In Greene County’s Mountaintop area, which celebrates its bicentennial this year, Villa Vosilla is the last left of the big 1960s-style ethnic resorts. It has a distinctive look, like some outtake from an Antonioni film. For years, its poolside beckoned to all passing along nearby Route 23A via its brightly colored and rounded pool chairs: very TWA in style. Its squared, similarly colored block lights indicated an innate sense of style more akin to the Mediterranean and Adriatic resorts of Bari and Ostia than the Ukrainian, German and old mountain-house-style and boardinghouse accommodations elsewhere in the area.
In its way, the Villa – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer, alongside an Italian push to have its heritage in this country acknowledged and celebrated (more on that later) – was more akin to the similar Italian resorts around Modena and in Sullivan County, as well as what the old Borscht Belt hotels became in their grandest era during the 1950s and early 1960s, or that area around Plattekill once known as the Spanish Alps. It featured Italian crooners when they were all the rage; full Italian menus, trattoria and ristorante-style; and an upstate version of the mountain-retreat culture that Romans, Tuscans and Neapolitans were long used to, as addenda to their seaside visits each summer. They were a second home to folks from Little Italy neighborhoods from Mulberry Street to Arthur Avenue and beyond.
Those were the days after the health diaspora that followed the great influenza outbreaks between the wars, when urban immigrants searched out landscapes and resorts where they could be reminded of whatever old countries they came from. They were escapes from assimilation as much as from city summer heat, and over the years they catered to a variety of ethnicities who saw in the surrounding hills and valleys of the Catskills their old, beloved Apennines, Carpathians, Dordogne, Alps, Black Forest and Derry.
This summer, Villa Vosilla has retooled its menu back to that first set up in classic pulito or “real tastes” by John Vosilla, Sr. when his family bought the old Rose Garden back in the Camelot days before JFK’s assassination, when Sinatra was still a Democrat. It has got a host of great Italian-American singers, musicians and even comedians (such as the old television legend Uncle Floyd) on hand most weekends. Those weekends are fast booking up, both because of all the huge events happening on the Mountaintop this summer (from Mountain Jam to a host of other concerts and events) and the resort’s own upgraded marketing efforts. And it’s reaching out to the local community to come by for a meal, a swim, some bocce.
As for that Italian presence in the Hudson Valley (and America), it dates back to that time, just after the Revolution, when the great fop Lorenzo De Ponte – librettist for The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni – was hired as an Italian tutor for several of the great Hudson River estates. Later, he’d go on to found the nation’s first opera company and its first Italian-American club and become its first Italian professor. He’s said to have loved the Catskills – which, of course, reminded him of home.
So much to indulge in. Talk about la dolce vita!
For more on all things Villa Vosilla in its 50th anniversary summer, as well as the Greene County Mountaintop’s bicentennial, visit https://villa.hvecom3.com – or just head on up Route 23A to Tannersville.