Carless Weekend Travel: Horsing Around in Millbrook, New York
No car? No problem! For this installment of carless destinations, we’re highlighting the gorgeous Millbrook, New York. A short train ride (or Blade flight) north of New York City, Millbrook is the perfect destination for urban outdoor enthusiasts who long to escape to the countryside the moment they’re released from their desks. This Hudson Valley town offers boundless opportunities for hunting, fishing, and riding year-round. When I visited in March, I spent an afternoon shooting clays and an evening drinking wine at a local vineyard. On a long weekend in late October, my days were occupied by hiking and canoeing. Trekking ungroomed mountain trails, I often spotted more animals than people. In Millbrook, it’s easy to imagine the land as it would have looked a couple hundred years ago, when upstate New York was forested wilderness. From bald eagles swooping over freshwater lakes to black bears padding down gravel roads: Here’s your guide to where the wild things are.
A classic day in Millbrook should begin at the Millbrook Diner, where the retro décor is typified by an old telephone booth and defunct jukeboxes. (The greasy haven is also conveniently located next to a funeral home, just in case you overindulge.) If you’re looking for a healthier option, head over to the Millbrook Farmers’ Market and capitalize on your proximity to so much farmland. Hint: Buy the powdered donuts. If you’re in the mood to be waited on, check out The Farmer’s Wife — a good choice for both breakfast and lunch.
At the end of the day, Canoe Hill offers an excellent happy hour, with $1 oysters daily from 4-6pm. Treat yourself at Serevan for dinner, where the menu is inspired by both the Hudson Valley and the chef’s hometown in Iran. Enjoy the elegant ambiance, and, if you’re lucky enough to catch it on the menu, order the beef stew. Another option is Monte’s Local Kitchen, which offers farm-to-table fare in nearby Amenia. Or you could check out Stissing House in Pine Plains: Originally built in the 1700s at the close of the Revolutionary War, this local favorite offers up a rustic décor and French-leaning menu that are perfect for the wintry evenings that descend upon Millbrook not long after Labor Day.
If you’re not staying with a friend (always the best option in our opinion), The Millbrook Inn is definitely the most luxurious game in town. Though the building itself is over a century old (it was renovated and incorporated into a local school as a dormitory in 1907), the hotel has only been in operation since 2011. For more intimate accommodations, check out Millbrook Country House. This B&B offers a complimentary breakfast as well as afternoon tea (how civilized), but it only has four rooms available, so book early! If you’d prefer not to interact with your host while still staying somewhere more homey than a hotel, Airbnb has a variety of rentals in Millbrook, including waterfront Victorian estates. Go ahead and act like you own the place.
Whether you’re a veteran equestrian or just a horse enthusiast, Millbrook is definitely your destination. While the Mashomack Fish & Game Preserve Club is closed to the public, the Mashomack Polo Club welcomes visitors during the summer season, and admission is free. Their Opening Weekend event aligns with Memorial Day, kicking off the thriving Millbrook social scene in the summertime. Another fun summer weekend event is the Fitch’s Corner Horse Trials, where the “equestrian triathlon” (dressage, cross-country, stadium) is followed by the annual Blue Jean Ball — a 20-year tradition of dinner, dancing, and denim. The Millbrook Hunt is another popular equestrian activity, with meets hosted at private farms. For those who prefer to venture through the muddy upstate fields on foot, consider beagling or basseting — an afternoon spent chasing hounds is surprisingly invigorating. Expect to emerge from the woods with your Hunter boots caked in mud, with your field jacket damp and freezing, and ravenous for a hot toddy. (We recommend you bring a flask.)
The oldest permitted shotgun shooting club in America, the Orvis Sandanona Shooting Grounds is also a must-see (or, rather, must-experience) destination. The 20-stand sporting clays course is presided over by witty and informative guides, and members can hunt ducks or pheasants on the property. For those who prefer targets that swim rather than fly, fly fishing lessons are available as either group or private instruction. A two-day fly fishing course is rumored to be extremely effective; students leave at the end of the weekend feeling like Norman MacLean. Hunting is also available at Tamarack and Clove Valley, though these clubs are members-only. If you have the means — like a friend with a membership — I highly suggest it.
Although Millbrook has a heavy country club scene, you don’t need to be a weekend regular to capitalize on everything the Hudson Valley has to offer. If anything, your anonymity provides more opportunity to go off-the-grid. Explore the hiking trails at Stissing Mountain. Canoe on the Housatonic River in nearby Washington, Connecticut. Put your newly acquired fly-fishing skills to use, drop a line, and enjoy the solitude. Walk along the abandoned, tree-lined tracks of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail (the foliage is particularly striking in the fall). Ski at Catamount, then spend a day off the slopes: Many of the rivers and trails are open for skating or snowshoeing in the winter.
Tired of venturing into the wild? The Trevor Zoo is an amusing (and educational) respite from the great outdoors, as is a tour of the historic mansions along the Hudson River. Step back in time to see how the other half (used to) live. When in doubt, head to Millbrook Vineyards for a glass of wine. We recommend the Pinot Noir. Cheers!
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(Photos via Getty)