Altamont >Gifts & Novelties > Pleasant Valley Exquisitum
300 Pleasant Valley Rd, Altamont, NY | Directions 1200942.663562 -74.096351
A Bit of Europe in the Helderberg Hills
You might miss it if you drive by too quickly. You might dismiss it even if you see it. There is nothing about the unassuming little barn nestled alongside the lonely stretch of country road in the Helderberg hilltowns that remotely hints of what you are going to find inside. But should you take the time to stop your car and step in through the entranceway, you won't forget it.
Even the name is unassuming. No play on quaint idioms, no first name cozy, and no grand moniker setting you up for disappointment. Pleasant Valley Exquisitum is what it is called. "Pleasant Valley" because that's the name of that lonely stretch of road, and "Exquisitum" perhaps because there is a hint of mystery in the word, as if owner Gudrun Bellerjeau is playfully setting you up for the surreal experience of taking your first step into her amazing gift shop and gallery. I suspect she finds joy in the wide-eyed expressions of disbelief she must see on every face that makes its first appearance through her threshold. I also suspect that the first thought that passes through the minds of those first-time visitors is, "What the heck is this place doing out here?" I know that was my first thought. In the Helderberg Hills one expects open spaces and spectacular views; one expects windblown fields of snow and lazy drifts sweeping across the road; one expects little towns huddled against the hills in a protective snuggle from the weather; one might even expect a lumbering tractor or two to slow one's travels. And cows. Lots of cows. But one does not at all expect to find Pleasant Valley Exquisitum - the single finest gift shop and gallery in New York's Capital Region and far beyond. Its nearest competition is not in Clifton Park and not in Latham. Not even close. The only likely place you might find something nearly comparable is across the Atlantic Ocean tucked away in some village with a name like Freudenstadt or Perugia.
Haven't heard of it? Neither had I. And I live about 2 miles away from it, passing it in my car nearly every day whenever I head off the hill. I'd seen it, of course, but I never was curious enough to stop in, expecting what one might generally expect from a little countrytown gift shop: nice stuff... cute stuff... crafty stuff. But "stuff" is not what Gudrun offers. "Exquisitum", it turns out, is about perfect as a name for Gudrun's gallery because everything in her shop is unmistakably and unerringly exquisite. I finally made my first visit a few days before Christmas, almost in desperation, and while making my awestruck tour around Gudrun's place, I found myself immediately disappointed in every gift I had previously purchased for Christmas up to that point. Pleasant Valley is where I will buy "gift" items from now on, although "gift items" seems hardly adequate for what you will find there. The merchandise she offers in her beautiful shop is nothing less than astounding.
I do not want you to think this is some sort of an advertisement. It's not. I have no vested interest in the shop other than having fallen in love with it and wanting it to succeed because there is nothing remotely similar to it anywhere else. Make the trip. It's more than worth it. And really it's not much of a trip... only about 20-25 minutes from either Albany or Rotterdam. But that step across Gudrun's threshold is a step into a whole other place... perhaps even a whole other time. I don't want to say more because Gudrun is much more interesting to listen to then I am, plus she has a great German accent to go along with her fetching personality and her seriously astounding knowledge about every piece in her place. Nor do I want to jade with words the terrific and evocative experience of visiting that little piece of Europe almost magically hidden in the Helderbergs
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