From Manhattan, northern Dutchess County is a 2 1/2-hour drive up the Taconic State Parkway to Route 199 and Red Hook, or via the Saw Mill River Parkway to I-684, then Route 22 to Amenia or Millerton. Amtrak service between New York and Albany stops in Poughkeepsie and Rhinecliff. Metro-North, the commuter train, has two lines to the county: the Harlem Line (its terminus is Dover Plains) and the Hudson Line (which ends at Poughkeepsie). You can also fly into Stewart International Airport, across the Hudson River in Newburgh. However you travel, you'll need a car once you get there.
Beekman Arms 4 Mill St., Rhinebeck; 914/876-7077; doubles from $85. Built in 1766, the Beek is the oldest continuously operating hotel in the country. The inn has 59 rooms spread throughout the main building, the Delamater House (an American Gothic dating to 1844), and newer buildings added to accommodate business meetings. While done in classic American prints, antiques, and reproductions, rooms all come with modern conveniences—cable TV, dataport access, refrigerators, and air-conditioning (though you'll never really need it).
Simmons' Way Village Inn 33 Main St., Millerton; 518/789-6235; doubles from $145. The Carters—Richard, Nancy, and their son, Erich—are the perfect innkeepers: helpful, efficient, and friendly. You'll be sorry to leave the peaceful, nine-room rambling Victorian, especially if you stayed in one of the rooms with private balcony and working fireplace (No. 2 has the best view). In the lobby, the African gray parrot Max keeps guests amused with his thousand-and-one voices.
Troutbeck Leedsville Rd., Amenia; 914/373-9681; doubles from $375. This beautiful 1920's stone Tudor manor house is a conference center during the week. On weekends, it opens its doors—as well as its 600 acres of gardens and nature preserve—to individual guests. The 42 rooms are blessedly frill-free, with Early American fabrics and European-repro furniture. But the real draw is the building itself, all leaded-glass windows, built-in bookshelves, and fireplaces. No children under 12.
Veranda House B&B 82 Montgomery St., Rhinebeck; 914/876-4133; doubles from $90, no credit cards. The four-room inn, awash in flocked floral wallpaper and fabrics, has a great full breakfast. If it's sunny, eat your orange yogurt pancakes on the flagstone terrace; then head out for a bit of shopping: Veranda House is just three blocks from the town center. There's a two-night minimum on weekends.
BEST VALUE Red Hook Inn 31 S. Broadway, Red Hook; 914/758-8445; doubles from $75. The five spacious guest rooms are decorated simply with framed antique prints, large wooden armoires, and dried flowers. The dining room and forest-green bar are packed on weekends (but they quiet down at 10 or so; it is the country, after all).
Poet's Walk Romantic Landscape Park River Rd., Red Hook; 914/473-4440, ext. 229. The popular Hudson River path was frequently trod by Washington Irving and nature poet Fitz-Greene Halleck. A viewing pavilion, with clear sight lines across the river to the Catskills, is a natural spot for contemplating the bigger questions.
Harlem Valley Rail Trail Mechanic St., Amenia; 518/789-9591. So far, the converted railbed trail is only nine miles long, one section beginning in Amenia and one winding through the hills to Copake Falls in Columbia County. But when completed, it'll go for 23 miles. It's a great way to explore the countryside—the path always has people on it, from kids with training wheels to retirees on cruisers. Tip: Trail etiquette requires a "Hello" (or at least a smile) when passing.
Innisfree Garden Tyrrel Rd., Millbrook; 914/677-8000; open Wednesday-Sunday (call for hours). There's something akin to Yeats's "bee-loud glade" in this 200-acre fairyland, a garden and park designed by the former owner, painter Walter Beck. Distinctly Eastern in feel, the plantings in and around the central lake and lotus pond are serenely beautiful.
Mary Flagler Cary Arboretum Rte. 44A, Millbrook; 914/677-5359. Nineteen hundred acres of research and education facilities are also home to the Institute of Ecosystem Studies, and the trails and public gardens are open throughout the year. Visitors can wander around the outdoor perennial beds (where about 1,000 varieties grow), a native wildflower and fern glen, a butterfly garden, forest trails, and the tropical greenhouse.
Start in Red Hook and drive east on Route 199. In no particular order, you'll pass shops, beautiful farms, diners, some run-down barns, lakes full of rushes, ponds full of ducks, leaping deer, small-town main streets, undisturbed forest, and the occasional wild turkey. The road's curves are fun, but be careful: the speed limit dips to 30 in spots.
Northern Dutchess was quite the society retreat at the turn of the century and after. Many Gilded Age estates are now National Park Service properties; some are open to the public year-round. Call ahead for schedules.
Vanderbilt Mansion Rte. 9, Hyde Park; 914/229-9115; for information contact the National Park Service at 914/229-9115. In 1895, Frederick William Vanderbilt purchased 676 acres along the Hudson and began building this mansion, designed by McKim, Mead & White. Guide Margaret Laffin paints a vivid picture of country life as it is no longer lived (Vanderbilt kept a full-time staff of 40 here, even though he and his wife were there just three months a year).
Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Historic Site Museum & Library Rte. 9, Hyde Park; 914/229-9115. Recognizing his place in history, FDR willed his house (and the 290-acre estate) to the American people in 1943. The curators haven't shied away from controversial aspects of his presidency, including the internment of Japanese-Americans and U.S. knowledge of the Holocaust.
Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site Rte. 9G, Hyde Park; 914/229-9115. The simplicity of Eleanor Roosevelt's retreat, 11/2 miles from FDR's house, reflects her unaffected personality. The humble stone cottage has played host to the likes of Churchill, JFK, and Nehru; it's mind-boggling to picture Eleanor sharing her bathroom with the Khrushchevs.
