Vibrant, Historic Hudson Valley, New York
By Christopher Ludgate
GoNOMAD Senior Travel Writer
The train hurtled from Manhattan along the Hudson River, into the majestic scenery of the valley.
I watched the sailboats glide along the glistening water as the sun set when the wild sight of an overgrown island suddenly appeared with what looked like castle towers peeking out.
Our necks craned - allowing barely a glimpse as we sped by with intrigue - and then it became even more of a mystery. I heard passengers whispering what was that?
Yes, that is a Scottish castle in the middle of the Hudson, and I was determined to get a closer look.
Hip & Tranquil Beacon Falls
It was early evening when my car pulled up to the edge of Main Street in Beacon, New York to check-in to the recently opened Roundhouse for a couple of nights. The two-century-old high wooden beams in the landmark hotel stretched up from the floor and across the ceilings in my room, adding some context to the history tucked away in Dutchess County’s regal mountains.
Having had many incarnations, the multi-structured hotel was once home to various manufacturers before big-industry left the area in the 1970s, leaving the area in economic decline.
“This whole place was boarded up for a long time. You’ll see - they have the old pictures all through the hotel and the restaurant, which is pretty popular. The whole town has transformed so fast,” my driver, Frank, informed me earlier.
The sound of whooshing water, constant from somewhere outside my room’s oversized factory window was luring me to explore.
The manicured lawn and lush gardens were juxtaposed by the trail of tall overgrown woods along either side of roaring Fishkill Creek, along which loomed a path to a hidden terrace where I was met with the thunderous clapping of the ground’s waterfall. It was entrancing.
Diverse Fare along Main Street
The Patio is The Roundhouse’s newest dining option. Overlooking the creek and full view of that waterfall while guests noshed at their tables beneath umbrellas, I enjoyed a glass of rosé from their tasteful wine list.
I meandered along the grassy defunct old rail tracks on the other side of the falls, where the breeze carried scents from newly opened Melzingah’s Tap House. I followed my nose.
The restaurant was bustling with craft-beer and wine lovers unwinding in its ambient glow. Like many establishments along vibrant Main Street, the menu had something for everyone.
I was excited to finally try the fully loaded vegan Impossible Burger, which was impossibly satisfying.
While peeking into the antique shops during a stroll one morning, nearby Végétalien’s juice bar hit the spot, reviving my spirit after a night of local brews.
The plant-based food menu offered Buddha Bowls and BBQ Jackfruit tacos - in line with their philosophy and goal to “make yummy food that just so happens to be Vegan" - as their sign read.
Mid-Hudson Valley boasts a wide-ranging selection of breweries that have created a buzz with their innovative brews, especially in recent years. With a little research, it wasn’t hard to blaze my own trail.
No need to be a beer geek to enjoy, but if you aspire to be one, this is the place. I met-up with my nearby cousin, Liz, to explore a few flights …and maybe a growler or two for the road.
The lively Hudson Valley Brewery is steps away from The Roundhouse. HVB opened in 2016 with a penchant for sour brews which are surging in popularity.
“You have to try the Magnolia. It’s awesome!” one customer implored. He seemed happy, so why not! I sampled the brew described as “Cheerios, key lime pie, and French 75,” but my favorite was the Incandenza - reminiscent of “grapefruit, Orangina, and sitting outside for brunch.”
From game night with Anti-Anxiety Pilsner at Beacon’s 2 Way Brewing Co. to the unique unfiltered brews of North River Hops & Brewing up on Route 9, I sense there will be no beer shortage anytime soon.
Brand new Cousins Ale Works, aptly named by founders, Aaron Browne & Chris Dorn, is the culmination of the inspired cousins whose love of touring breweries turned into an education about the craft. Dorn is the business; Brown is the brew-master.
“We would sit around the bonfire sharing our ideas,” Brown revealed as the spark to hop on the craft beer revolution trail.
