A new New York, just up the Hudson
The sprawling Mohonk Mountain House resort in New Paltz has a huge network of nearby hiking trails. (Walter Bibikow/AWL Images/Getty)
Sophisticated culture has long followed the waters of the Hudson River north from New York City.
The Hudson River Valley – full of dense forests, picturesque rolling farmland and cool spring-fed lakes set against a backdrop of the Catskill Mountains about 100 miles north of New York City – has been a posh country getaway since the Gilded Age in the late 19th Century, when the nation’s most powerful families spent their autumns in the region. (Summers, after all, were spent in Europe.) These families included the Vanderbilts and the Roosevelts, whose most famous son, former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), pined for the area during World War II. “All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River,” he once wrote in a 1944 letter to Robert Hennegan, the then Democratic Party chairman.
No doubt he would have pined less during the late 20th Century, when many parts of the region became something of a hardscrabble industrial centre -- but as local manufacturing faded in the 1970s, rural charm re-emerged. And today, squeezed out by New York City’s exorbitant real estate prices, artists have moved into the places that industry left vacant, joining the Hudson Valley’s already abundant natural, culinary and historic draw cards. While many of these attractions are far flung, a rough triangle that encompasses parts of Dutchess and Ulster Counties contains some of the best diversions, all of which are easily accessible in a weekend getaway from New York City with minimum driving time.
Start with Springwood, FDR’s former home and a National Historic Site in the town of Hyde Park, New York. While the onsite museum and visitor’s centre focuses on Roosevelt’s pivotal role in world history, a guided tour of his house is a touching and intimate look at the physical challenges the four-term president faced due to his partial paralysis from polio. There are grab bars on the front steps that he used to hoist himself into his home, an elevator with a rope pulley that he operated himself, and he fashioned his own form of physical therapy in the long driveway, challenging himself to crutch down to the road and back.
There are two other homes to visit on Roosevelt’s Hyde Park property – Top Cottage, FDR’s mental retreat from Springwood (which was run with an iron fist by his mother until her death) and Val-Kill, a modest stone cottage that was Eleanor Roosevelt’s escape -- now the only historic site dedicated to a first lady in the United States. Adults can purchase a $22 combination ticket that grants access to all the Roosevelt houses plus the nearby Vanderbilt Mansion; children under 15 are free. Although it is possible to speed tour the properties in a long morning, tickets are valid for two days of access. Make reservations ahead of time.
After a day spent immersed in history, spend the evening sampling the creations of tomorrow’s culinary stars. The Culinary Institute of America, less than two miles from Springwood and the rest of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Historic Site, is the premier culinary school in the United States, with a long list of celebrity chef alumni, including Grant Achatz of Chicago’s most celebrated restaurant Alinea; New Orleans’s chef John Besh, best known for his restaurant August; Anthony Bourdain, host of the Travel Channel’s popular series No Reservations; Cat Cora, a competitor on the Food Network’s TV show Iron Chef America; and Susan Feniger, of the Border Grill empire in Los Angeles. Tours of the historic campus take in the main building, a gracious former Jesuit monastery, and even casual wanderers on the campus are likely to be plied with samples of student-made culinary creations.