When I think of glamping, I don’t think of yurts right away. I tend to think of luxury camping in northern India, where you scout the area by elephant by day or in the heart of the African bush, where safari viewing by land rover starts your day and a camp fire with coffee and meat cooking on another fire nearby ends it.
Glamping in New York State isn’t something I had ever really thought about, largely because I grew up in the Adirondacks and we retreated to a summer camp on a lake for 3-4 months a year. We camped occasionally and there was nothing glamp about it.
Meet Harmony Hill Retreat Center in the heart of the Catskills, in a little town I had never heard of called East Meredith. They specialize in yurt living and a whole lot more, but staying in a yurt is the order of the day and where you lay your head each night.
Because we had kids in tow on this trip, we stayed in their largest yurt, simply called the Tan Yurt, which is nestled in the woods in a secluded spot away from the other yurts, all a short walk down a path from where you park your car. It makes for a great family travel getaway, or even a girl’s weekend retreat.
Below is a shot of the area surrounding our yurt, which if you’ll note has an outdoor hot tub, although it wasn’t working when we were there. We had so much to do in the area that I would have been hard pressed to use it in any event. If hot tubs are your thing, check whether it’s working before you book.
Inside the tan yurt below, you’ll see modern facilities in the stocked kitchen, seating area, a working stove and oven, cupboards and storage nooks.
Additionally, there’s the wood burning stove, a microwave and a table large enough for a family to dine. Outside, there’s a working fire pit so be sure to bring marshmallows if you’re a traditionalist. There’s no TV or wifi, but why would you need either if you’re going into the mountains to escape from urban life for awhile?
As connected as I am, I was thankful for the silence and within an hour of arriving, the rain greeted us and we could hear the pidder padder on the sides of the Tee-Pee shaped roof. It was absolutely blissful. We made tea and were forced to communicate with each other rather than resort to a movie or our iPhones. I wanted to play charades and didn’t win, but Anthony and Jake managed a few games of Chess and we polished off a bag of snacks before bed.
They have a supermarket 15 minutes away, so you can pick up the basics, like bread for toast, eggs and bacon for breakfast. There was ice in the freezer, toaster, coffee and tea and a working stove if you wanted to get a little more creative.
Both of these comfy chairs pull out into single beds which is a great option if you are more than two and they have plenty of pillows and blankets on site for your use as well as towels.
The yurts are bookable through October so there is heating — the old fashioned kind. We grew up with one of these and I’m a huge fan – they make a room oh so toasty.
The yurts have a king size bed [or twin beds if requested] and right outside near your deck is a charcoal grill, picnic table and campfire which is lovely during the summer months. There’s also a five foot dome sky light, ceiling fan, space heater if needed, four large screened windows and French doors. They’re insulated and weatherproof with electricity, flushable toilets and lockable doors.
Smaller Yurt Options
The other yurts on the property aren’t quite as spacious as the Tan Yurt but are perfect for solo travelers or couples.
Above photo credits: Harmony Hill
The History of Yurts
Truth be told, I’ve been wanting to say in a yurt for awhile now. If you’re not familiar with yurts, they’ve been around for over 3,000 years and were originally covered with skins or felt by Central Asian nomads. The first written description of a yurt used as a dwelling was recorded by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus.
The walls and door frame are typically made of wood or bamboo a door frame, and there are often ribs (poles, rafters), and a wheel (crown, compression ring). Apparently the roof structure is often self-supporting, but larger yurts may have interior posts supporting the crown.
In our yurt, there was an opening so you could see the sky and this can be jarred open if you are too hot, or closed when you want to keep the air out. We opted to keep it closed in the end because of moths but on a lovely warm night, there’s nothing like fresh air coming through the ceiling to bring you closer to nature.
Harmony Hill offers smaller yurts which are great choices for solo travel or as a couple. It’s great for meditators, hikers, nature lovers, and those on a spiritual path. I’d also argue that it would be an ideal option for writers and artists, who want to be surrounded and inspired by nature on all sides. It’s ever so peaceful throughout the property.
If you want to stay local (and I’d recommend it for nature lovers as they have plenty of walking trails around the property. There’s no shortage of hiking off the property either — within a couple of miles on Route 10, there’s several more. Plattekill Mountain (you can ski and snowboard in the winter and there’s concerts in the summer) and Mt. Utsayantha are both relatively nearby, the latter of which sits at 3,214 feet.
Photo credits: Harmony Hill
There’s a lovely Covered Bridge nearby which is also close to a historical museum that history buffs may appreciate. Hanford Mills Museum is also less than four miles away from the retreat center as well.
If you are traveling with a family or are simply a nature and conservation lover, there’s also the Joseph L. Popp Jr. Butterfly Conservatory, a 3,000 foot tropical garden in Oneonta New York nearby.
You can go horseback riding at Broken Spoke Stables in Hobart New York and rent canoes and kayaks around 25 miles north in Portlandville. We opted to get canoes from Al’s Sports in the opposite direction, roughly a 45 minute drive towards Walton, which is a beautiful drive and home to Stony Creek Farmstead where you can make your own pizza on Saturday nights in the summer. Nature is incredible in this part of the state.
We really wanted to go down the Delaware River and it’s just such a beautiful spot – more details on our canoeing experience can be found in our Family Travel Guide to the Catskills where you can also see what other picks we had on the list.
Walk a Labyrinth
They have a fieldstone labyrinth in a 2-acre meadow on the property which you can experience during your stay. We did.
If you’re not familiar with labyrinths or used one before, they were known in Greek mythology and originally built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos.
Prehistoric labyrinths were used as traps for malevolent spirits or as defined paths for ritual dances. Apparently complex designs were thought to frighten bad spirits. In medieval times, the labyrinth symbolized a hard path to God with a clearly defined center (God) and one entrance (birth).
I have seen labyrinths at yoga and meditation retreats on my travels and in modern times, they’re often used as part of a spiritual ritual. Some see the labyrinth as an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness, representing a journey to our own center and back out again into the world. Christians have used them as well over the years and they’ve served as meditation and prayer tools by some religions.
Behind Harmony Hill
Behind this spiritual and wellness stay are Chris Rosenthal and Jana Batey, two women from Florida who felt the urge to build something magical in the Northeast. When a Vermont lead fell through, they discovered the land which is now the home of Harmony Hill Resort.
They built yurts and started a series of spiritual retreats and workshops, which includes things like couples coaching, group retreats and psychospiritual workshops. I had a chance to chat with Chris who lives on the property who shared her story with me.
Her background is as a traditional psychologist although her work is far from traditional as she also offers grief counseling, guided meditations, and past life regression and is also a Reiki Master with over 25 years of experience. Although Jana remains in Florida, she works with Chris as a professional life coach on workshops and other things they offer on-site. She’s a Tele-Leader, a Reiki practitioner, and Labyrinth Facilitator as well.
Harmony Hill Retreat Center
694 McKee Hill Road
East Meredith, New York 13757
(877) 278-6609 – toll free
(607) 278-6609 – local
The retreat is around 3 hours from Manhattan, 1.5 hours from Albany, 1.25 hours from Binghampton although if you’re coming from New York City, allot around 4 or so hours because of traffic getting out of the city.
Note: we were hosted by Harmony Hill but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.
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