These days, Brown’s award-winning creations like Brown’s Revolution Ale and When in Doubt Imperial Stout are a couple of his winning creations.
Located in Wappinger Falls, Cousins uses a five-barrel system with hand rolled barrels. With a seasonal tap menu that also hosts local ciders and distilleries, it is evident the cousin's practice of supporting local business, too.
“Our Chocolate Strawberry Stout uses 50 lbs. of strawberries freshly picked locally,” Brown informed us. At 8.5% ABV, it sounds like a decadent summer night treat.
The vibe was cheery in the bright and colorful brewery which offers itself as a community event space or live music venue. Liz and I sat at the bar choosing favorites. I enjoyed the mildly sour Lone Bee IPA while Liz – not shockingly - favored the Ugly Mug Coffee Stout (8%AVB) which uses Ethiopian beans soaked in Bourbon for 24 hours.
Hidden Gem at Obercreek Farm
Tucked deep in rural Wappinger Falls we pulled in to the driveway at Obercreek Brewery Company located on the farm of the same name, which also happens to grow hops.
Co-founder of the new establishment, Christian Woolston, met us outside the intimate tasting room before taking us on a spin into their laboratory where the precision and the passion of these brewers was clear.
“We are all about the beer here. We’re not a brew-pub. Not a venue. Between me and Phil, we have 30 plus years of brewing experience,” Woolston related about the hardcore focus behind this gem.
Liz and I sidled up among the test-tubes and barrels and sipped on the refreshing Sundial IPA and moved on to Complex Math DIPA. “For that, we use the organic Enigma hop from the southern hemisphere,” the affable Woolston shared.
Impressed and bolstered by the French Press Stout (7.1%AVB), Liz cleaned out the hit brew with a growler.
“Fun fact: The property owners have always been the same family which traces back to the Queen of England,” Christian revealed. That’s unique. I wondered if she fancies a beer.
Up Close at Bannerman’s Castle
My friend, Steve, and I were nestled into our kayaks behind our knowledgeable guide, Bob, from Storm King Adventure Tours paddling against the wakes and against the southern winds of the busy Hudson.
Wielding against the intense power of opposing current with our own strength and rhythm during our three-hour tour, we crossed, docking beneath Breakneck Ridge, one of the most popular – and steepest – spots of the area’s elaborate hiking trails. Some of our crew opted to take a dip on this smoldering day.
Gliding with the current after our rest, we approached the castle on Pollepel Island, a.k.a. Bannerman Island. “Once believed by native tribes to be haunted, there are endless legends and stories about this place …
It passed through the hands of many of the area’s rich like the Cornwalls, Tafts, and Fishkills. It was also used as a defense in the Revolution,” Bob told us.
In 1901, Scotsman, Francis Bannerman, purchased it to build his castle mainly to safely store his vast arsenal and equipment he collected from the Civil and Spanish-American Wars, which was the Bannerman family business, according to the Bannerman Island Trust. It was also a cozy spot acting as a summer home and spot for Bannerman sponsored boy’s clubs.
Up close, the island emitted a strange energy, as I circled around it in my boat, examining the protruding turrets and towers. The island’s once beautifying fauna - planted by Bannerman, a garden hobbyist - adds a demure feel as it now looms, hiding much of the aging grand castle.
An array of history disregarded, in disrepair for so long after the state inherited it, now being revered and rescued by steel beams. But in its stillness, the once-abandoned island in the Hudson River remains a beautiful spectacle and regal oddity to behold.
Contributing Editor Christopher Ludgate is a travel & culture journalist based out of his native New York City. Chris combines his multi-faceted professions and is ever drawn to adventure and creative outlets. His travel writing pursuits have lead to working with publications such as Passport Magazine, LAX in-flight, AIR Chicago, FLY Washington, and, of course, GoNOMAD.com. Chris is an award-winning filmmaker with films in distribution and screenings around the globe.