How to see the Empire State's finest
Whether you are an American history buff, a gourmet seeking five-star food and wine experiences, a hunter and gatherer of museum-quality antiques and crafts, or a fan of Broadway-quality theater, you'll find it in the Hudson Valley, within a leisurely and scenic two-hour drive from Times Square.
Philipsburg Manor (914-631-3992, www.hudsonvalley.org) was the home of one of the wealthiest families in Colonial America; over three generations they amassed more than 50,000 acres along 22 miles of prime riverfront. Their farms and mills grew and processed the foods their ships took to the Caribbean, Europe , and the Orient, and furnishings reflect their worldliness. Now a living history farm, with livestock that have been back-bred to 17th century authenticity, guides are in Colonial costume.
Across busy Route 9 from the manor house is Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, named by Washington Irving, who lived barely a mile away and is buried here, as are Andrew Carnegie and numerous Rockefellers. Washington Irving's home, Sunnyside (914-631-8200, www.hudsonvalley.org), features architectural ideas the author of Rip Van Winkle and Legend of Sleepy Hollow brought back from a long European journey, including walk-in closets, skylights, and gravity-fed "running water."
Kykuit is the local Native American tribe's word for "look-out", and the name of the estate atop one of the highest hills in the area. Built by John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and lived in by four generations, the house and gardens are filled with art collected by Junior's wife, one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art, and their son, Nelson, a four-term New York State governor and U.S. Vice-President. Paintings, tapestries and sculpture by Picasso, Calder, Miro, Moore and others nearly over-shadow the magnificent Beaux Arts building and manicured grounds. Kykuit tours (914-631-9491) are sold at Philipsburg Manor.
Further north is Hyde Park, home of the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site (845-229-9115, www.nps.gov/vama), with a formal dining room paneled in carved walnut with gilt borders and Mrs. Vanderbilt's extravagant Marie Antoinette-style bedroom and sitting room. Vanderbilt's next-door neighbor was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. His home, Springwood includes the first presidential library - until then, presidents had just taken their papers with them or deposited them in an existing library - including the study he used to deliver his famous wartime fireside chats. The FDR and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt are buried in the Rose Garden (845-229-9115, www.nps.govhofr).
Hyde Park also is famous for the CIA. No, not the spies, the chefs. The Culinary Institute of America (845-452-9600, www.ciachef.edu) is the only residential college in the world devoted entirely to food arts, and its graduates staff and own some of the best dining establishments in the US. There are four student-staffed restaurants, supervised by maitre d's and executive chefs who are also their professors, including the formal French Escoffier. Or, just tour the campus and watch food being prepared behind giant glass windows.
The Hudson Valley boasts more than three dozen wineries, a tradition dating back to the first vines planted by the Huguenots in the 17th century, and most have tours and tastings. The largest, Millbrook Vineyards (845-677-8383, www.millbrookwine) in Millbrook, was founded by John Dyson, a former commissioner of the New York State Dept. of Commerce who helped coin the slogan, "I Love New York". Information on the area's wineries can be found on the vintners' group website, www.newyorkwines.org.
A great way to enjoy the scenery is on a Hudson River cruise. Sail with the wind aboard the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater (914-454-7673, www.clearwater.org), namesake of the environmental education organization founded by folk singer legend Pete Seeger, or motor aboard one of the fast and modern sightseeing vessels operated by New York Waterways (800-533-3779, www.nywaterway.com) from New York City.
No visit to the Hudson Valley is complete without a stop at West Point, the oldest active military base in the United States and home to the US Military Academy. George Washington chose this rocky promontory for a fortress to defend the Hudson River from the British. The museum here (845-938-2638, www.usma.edu/museum) contains one of the world's largest collections of weapons, flags, uniforms, and other military artifacts in the world, and the campus is polka-dotted with canons and other weapons dating as far back as the 1812 Spanish-American War.
Antique freaks head for the towns of Cold Spring, Rhinebeck, Millbrook and Hudson on the east side of the Hudson River, and Warwick on the west, each with a quaint, historic and tiny downtown. For handmade crafts, head to Sugar Loaf, founded as a community of artisans in 1749, and still home to candle and soap makers, potters, and quilters (www.sugarloafartsvillage.com).
The two newest Hudson Valley attractions are the DIA Center for the Arts in Beacon (845-440-0100, www.diacenter.org), a sprawling center for contemporary art housed in a former factory, and the Performing Arts Center at Bard College in Annandale, an undulating and spacious facility for theater and ballet, designed by Frank Gehry (845-758-6822, www.bard.edu/pac).
Places to stay in the Hudson Valley
Beekman Arms, Rte.9, Rhinebeck, 845-876-7077, www.beekmanarms.com. The oldest continuously operating inn in America, opened 1766.
Bear Mountain Inn & Lodges, Bear Mountain State Park, 845-786-2731, www.nysparks.gov. Comfortably rustic log cabins overlooking a lake
Mohonk Mountain House, Rte. 44/55, New Paltz, 800-678-8946, www.mohonk.com. Sprawling and historic hotel within a 4500-acre mountain preserve.
What To Drive
My driving choice is the newly redesigned Corvette - classy looking, powerful, fun to drive, especially on scenic Hudson Valley roads, and because Chevrolet has a long history in the area. GM's Tarrytown plant, which ceased operation in 1996, was built originally in 1899 for the production of Stanley Steamers. GM purchased the plant in 1914 and began producing Chevrolet cars and trucks the following year. The factory site is being converted into a housing and parks complex to be called Lighthouse Landing at Sleepy Hollow (yes, there's a lighthouse there - one of six along this stretch of the Hudson River).