Phoenicia Ranked No. 1 as Tourist Spot

PHOENICIA - If you've got plans this summer to vacation in the queenly Cape May, N.J., or some other resort community in the Northeast, consider scrapping them.

An even better destination is right here in Ulster County, according to Curbed New York, a real-estate and travel blog.

Editors recently ranked Phoenicia, a hamlet in the town of Shandaken, as the No. 1 destination outside of New York City.

The bohemian mountain community not only beat out the internationally known Victorian seaside resort, but Mystic, Conn., a historic seafaring village known widely for its tourism appeal.

The list of 16 “charming destinations” came out in recent weeks as New Yorkers get set to plan their summer “stay-cations,” or weekend getaways.

Curbed NY noted that the hamlet’s “location deep within the Catskill Mountains has helped it retain a laid-back feel.”

In addition, it touted the quirky specialty shops, hip hotels, popular eateries such as the Phoenicia Diner and activities galore.

This isn’t the first time Phoenicia has gotten noticed. In 2011, Budget Travel magazine named it sixth of 20 in its list of America’s top coolest small towns.

Those who know it best say it’s deserving of such recognition.

“It’s just a great quality of life,” said Joshua Luborsky, a Phoenicia resident and  associate broker at Win Morrison.

“It’s a really wonderful small town. You get a sense of community, and there’s a surprising number of activities–trains and theater and music and lots of good dining, so it’s quite a place to be.”

Among other attributes, according to Luborsky, are its quiet, rural character and outdoor activities such as fly fishing and tubing on the Esopus Creek as well as hiking (the highest mountain, Slide Mountain, is about 4,180 feet).

Some have called it a smaller version of nearby Woodstock, but Luborsky prefers to compare it to a scenic hillside in the Netherlands.

“It is sort of the gateway to the Catskills. We’re right at the center of the ski centers–Belleayre and Hunter mountains. Phoenicia’s just a wonderful little town to hang out in,” he said.

Business owners like Tom Fraser said annual events like the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice are partly responsible for the media buzz.

Each August, internationally known performers converge on the hamlet with a population of 388. The multi-venue, multi-day event is based on the renowned Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C.

Fraser and his wife, Dana, operate the Phoenicia Belle Bed and Breakfast and have lived in the community for 25 years.

The businessman said he is happy to see Phoenicia getting accolades after the community was nearly wiped out by flooding during Hurricane Irene in 2011.

“We went down quite badly as a lot of area towns did,” Fraser said. “Phoenicia was devastated by the river coming right through the middle of town, and it was the low point as far as we’ve been living here.”

During rebuilding efforts, some business owners sold their ventures to newcomers with fresh vision, Fraser said.

He pointed to Mike Cioffi, who bought the Phoenicia Diner from longtime owner Chris Raptis, reopening it in 2012.

Other entrepreneurs like Mike Ricciardella bought and renovated the former Al’s Seafood Restaurant, turning it into the Phoenician, a steakhouse and seafood restaurant.

Additionally four Brooklynites–Bianca Barrattini, Jason Gnewikow, Amanda Bupp and Jeff Madalena–ventured into the Catskills in recent years and opened a 20-room boutique hotel they call Graham and Co.

“We were very fortunate. All that new blood gave a nice boost to the town directly after being at rock bottom, and it’s helped put us on the map,” Fraser said.

By the way, it wasn’t just Phoenicia that made the Curbed NY top 16. Other area communities that got ink include Kingston (4th), Hudson (8th), Cold Spring (11th), Peekskill (14th) and New Paltz (16th).

For the complete list, go