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The term "Upstate" is often deployed with such casual confidence that it's easy to forget it describes over half of New York. With so much geography under one umbrella, it's anything but a monolith. The Hudson Valley's where you go for art and architecture, with museums like Dia:Beacon alongside gorgeously preserved museum houses. Up in the Adirondacks, you're practically in Montreal, surrounded by mountain vistas that are truly second to none.
But in between the two lie the Great Western Catskills, a region that's recently stolen a big chunk of my heart. When a friend of mine moved back to Delaware County during the height of COVID, I was convinced she'd disappeared entirely off the grid. It was only during two recent visits – one in summer, one in winter – that I discovered its wonders both natural and manmade.
For as breathtaking as the views are around every bend (and boy do those country roads like to bend), the plethora of new businesses is just as exciting. The shops, restaurants and lodging all have a rich sense of place, celebrating the bounty of the lush land around them. Towns like Delhi, Hamden and Bovina are the kinds of places I want to return to again and again – not because they're overflowing with options, but because the ones they have feel so warmly inviting.
So whether you're a New Yorker looking for some fresh air, or want some education on the Catskills beyond Dirty Dancing, consider these my recommendations for Delaware County – written by an outsider who instantly felt very much at home.
Hamden is a relatively sleepy town, but – no surprise – that's a large part of its charm. Still, it comes alive each night thanks to the folks behind The Hamden Inn, a solid home base for any trip to this area. Dating back to the 1840s, this thoughtfully renovated inn has gone decidedly modern by booking via Airbnb. Their site links through to its two apartments, the Innkeeper Suite (avg. $139/night) and the Speakeasy Suite (avg. $165/night), which are two- and three-bedroom respectively, making family visits easy.
Downstairs at the bar and restaurant they're also unfussily of-the-moment, serving up craft cocktails along with a tasty smash burger. Yet what struck me most about The Hamden Inn was that the crowd was genuinely mixed. Longtime residents clearly loved it as much as the newer transplants, a dynamic that mattered deeply to the owners upon opening. It's become the town's clear anchor, with its large front porch hosting all sorts of confabs throughout the day.
More nourishment can be found quite literally across the street, at the Hamden General Store with its many snacks and sandwiches. Here you can grab all the picnic fixings you need for your day outdoors. Chef Antonio Mora runs Tiny's, the sandwich counter in the back, with a rotating menu of deeper-cut combos like roast pork and broccoli rabe. Round the meal out with bites and drinks culled from the store's shelves – like TQE favorite Ghia or my new discovery Ines Rosales Tortas, which will ruin all other crackers for you. Forever.
From Hamden, you can set out for a driving tour of the gorgeous nearby farmsteads, like Strickland Hollow Farms or the Birdsong Community Gardens. Just make sure you stop by Delhi, my favorite town of the bunch. As the county seat, Delhi has a much more developed core, while still feeling just as quaint and rustic as you'd want.
Interior design fans will lose their minds inside Stone and Sawyer, whose one-of-a-kind ceramic lamps are catching fire nationwide. Funky lifestyle brand Delco sells streetwear a few doors down – including this killer namesake hoodie, which evades the souvenir-shirt style trap.
As a cocktail man, I made multiple visits to Strickland Hollow's bottle shop right on Delhi's Main Street, showcasing the best spirits, ciders, beers and wines made throughout New York State. It was there that I discovered Faccia Brutto's Nocino Liqueur, a walnut-infused aperitif that makes for my new favorite Black Manhattan. Owner Jerry Pellegrino is a true delight to talk to, cheerfully offering tasters of his in-house bottles made with apples from his farm.
Yet a solid 60% of my time in Delhi was spent filling up on pastries at the coffee shop Hollow. Their savory biscuit sandwiches – like the ham and cheese made with local pork from Rock Royal Farms – were without exaggeration the best I've ever tasted. They've also got an in-house bar that's all kinds of vibey, and a shop full of local goods – including the cookbook To the Last Bite by hometown darling Alexis DeBoschnek, who vividly captures the region's cooking and eating ethos.
Last but certainly not least is the little gem of Bovina, the slightly more stately cousin of the two towns above. Like at the Hamden Inn, Bovina's best lodging option is connected to a restaurant: Brushland Eating House, whose family-style meals are a true extension of their hospitality. Guests can stay in one of several associated facilities, from the cozy room on the second floor to an old farmhouse across the road next to the babbling creek.
I highly recommend a meal there, as well as a drink at the upstart Bovina Fermentory. As the name would suggest, they're serving all kinds of house beer – whether during open, convivial hours in the summer or more intimate farm meals in the winter. But so many of Bovina's pleasures come squarely back to the land. Just driving and walking around, you'll spy all kinds of farm animals, and festivals like Bovina Open Barn & Studios or Bovina Farm Day showcase its rural beauty.
But snowseekers will be even more thrilled to hear that Plattekill Mountain is just a short drive away. Billed as "the best family skiing in the Catskills," Plattekill has several great runs and much more affordable lift tickets than the more widely-known destinations. The highlight of my trip was careening down their snowtubing hill – and then riding up the conveyor lift to do it all over again.
The beauty of the Catskills is that those towns are just the tip of the iceberg. From antiquing in Andes to biking the rails-to-trails path through Stamford and Hobart, there's no shortage of ways to connect with the region's beauty. Even as a West Coaster, the trek is completely worth it – in fact, I'm already planning my next trip out this summer. But for those of you lucky enough to be in driving distance, Delaware County is worth putting at the very top of your list.
Just promise not to tag me when you post that biscuit sandwich from Hollow. I'm serious when I say it'll make me seethe with envy.
If you visit, make sure to…
- EAT at any of the spots recommended above – or at Delhi's buzzy new Italian spot EightyMain
- SEE what antiques are on offer at Fisk Auctions, operating out of one of three well-curated stores in Delaware County
- DO canoe or kayak the Delaware River, whose western fork winds its way through the county's scenery