James and David Chapman thought it would be easy. The British-born brothers lived in New York — James was a restaurant industry executive, David a financial software guy — but came up to Rhinecliff on weekends after David bought a house there. They headed from the train station directly to the 1850s-vintage Rhinecliff Hotel next door, then a seedy biker bar, to shoot pool and drink with the locals. They also noticed the fabulous river views and schemed that they should buy the place and do something with it.
When it came up for sale in 2003, they did. “We thought we’d put a new coat of paint on it and be open in six months,” says James, the proprietor. But the restoration was more complicated than they anticipated; every fix revealed a bigger problem, until it was clear they had to build an entirely new structure. But they never considered abandoning ship. “We eventually got to a point of no return,” James says. “We were determined not to let it beat us. By the end, the locals were cheering us on, honking their horns and yelling, ‘don’t give up!’ ”
Five years and $6 million later, the new Rhinecliff opened in 2008. The Chapmans preserved and recycled many of the building’s original features, like wood beams and staircases, but the rest is modern, clean, and a bit funky, with Soho-friendly art hanging near century-old wood trim.
Each of the nine rooms features a private balcony with Hudson River views, antique hardwood floors, a flat-screen TV, walk-in shower, and whirlpool — from which you can watch the sailboats glide by.
Left: the hotel’s rustic but chic dining room; at right, a view of the Catskills from Ferncliff Forest (photograph by Michael Coluccio)
Downstairs, the restaurant serves American-style seasonal cuisine fortified from the original Victorian bar. An outdoor patio stretches the length of the hotel, and dining alfresco is delightful, even when the trains rumble by just yards away.
Yes, the trains are unavoidable. The hotel provides complimentary earplugs, and guests must sign a waiver that they won’t complain or demand a refund if Amtrak or CSX wakes them up in the wee hours. But in the rooms the noise is well muffled, and the occasional outdoor conversations just add to the charm — this was originally built as a railroad hotel, after all. Once the diesels pass, the beauty of the river and distant mountains more than evens the score.
Eat & Drink
Dutchess Wine Trail, which connects Clinton Vineyards and Millbrook Vineyards and Winery, passes by orchards, farms, and beautiful country vistas, which you can toast at the winery tasting rooms.
Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck offers “Hudson Valley Mediterranean” cuisine, using locally sourced ingredients in what Zagat calls “imaginative” and “delicious” ways.
Two Boots Pizza, the iconic East Village pizza joint (now national), has a spot across the street from Bard College. Look for the mosaic behind the bar of Bard’s most famous dropout, Chevy Chase.
The mansions pop up like billion-dollar mushrooms around here, and you most likely have already been to the Vanderbilt, Roosevelt, and Montgomery cribs. But just south of Rhinecliff is the lesser-known but stunning Wilderstein, home of Daisy Suckley, FDR confidante and one of the main characters in 2012’s movie, Hyde Park on Hudson.
Treat yourself to dinner at the Culinary Institute of America. Make reservations well in advance at one of the CIA’s three restaurants, and be fed by the future stars of the Food Network.
The Hudson Valley Garlic Festival (Sept. 27-28), held in Saugerties this month, draws tens of thousands of people, with food, music, crafts and cooking classes, all in honor of the “stinking rose.” No, we’re not kidding.
Left, the Ferncliff Fire Tower; right, Bubbe’s Burritos (photograph by Jennifer May)
Fall Foliage Alert
On a clear day, climb the fire tower at Ferncliff Forest, a nature preserve in nearby Rhinebeck, and you can see all the way to the Adirondacks and Catskills and on to Massachusetts and Vermont and, you’ll swear, forever.
Bubbe’s Burritos, on the grounds of Hardeman Orchards and Farm Market in Red Hook, is technically a food truck but more accurately a roadside attraction. From it, Bjanette Andersen, despite her Scandinavian name, has been peddling the most unbelievably tasty veggie burritos this side of the Rio Grande for over a decade. Open weather permitting, so check her Facebook page for availability.
If you go…
The Rhinecliff, Rhinecliff