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In spite of the impression given by the New York Post's Page Six gossip column, it's not really the partying Manhattan girls and their Wall Street heir boyfriends who rule the Hamptons during the summer these days. No, it's their parents - the kind of people who drive their Aston Martins over Labor Day weekend to Bridgehampton's Hampton Classic Horse Show, an event that can be traced back to before WWI. The grey hair doesn't just come from New York; Hollywood studio and agency bosses fly in for the season too. Many of them belong to families that have summered here for generations. They eat at restaurants like Nick and Toni's or Della Femina in East Hampton. And yet tagging along as an outsider is surprisingly easy and affordable. Or at least easier and more affordable than it has been in a long time.

While a table at the Hampton Classic in the shade next to the showjumping arena costs around £3,200, access to the bleachers (a sloped area of uncovered seating) is free. Meanwhile, a table at Nick and Toni's can easily be forsaken for wine and cheese tasting at the more relaxed Wölffer Estate Vineyard, which attracts a similar crowd.

Even some of the Hamptons' most lavish estates can be enjoyed via private garden tours advertised in the local newspaper, The East Hampton Star. And then there are the kind of shops that could only ever survive in a place where an ex-Beatle and the head of the world's most powerful investment bank occasionally need to decorate a bedroom. The best is an antiques emporium owned by Brian Ramaekers, located on Main Street in Bridgehampton.

Ramaekers, quietly-spoken, bespectacled and in his late sixties, is a friend of the American lifestyle magazine publisher Martha Stewart. His current inventory features a full-size tack horse from 1880 (£7,500), vintage jewellery and a series of framed, flapper-style wool bathing suits from the 1920s (£540-£890).

'I love the Hamptons in the summer,' he says. 'The weather, the light, the isolation.' Then he catches what he's saying. 'And by isolation, I mean the sense of isolation, while having all the culture of the city, too.'

Anywhere else it might be a contradiction. Here, it sums things up perfectly.

Chris Ayres writes for The Los Angeles Times and is a bestselling author. His books include Death by Leisure: A Cautionary Tale (£7.99; John Murray).

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the inspirational setting for the fictional town of East Egg in The Great Gatsby. It was actually inspired by Long Island's north shore.

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