We arrived in darkness, late because of Friday night traffic on I-87 North, everyone escaping Manhattan at the same time for someplace quieter. With a few stars not really lighting our way, we used our iPhones as lanterns as we were guided through a field towards the edge of some woods. Here, in Roxbury, New York, in the heart of the Catskills, our hosts maintain a tipi. We slept in it that night, but didn’t truly see where we were until the following morning. Trees. Charm. Birds singing. It was like waking up in a children’s story book, as if Hansel and Gretel would greet us hello.
The tipi was built in Meekers Hollow on Bellfire Farm in 2015 and officially opened for visitors in spring 2016. Since then, about 200 happy campers have stayed in the tipi. It’s become so popular that some hard-core outdoor enthusiasts have asked owners Romina Teslaru and Richard Tazzara, a.k.a. “Mina and Rich,”to keep the tipi going over the winter. For now, it closes end of November. Reservations are already being made for spring 2018. Weekend rates run $155 per night.
also happens to be entirely unfit for the spot he occupies?
I booked our tipi getaway for the first weekend in October back in May when it was hot and sticky and hard to imagine fall foliage and crisp nights. It gets buggy in the summer, which doesn’t deter campers, but if you decide to come, I strongly recommend early October. That’s when sleeping outside really feels special, like you’re part of something bigger than yourself because everything around you, the leaves, the grass, the flowers, the sky, is shifting. And you get to focus on the leaves, the grass, the flowers and the sky because there’s no electricity or mobile signal at the tipi. This is a good thing. Take tons of photos and post them on Instagram later.
The Bellfire Tipi, as it is known, sits at 1,900 feet elevation, surrounded by trees, and is 500 feet from Mina and Rich’s farmhouse. The structure is 18-feet in diameter, filled with custom-made furniture because Rich is a gifted woodworker who also built the Outhouse just a few yards away. Southwest décor inspired Mina when designing the inside aesthetic, featuring two mattresses, wool rugs, a cedar floor with a built-in fire pit, bookshelves with books on birding, a vase of flowers, a dreamcatcher hanging from above, a mini kitchenette with a small hot plate and a coffee pot, ingredients to make coffee—and it’s actually good coffee—as well as pans, cups, a few dishes, flatware, bottled drinking water, roasting sticks for s’mores, lanterns hanging from above that are filled with candles so you can actually see what you’re roasting, and, of course, firewood, very carefully chopped and artfully stacked. There are three drums and a rain stick in case you feel like jamming, which my daughter and I did on the night we arrived.
Fifty feet from the tipi sits the Outhouse, where the gnomes live—I think. It looks like where gnomes should live. It’s a ridiculously cute place to poop; you almost feel like you should do your business outside instead. Rich built the Outhouse with reclaimed barn wood; it contains a compost toilet, plenty of toilet paper, lovely glass vases, funny signs, and a metal washing basin where you can clean your hands with organic liquid soap. At night, from the Outhouse, the tipi is a glowing cone of light in the dark.
Back at the tipi there’s an outdoor stone fire pit with seating, a charcoal grill, and a fantastically strong hammock that my teenage daughter and I enjoyed together. I highly recommend grabbing a blanket and watching the moonlight move through the tree branches. Listen to the woods. Roxbury is 153 miles north of New York City in Delaware County, with a population of approximately 2,500 people, so things get pretty quiet here. You’re in the heart of the Catskills. Hear what it has to say.
There are 98 peaks in the Catskill Mountains, though if you hail from the West Coast, or a state like Colorado or Montana, then the Catskills are more like undulations in the landscape; the highest peak is Slide Mountain at 4,180 feet above sea level, about 34 miles south of Roxbury
There’s a softness to the land here. You see it in all directions. Wake up from the tipi, take that short walk to the open field that’s adjacent to the woods, and you’ll see what I mean. In October, these soft blue hills are aflame with puffs of red and gold; the trees were in full-color during our weekend there. We also enjoyed unusually warm weather that weekend. Saturday was glorious. Saturday night and into Sunday morning, a downpour moved over the region. Rain and wind slapped against the tipi, but we stayed dry. When we woke up and stepped outside, the crimson leaves that had been crunchy under our boots the day before were now soaked. Mud was everywhere, but this was good. It had been weeks since the Catskills had received a good soaking. The field and forest seemed happy.
There’s plenty to do around Roxbury, although we only did a fraction of it. We spent Saturday morning at the Pakatakan Farmers’ Market where I chatted up the lady selling eggs about different chicken breeds (I used to keep chickens). My husband chatted up all the distillery dudes offering samples. And we ate gluten-free baked goodies. We also explored the Hobart Book Village in Hobart, New York, a cluster of independent book stores filled with new and vintage books, maps, memorabilia, and jazz records. Walking through can feel more like going down the rabbit hole that is your grandmother’s attic; it’s simultaneously cool and overwhelming. I wanted to say we were the family that hiked all those scenic trails around Delaware County, but the truth is, we were decompressing and content to drive everywhere and admire the views. (We wanted to eat at the Bull & Garland in Hobart, but it’s a very popular spot and didn’t have any tables, so make a reservation in advance if you want to try their Catskills Cumberland sausage or maple sticky toffee.)
Definitely save caloric room for the Phoenicia Diner, either on the drive up or back. Nothing kicks off or closes a weekend glamping in the woods better than artisanal diner food. I hate using the word “artisanal,” because it’s lost its value, but there’s no other way to describe this unique eatery, which locally sources all its food, from the booze in the glass to what’s fried on the grill. Located on Route 28, drive there and expect to see a line out the door. There’s always a line. Among other recommendations, for $12 enjoy a “Lipstick on a Bear,” made with Makers Mark, amaretto, some cherry liquor and Ronnybrook Chocolate Ice Cream, a dairy farm and creamery an hour from the diner.
The Phoenicia Diner has grown so much since we started coming a few years ago that it’s added “The Lot,” an Airstream interpretation of a food truck that will reopen for the warmer months. There’s often a line there, too.
If you’re interested in the Bellfire Farm Tipi, book early and plan ahead. Dress in layers and bring extra blankets even though the tipi has two heavy ones. Prepare for the possibility of mud and bugs. Prepare to giggle the first time you use the Outhouse. Prepare to roast s’mores bedside. Prepare to see too many constellations to count because the night sky looking down on Mina and Rich’s tipi is a Van Gogh painting.Prepare to unplug. Prepare to reconnect.