Kaaterskill Clove: The Most Beautiful Place In The World The Kaaterskill Clove area of upstate New York is a place to reconnect with yourself and with each other. BY STEVE WINSTON
Photo by Craig Sanchez
Just one of the many waterfalls that can be seen in Kaaterskill Clove.
“ This is the type of place where you can shut off the laptop and the cell phone and engage in that sometimes-lost art of genuine face-to-face human communication.”
A string of great American writers, starting with James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving, and running on through to Herman Melville and Mark Twain, all considered Kaaterskill Clove one of the most beautiful spots in the world. For modern American couples, perhaps looking for a romantic getaway from the stresses of everyday life, it’s heaven.
On the map, it’s only two hours north of Manhattan. But, in reality, it’s a world away. The Kaaterskill Clove is a mountain ravine of picture-postcard beauty, dotted with forests and waterfalls. And the biggest of those waterfalls – Kaaterskill – is higher than Niagara.
If you’re looking for a peaceful hideaway for just the two of you, this is it.
This is a place of warm surprises at every bend in the road, with quaint villages and friendly people. It’s a place of country-craft shops and antique stores and fruit stands and old bookshops, with little bells that ring when you open the door. It’s a place of small towns with only one or two stoplights, where everybody still knows one another, and where time, if it hasn’t quite stood still, seems to have passed much more slowly. It’s a place filled with the echoes of a colorful folklore and historical significance. And it’s a wonderful-romantic getaway.
This is the type of place where you can shut off the laptop and the cell phone and engage in that sometimes-lost art of genuine face-to-face human communication.
"This area of the Catskill Mountains attracted Thomas Cole, the first of the so-called Hudson River School of Painters," says Bob Malkin, a local historian. Malkin owns a Victorian vacation rental house called "The Waterfall House," with an extraordinary view of Niobe Falls, a continuation of Kaaterskill Falls (www.waterfallrental.com). "In 1825, Thomas Cole completed one of three known paintings he did of the Kaaterskill Falls."
Finding Kaaterskill Clove
Malkin has an interesting history himself. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was jogging with a friend near the World Trade Center when the first plane flew into one of the towers. Running for shelter toward the second tower, they watched in horror as another plane flew into that one. They ended up in Battery Park at the lower tip of Manhattan covered in dust and gasping for air. He and his wife decided that day to leave New York City.
They began a search for the right country home, a place that they could rent out until they decided to move in permanently. They fell in love with this beautiful old house, and the view of Niobe Falls. Now, they live in the nearby village of Saugerties, while renting out "The Waterfall House." And lucky visitors can experience the million-dollar views from this house, and the sounds of the waterfall just below.
After moving here, Malkin began perusing hundreds of old postcards and vintage copies of Harper’s Weekly, along with numerous books and publications from the 1800s.
"When the Catskill Mountain House opened in 1824," he says, "everything changed. It put this place on the map… and it became the world’s most exclusive mountain resort. And its clientele included the cream of both American and European society, as well as two U.S. presidents."
After taking the steamboat from New York City up the Hudson River to the nearby town of Catskill, guests were taken up the mountain by an incline-railroad built by the Otis Company. The Catskill Mountain House became the first stop on the, "Grand Tour," beginning with the views from the hamlet of Palenville to the mountain top and on to Kaaterskill Falls.
Word began to spread far and wide of this isolated place with a million breathtaking vistas in any direction. Yet, these weren’t the first visitors to be enchanted with this area. And this was hardly the first time that stories about its beauty had spread.
"In James Fenimore Cooper’s, 'The Pioneers,'" Bob Malkin says, "Leatherstocking remarked that you could 'see all of creation' from the top of the falls."
Soon, the area became an artistic mecca, as well, as artists and writers began making the pilgrimage here to try and capture the magic of this setting on canvas or on paper. Winslow Homer was inspired to paint the Kaaterskill Falls for Harper’s Weekly. And that sleepy little hamlet of Palenville became the setting for Washington Irving’s classic, "Rip Van Winkle."
The days when the elite of international society flocked here are gone now, along with the golden patina of a non-native wealth that never really felt natural here, anyway. But what remains is even better.
What remains are hiking trails on which you’ll see more wild turkeys and deer and rabbits than people and Leatherstocking’s vistas of "All of creation." There are quiet little coves with cool water, where the only sounds you’ll hear are the breezes running through the trees. In the fall, the area turns into a palette of brilliant colors, almost as if they’re each trying to outdo the others. And, if you listen hard enough, you’ll hear the footsteps—or the hoof-steps—of the settlers and the legends that swept through here on their way to immortality either in the history books or in the fictional novels of another day.
The area’s now filled with charming B&B's and historic inns. And it’s also filled with the type of wonderful woodsy restaurant where you and your spouse can linger for hours over authentic country cooking and brass antiques and candlelight. This truly is a place for walking and exploration—on the roads, in the woods or in the middle of a town square. It’s the type of place where you can spend an hour in a single store and go back home with an unusual little item that you probably never expected to find.
And, of course, there’s Bob Malkin’s Waterfall House—perhaps the only vacation rental in the continental U.S. known to have a major waterfall in its backyard.
The historic Fernwood Restaurant is just across the street from the house. The colorful village of Woodstock (which, to some peoples’ surprise, is not where the 1969 rock festival of the same name was held) is a 15-minute drive. It’s filled with shops, galleries and restaurants along with a flea market and numerous cultural events. The nearby town of Saugerties hosts jazz and garlic festivals (yes, garlic festivals) and an outdoor farmer’s market in season. Hunter Mountain is a four-seasons recreation mecca, with skiing and snowmobiling and sledding in the winter, and hiking and swimming and boating in the summer. The town of Catskill is gaining a reputation for its antique shops and restaurants. And don’t forget the nearby Hudson River, with all types of boating opportunities.
The Waterfall House is a Victorian country home, at the end of a picturesque road that becomes a canopy of brilliantly-colored leaves during fall-foliage time. It’s charming on the inside and blessed with strikingly-beautiful views on the outside. The house has been furnished with authentic country antiques and crafts, along with eclectic items from the collection of Malkin, founder of New York’s prestigious ThinkBig! gallery. And there’s a wraparound outdoor deck right over the river, where you can sit for hours while watching and listening to Niobe Falls ( www.waterfallrental.com.
It’s a wonderful place to really get away and to re-kindle the romance that may have flickered down a few embers over the years due to the time-sucking demands of modern life. It’s a wonderful place to re-connect while sitting on that wooden deck enjoying the views. It’s a wonderful place to slow down time.
And, as you sit on that deck, looking down at Niobe Falls, you may find yourself agreeing with those earlier visitors like Mark Twain and Herman Melville…that this is the most beautiful spot in the world.
Steve Winston has written or contributed to thirteen books, and has written hundreds of articles for major media all over the world. In pursuit of "The Story," he’s been shot at in Northern Ireland, been a cowboy in Arizona, jumped into an alligator pit in the Everglades, flown World War II fighter planes, climbed 15,000-foot mountains in North America and Europe, and trekked on glaciers in Alaska. Steve Winston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit his website, Winston Communication at: www.winstoncommunications.com.