A heavenly hotel experience

God may have closed a window but has certainly opened a door at The Abbey Inn & Spa on Peekskill’s imposing Fort Hill.

“Hello,” says Stirling, the chipper front desk agent at The Abbey Inn & Spa, Peekskill’s new luxury hotel which has already garnered the “3rd Best New Hotel in America” accolade from USA Today’s 10Best awards. “Are you checking-in with us today?”

No, we’re not coming to stay on this occasion but we are coming to have a jolly good snoop around, although I don’t put it in quite those terms. Whatever, Stirling is unfazed. “Well, please, have a seat, make yourselves comfortable, enjoy. Oh, and can I get you some coffee? Cream and sugar?”

It’s the kind of welcome that makes a difference. As any hotelier across the region, and very likely across the country, will tell you, finding great staff and assembling a cohesive team in the pandemic wind down and reset (if it isn’t too soon to call it that,) is proving extremely challenging. Hospitality personnel — both long-term professionals and recent recruits sensing that their industry was more demanding as well as more vulnerable than most, left the industry in droves during the pandemic and have not returned.

The Abbey may be the exception that proves the rule. In a magnificent position high above the Hudson River, just an hour’s drive from New York City and five minutes from the Peekskill train station, the inn — the former convent of the Episcopal Sisters of St. Mary’s, who inhabited the building for nearly 100 years from 1872 — opened auspiciously in January 2020 and never closed during the pandemic. Staff we encountered couldn’t have been more helpful and service standards generally seemed high.

Seamlessly repurposed, the original Abbey was gutted and reinforced from the ground up by the hotel’s developer, the Valhalla-based GDC. Beautiful old stonework was restored and harmoniously integrated with high-end new carpentry and joinery, giving the inn a unique sense of history blending sympathetically with a contemporary vibe. “Having everything custom-made, which it needed to be, was certainly a challenge,” General Manager Gilbert Baeriswil, formerly head honcho of the Castle Hotel & Spa in Tarrytown and now The Abbey Inn’s general manager, shared with me on an elaborate site tour.

If the inn has an abundance of historical features in its public spaces, its guestrooms and suites — 42 in all — are an exercise in quiet and restrained modern luxury. I loved the cream and taupe-themed superior suite, with its  Italian tilework, state-of the-art technology, luxury amenities and granite-top bathroom, complete with Gilchrist & Soames products. It looked out over some of the estate’s 52 acres adjacent to Fort Hill Park, with lush woodland concealing a variety of gorgeous trails that guests are invited to explore. 

Several rooms have Hudson River views, including one with a balcony, but Baeriswil apologized that none was available to view. If there’s one thing a hotel general manager needn’t apologize for, it’s having a fully occupied hotel, I was quick to assure him.

A charming series of curated pictures and prints line the inn’s wall, from the top floor downward, tracing the progress of the Hudson, from its source in Lake Tear of the Clouds in the Adirondacks all the way to Upper New York Bay. These fascinating historical views further animate the already atmospheric Abbey.  

Back on the first floor, the reimagined, restored Abbey church is now the inn’s Highlands ballroom. Expansive, arched and colonnaded, with great natural light (in itself a rarity in any ballroom of size) flooding its windows, this is a superb event space but will make an unforgettable wedding venue especially. The smaller, second floor chapel, now the Cornerstone Room, boasts a soaring, vaulted wood ceiling, original stained-glass windows and superb frescoes, painted by The Abbey’s Sister Mary Veronica, who was an outstanding ecclesiastical painter. Here again, everything has been painstakingly restored.

The inn’s satisfyingly symmetrical bar meanwhile, with its handsome paneling, copper tray roof and graceful semicircular counter, was once the Mother Superior’s office, so Baeriswil informed me with a twinkle in his eye. It’s hard to say what the reverend mother would have made of the bar, with its St. Mary’s Spritz or its Reverend Cowl cocktail (made with Redemption bourbon and absinthe), or its weekday Happy Hour. But she surely would have been mollified by how the integrity of the space has been preserved and respected.

In the adjoining convent refectory, now the Apropos restaurant, you might follow stracciatella toast and whipped nduja with crisp local chicken and Westchester radishes, although it’s safe to say that the sisters themselves never ate from such a sophisticated menu. Still, the equable mood and ambient, subdued lighting could be said to pay respect to The Abbey’s history and the friendly ghosts of yesteryear.

Eating outside is also an option, in the inn’s enchanting central garden, with its herbaceous borders and perennials, where the koi pond and dragon fountain had an immensely cooling effect on the blisteringly hot day of our visit.

Away from the inn, along Main Street just half a mile away and all over Peekskill’s attractive downtown district, the local bar and restaurant scene is booming and property prices and rentals in the area have leapt since the onset of the pandemic. Peekskill also makes a great base for visiting the river towns, local state parks and the great historic mansions of the Hudson Valley.

Back at the property, The Abbey Inn’s spa, situated on the lower level, may have only four treatment rooms, but it manages to punch well above its weight. With its fitness center, whirlpool and well-equipped locker rooms, along with a hair and nail salon, treatments run the gamut from massage to microdermabrasion to waxing. The well-run spa also offers Geneo noninvasive facials, which have been called “the facial of the future,” while in my view, the totally Zen relaxation lounge, where I could happily have dropped down on a chaise lounge and fallen fast asleep, is a marvel of soothing design. 

Spoiling and pampering, a bastion of comfort, good food and wine, it’s all a far cry from The Abbey of yore.  But when the door was closed on St. Mary’s Convent, at least it can be said that a wonderful window on Hudson Valley hospitality was opened.

For more, visit theabbeyinn.com.

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