British photographer Holly-Marie Cato has just returned from a trip to Hudson Valley in New York. Here she shares her top tips and recommendations from a destination bursting with postcard-worthy charm.

New York City, in many ways, feels like a second home with a familiar and constant energy that I've been revisiting since the age of 13. It helps that I have a strong community of friends and extended family across the five boroughs. However, despite many repeat trips, I had never ventured outside the city boundaries until my recent excursion to Hudson Valley.

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Taking in nature in the Hudson Valley
Escaping the city © Holly-Marie Cato

If you're a New York City native or a tourist looking to end your holiday on a calm note, the Hudson is your place to unwind. Accessible by car or train from NYC, Hudson Valley comprises waterfront villages and small, walkable towns that provide the perfect retreat from the hustle and noise of the big city. It's home to apple orchards, forests, farm-to-table restaurants and stress-melting spas, all in picture-perfect settings.

I began my mini-retreat in the town of Rhinebeck. Located just two hours' drive outside of Manhattan, Rhinebeck, with its tree-lined streets and hand-painted store signs, is a charming weekend-worthy getaway. 

Dining room and healthy breakfast at Habitats on Hudson
Habitas on Hudson's bright and airy rooms © Holly-Marie Cato

My favorite way to start my day in Hudson Valley…

Is in my slippers. Now listen, I wake up early every day, even on weekends, so I wanted to sleep in on my break, and I managed to do that well at Habitas on Hudson. It's a newly opened hotel just outside Rhinebeck where guests are encouraged to walk around the boutique, country-style property in comfortable clothes and slippers.

Afternoons at Habitas on Hudson were action-packed with an itinerary that included a cocktail-making class in the hotel's fully-fitted English-style pub, hand-churning ice cream to make homemade sundaes, and indulging in the relaxing art of sound bathing. So with all that excitement ahead of me, it was nice to start my mornings daydreaming in my slippers over a vegan chia pudding and English breakfast tea in the hotel's bright and airy dining room.

Staff in the kitchen at the Culinary Institute of America
Future culinary starts at the Culinary Institute of America © Holly-Marie Cato

In Hudson Valley, you must visit…

The Culinary Institute of America. The prestigious cooking school, overlooking the Hudson River in Hyde Park, is known for cultivating world-renowned chefs, including the late legendary chef, author and travel food host Anthony Bourdain. Visitors can dine at one of several student-run restaurants where enthusiastic chefs and servers from all around the world will provide you with an incredible fine-dining experience, showcasing their newly-honed skills and designs.

Cantonese food, cocktails and bagels in Hudson Valley
(L-R) Cocktails at The Academy, kung pao chicken and waffles at Goosfeather and bagels from Rhinebeck Bagels & Cafe © Holly-Marie Cato

Speaking of food, my other favorite places to dine on this trip were…

Goosefeather: A Hong Kong-style restaurant in Tarrytown where I enjoyed kung pao chicken and mochi waffles - a great fusion of Cantonese and American flavors.

The Academy: A fun indoor food hall and hangout spot in the heart of Poughkeepsie. With great cocktails and casual food, it's a relaxed space that's perfect for dining if you visit Hudson with a group of friends.

Rhinebeck Bagels & Cafe: A no-frills, cash-only eatery which is apparently loved by locals (and this Brit). Get your coffee and bagel to-go while you walk around the leafy idyllic streets of Rhinebeck.

Farmhouse and alpacas at Clover Brooke Farm
Holly-Marie's traveling companion Alexandra takes Ringo Starr for a walk © Holly-Marie Cato

The top spot for a hike in Hudson Valley…

Has to be Clover Brooke Farm in Hyde Park where owners Mike and Eva offer a unique hiking experience: pairing each visitor with an alpaca or lama that guides them through forest trails.

I was first met by Tina, a lama named after Ms. Turner, who was an attention-seeking cuddler, and then Biscotti, a cream and brown-speckled male whose only desire is to rest his mouth on your cheek so he can kiss you at every opportunity. Thankfully the kisses were dry, no slobber.

The grounds are beautiful. Even on a breezy winter's day, it is a must-do experience. The farm also offers soap-making, painting, yoga and gardening classes, but visits are by appointment only, so book ahead.

Distillery tour at the Vale Fox
Gin and whiskey tasting at Vale Fox Distillery © Holly-Marie Cato

For a fun day out, try…

A whiskey and gin tour at Vale Fox Distillery in Poughkeepsie, where you can also taste the cocktails and experimental whiskeys and gin sold in-house. Tours and tasting at the 120-acre grain-to-glass farm distillery are $30 per person and you get about 45 minutes out of the experience.

Interir and exterior of the Abbey Inn
Relaxing rooms and tranquil settings at the Abbey Inn & Spa © Holly-Marie Cato

For a detour, try...

An overnight visit to Peekskill, just 25 minutes from New York City in the lower-Hudson Valley. I stayed at the Abbey Inn & Spa, a former silent order convent and chapel built in 1903, which is now a fully restored luxury hotel with a spa, pool, and 60 acres of trails to explore with spectacular views of the Hudson River.

My favorite part of the building is the nun's prayer room which has been kept in its original glory with spectacular hand-painted walls and a wood-beamed ceiling. An honorary mention to the original Mother Superior's office, which has now become the hotel's lively bar. While there, you should make time for a relaxing, muscle-melting hot stone massage in the spa or enjoy wine and a delicious charcuterie board from the comfort of your room.

Antique shopping in Rhinebeck (1).jpg
Discovering little treasures while antiques shopping in Rhinebeck © Holly-Marie Cato

You should bring back…

Antiques from Hudson Valley! The Hudson is a major antiques destination. In Rhinebeck, there are many great places to shop, including the Beekman Arms Antique Gallery (the Barn), Asher House and the Portly Pug. My traveling companion Alexandra and I walked away with items that served as more than just new "old" possessions - they're mementos of an epic weekend getaway.

Holly-Marie traveled to Hudson Valley at the invitation of the New York State tourism board. Lonely Planet does not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.

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