Rhinebeck: even better than the movies

If you watch American TV shows or movies you’ll likely have seen small towns like Rhinebeck and thought they look super cute places to visit. But the reality is much better than on-screen and Rhinebeck is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of New York City and spend a relaxing few days in the scenic Hudson Valley.

We spent our first night Stateside in a hotel near Manhattan’s Penn Station so we could easily jump on a train to Rhinecliff the next morning. After an hour and 40 minutes we were embarking on a platform right by the Hudson river and our Airbnb host Frank was waiting to drive us to Rhinebeck less than 5 minutes away. When he asked if we wanted a short tour of the town en route we knew he was a guy that went over and above for his guests.

The apartment we rented was in one of those classic clapboard houses that we’d seen and loved in so many movies. It was just a short walk into the centre of town, so after checking in we headed straight to the local diner, Pete’s Famous, for a grilled cheese sandwich. I guess maybe the name is because they have a lot of photos of famous diners on the walls!

Pete’s is on East Market Street, just a couple of doors away from Samuel’s Sweet Shop, which was a big part of why we visited Rhinebeck. I read in an article that a group of actors bought the shop to save it from closure after their friend, the owner, passed away. They included Paul Rudd, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and his wife Hilarie Burton (Peyton from One Tree Hill, if you’re familiar with the show). I then read Hilarie’s book, The Rural Diaries, about how she and Jeff ended up living in Rhinebeck instead of LA, and it sounded like such an amazing place I was inspired to go.

Samuel’s is just one of dozens of lovely shops in Rhinebeck’s tree-lined streets. We spent time that day and the next just pottering around, popping in and out of stores like Winter Sun & Summer Moon, Oblong Books and Paper Trail. The Hammertown home furnishings barn was also great for browsing, though the gorgeous red-brick Rhinebeck Department Store was a lot smaller inside than it looked outside! But I can definitely recommend Rhinebeck Wines and Liquors, which had a great selection including our favourite white wine, Picpoul.

Talking of which, Rhinebeck is also a haven for great restaurants. Our first night was a Saturday, so we made an advance reservation at Le Petit Bistro, which was a good idea as it’s a popular spot. Little wonder as the atmosphere was great and the food and wine were delicious. Then after dinner, we learned that in the US our favourite cocktails, Manhattans, Margaritas and Martinis, don’t need to be on the menu as they are standard drinks when there is a full bar. My Manhattan was top-notch and seemed endless. I later learned it was a double, so that’s four shots of Bourbon and two of Vermouth!

The next day was forecasted to be a bit drizzly by the afternoon. So we made the most of the morning to explore more of Rhinebeck, starting with breakfast at an excellent bagel cafe and then meandering around the residential streets to admire more beautiful clapboard houses. We also spotted a tiny cinema and a brilliant free mini-library on the edge of the town car park.

For Sunday brunch we booked the Amsterdam, a stylish restaurant housed in an 18th-century townhouse. Inside there’s a marketplace shop with lots of lovely produce, as well as both bar and restaurant seating. We started with brunch cocktails and then had omelettes which were cooked perfectly. And as it was rainy outside we lingered a while to people-watch with a glass of wine. I should mention that the weather wasn’t brilliant as we were there in March. That wasn’t the original plan, but the reason for the trip to NYC was to see a particular Broadway show and after two years of pandemic delay it landed in a different season! More about that in a post to come.

After a lengthy brunch, we browsed more of the shops like A.L. Stickle 5 & Dime (what a name!) before popping into The Kroeg, ostensibly a beer shop and bar, but the very friendly bartender also had some wine stashed in the fridge. It’s small and seemed like a real locals’ place, so we enjoyed whiling away some time sitting on high stools listening in to the chatter.

Later for dinner, we tried out one of Hilarie and Jeff’s favourite joints, Osaka. It’s a quirky little Japanese restaurant that served up great sushi. After dinner, we discovered that Rhinebeck was fairly quiet on a Sunday evening, but we found a very warm welcome at Fosters Coach House Tavern.

The next morning we woke up to brilliant sunshine, which was perfect as we’d hired a car for the day to explore more of the Hudson Valley. First, we headed to Bread Alone, another great spot for a breakfast bagel or pastry, and then walked down to local car showroom Ruge’s Subaru where they run a sideline in car hire.

The Hudson Valley has a stunning array of gorgeous buildings many of which date from the Gilded Age of the late 1800s. It was a time of significant economic growth, especially in this part of the U.S., and some of the great fortunes amassed were used to build lavish country estates in the Hudson Valley. Our first stop was Wilderstein, just south of Rhinebeck, which is regarded as the area’s most important example of Victorian architecture. None of the houses we visited were open as March was out of season, but we were happy to admire them from the outside, particularly given their riverside settings.

We carried on south for a bit further to visit Mills Mansion. It was originally a 25-room Greek Revival structure built in 1832. But after it was inherited by Ruth Mills in 1895, she and her husband had it remodelled and enlarged. It was transformed into a Beaux-Arts mansion with 65 rooms, 14 bathrooms and an exterior featuring balustrades and a massive portico. A great example of a Gilded Age country estate.

Heading back north on the 9G highway we stopped to admire a quirky set of sculptures made from old cars and pieces of stone and then stopped off at Burger Hill. If you climb to the top there are great views of the surrounding countryside and the Catskills Mountains.

A little further on we swung back towards the river to call in at Poet’s Walk Park, another favourite spot mentioned in Hilarie’s book. As the name suggests, it’s a really nice place for a walk, with great views of the Hudson and the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge that crosses it.

Our next stop was the small town of Red Hook. It’s a nice little place but there didn’t seem to be a huge amount open on a Monday. So we popped into the excellently named Little Pickles Children’s General Store and got a good recommendation from an English lady who worked there and lived in the area. She suggested Taste Budd’s Cafe, just around the corner on West Market Street and it was a perfect lunch spot.

After that, we decided to make two more stops on our Hudson Valley road trip and the first was at nearby Montgomery Place, another mansion on the banks of the river. Like Mills Mansion it started out small and got much bigger and it also has some lovely formal gardens. Bard College bought the property in 2016 so it’s now part of the college’s 1,000-acre campus.

Then our last stop was about 15 minutes drive further north at Clermont State Historic Site. There’s a mansion here and gardens too, but the big draw is the view of the mountains from the lengthy riverside park. There were lots of tables and benches, ideal for picnics and according to Hilarie, it’s a popular spot for watching the 4 July fireworks.

Back in Rhinebeck, our final dinner of the trip was at Gaby’s Cafe, a Mexican restaurant. The list of Margaritas was extensive, so even though it’s not my usual cocktail I went with the flow and it was a great choice. The drinks were strong and the food was great. What more could we want on our last night?

In fact, I don’t think there is much more we could have wanted from our visit to Rhinebeck at all. It’s as super cute as any small town you’ll see in an American movie, but with the added bonus of great restaurants and shops, beautiful historic sites nearby and, if you’re very lucky, the opportunity for a bit of celeb spotting.

Click on an image below to scroll through more images in the gallery and visit the North America section of my blog for more U.S. posts. A new one about the NYC part of this trip will be coming soon!

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