joint, and fast-rising hotspots close by. A stay that’s ripe for the picking.