The Olana house. Photo: Ɱ, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been “doing” the Hudson Valley and Catskills for decades now, yet somehow missed Olana, a historic house and grounds designed by Frederic Edwin Church. He was a pioneer in the Hudson River School of landscape painting. True to the vital role artists play in defining both their time period and pushing us into the future, the estate is a testament to Church’s eclectic nature, global influences and desire to remain anchored to the beauty and whims of this breathtaking region. 

I finally made it there this past weekend. Besides the views, especially right now as the foliage bursts into reds and oranges, albeit late thanks to a very rainy fall, the best part of Olana is that it’s free. As a New York State park, there is no charge to access the grounds, although I recommend taking one or more of its affordable tours. We took the $20 artist’s house tour, which includes the ground floor of the Church home, with its arched doorways and tiles and collections inspired by a trip to Europe and the Middle East. The end result is occasionally cringe-worthy (Arabic language-inspired swirls in one room, for example, do not translate into anything) but also pushing the boundaries of the time. Church’s ability to anchor in the picturesque countryside of New York all while infusing it with ideas and objects borrowed from extensive travels overseas is noteworthy. (One tour guide likened the reaction to his iconic Heart of the Andes, with crowds paying 25 cents each to see the painting, to what would happen if a painter went to Mars today and then showed everyone what they saw.) We followed the house tour with a landscape walk, $10 for NY residents, and delighted in the feeling of being “inside” a painting, framed by trees, and rewarded with sweeping vistas as we rounded a bend. Make sure you reserve in advance; self-guided tours are also available but book quickly. Church designed this house to be dramatic, and more than a century later, that gift is still giving. 

Upstate views. Photo: S. Mitra Kalita

Because I love to copy people’s itineraries. Here’s ours from the weekend: 

STAY: We had planned a girls’ weekend and stayed at this Airbnb in Maplecrest. It boasts a hot tub and is clean, modern and spacious, with quite a bit of availability for the next few weekends. A runner up was a bunch of houses and cottages on this site. And don’t forget our list from a previous story here

DINING: We had a good but pricey meal at Jessie’s Harvest House. By night two, we Queens girls couldn’t go a night without rice so we headed to The Windham Local and were delighted with the casual vibe, beer selection, spice Thai food and live music. On our way back to the city, we stopped and grabbed a light lunch (beet salad, shakshuka) and coffee at Hudson Roastery before heading home. Other  highly recommended places that we hope to try next time: Deer Mountain Inn, Prospect, Day June, Babblers

HIKES: We were with a group with mixed abilities and feelings on hiking so chose easy to moderate climbs: Kaaterskill Falls was under two miles and had really rewarding scenes of multiple falls from multiple vantage points. North-South Lake had gorgeous views of lakes and mountains and we clocked in just over two miles. The Windham Path also came recommended as an easy walk.

S. Mitra Kalita is a veteran journalist, media executive, prolific commentator and author of two books. In 2020 she launched Epicenter-NYC, a newsletter to help New Yorkers get through the pandemic. Mitra...

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