Samuel F.B. Morse Historic Site, Locust Grove 370 South Rd., Poughkeepsie; 914/454-4500. Purchased by inventor-artist Samuel Morse in 1847, Locust Grove has beautiful gardens, a good collection of 18th- and 19th-century English and American furniture (Federal, Queen Anne, Chippendale) in the main Tuscan-style villa, and an exhibition of Morse's work. Visitors can try sending messages on model telegraph machines.
Mills Mansion State Historic Site Old Post Rd., Staatsburg; 914/889-8851;. Undergoing some restoration, this 1896 Beaux-Arts mansion was designed by McKim, Mead & White as a showplace for the fall social season. Guest Edith Wharton used it as a model for her fictional Bellomont estate in The House of Mirth. The grounds are surrounded by 1,000 acres of state park with trails along the Hudson.
Montgomery Place River Rd., Annandale-on-Hudson; 914/758-5461. Also under renovation, this Classical Revival mansion is still worth a visit; the walking paths are extensive, the gardens bloom all summer, and the breeze that washes over the side porch will lull you into inertia. Come fall, there's apple-picking in the orchards.
Sponsored by the Dutchess Land Conservancy, the annual self-drive Dutchess Hunt Country Tour gives snoopy visitors a behind-the-scenes look at some of the area's private estates and farms. It's a great way to see what life in Millbrook is really all about—in two words, horses and acreage—while raising money to help preserve the countryside. Riding demonstrations and terrier races explain the traditions behind the still-thriving Millbrook Hunt. 914/677-3002; October 10; adults $28, children $10.
Antiques are big business around here; on weekends, the area is crawling with dealers and decorators from New York City and points much farther afield.
I've spent my life poking around the shops in Millbrook (even if, due to the space constraints of my Manhattan apartment, I've never seriously shopped for furniture). My favorites are the dealer cooperatives at Millbrook Antiques Mall (Franklin Ave.; 914/677-9311), Village Antique Center (Franklin Ave.; 914/677-5160), and Millbrook Antiques Center (Franklin Ave.; 914/677-3921). My best finds have always appeared when I wasn't looking for anything in particular; call it the Tao of shopping. I've acquired vintage jewelry—once, a 1933 Vassar (my alma mater) college seal ring for $75—first editions of Byron and Swinburne, and handmade 1950's couture cocktail dresses ($15, no joke).
This year, armed with a list from one of the savviest shoppers I know—T&L's former style director, who happens to have a house in Rhinebeck—I hit the road with a vengeance.
I began in Pine Plains at Balsamo Antiques (Pine St.; 518/398-9066), having been warned that I'd want everything in this restored Grange Hall building; indeed, I did. It's a curiosity shop in the best of taste: old billiard balls, bone-handled knives, English transferware, aluminum French garden vases. The furniture is in good condition; that Louis XVI settee would have been a steal at $2,600. (But it would never have fit in my building's elevator.)
I then headed northwest to Madalin (55 Broadway, Tivoli; 914/757-3634). I only wish the place had been around in my vintage-tuxedo-jacket high school days. I would have, like, totally, wanted it all: 1930's satin slips, forties floral day dresses, men's cashmere topcoats.
Hipsters love Classic Modern Furniture (Rte. 22; 914/373-7238) in Amenia. It's not my style, but the Danish designs are in perfect condition—teak and rosewood credenzas, corner cabinets, end tables, and dozens of chairs that date from the forties through the seventies.
Finally, I hit Johnson's Antiques (Rte. 22, Millerton; 518/789-3848; open Friday-Sunday), where the local dealers shop (and where Mom got our 1920's rosewood dining room chairs). The prime merchandise goes quickly, so it's best to get there when they open the doors on Friday. Last time, I waited until Sunday to visit this huge barn—loaded to the rafters with chairs, tables, bureaus, desks, and cabinets—but I still found some amazing things, such as a signed solid cherry Stickley chest of drawers for $475 and a seven-foot pine farm table for $200. The place is a gold mine. An old Blue Willow bowl for $1?Thanks, I'll take it.
Despite the prevalence of antiques, there are plenty of shops with new merchandise in Northern Dutchess, perfect for stress-free, mall-free shopping.
Michael Boris 28 E. Market St., Rhinebeck; 914/876-5625. It's an unexpected thrill to come upon sophisticated women's couture in the country. Designer Boris uses gorgeous fabrics—triple-ply silks, damask as thin as a butterfly's wing, tropical-weight wool—to create fitted 1940's-style shirtwaist jackets in taupe pinstripes, ivory silk shirts with frogging, and coral silk suits with openwork cuffs.
A. L. Stickle Variety Store 13 E. Market St., Rhinebeck; 914/876-3206. Ah, the smell of it—that magical combination of dust, Rubbermaid, fabric sizing, and candy that is particular to all great five-and-dimes. Stickle's is the real McCoy; open the door and you walk right back into childhood.
Arrowsmith Forge Rte. 44, Millbrook; 914/677-5687. All the steel four-poster bed frames, chandeliers, coffee tables, headboards, and patio sets in the showroom are made on the premises. The craftsmanship is lovely, and even the elaborate acanthus-leaf tables are reasonably priced at $600.
Hammertown Barn Rte. 199, Pine Plains; 518/398-7075. Maddy and Lola, the resident dogs, greet shoppers with a friendly sniff and then go about their business of patrolling this 150-year-old barn stocked with Simon Pearce bowls, hooked rugs, Crabtree & Evelyn bath gels, Irish pottery, and Shabby Chic bedding.
Gilmor Glassworks Rte. 44, Millerton; 518/789-6700. Visiting when the artists are at work is an education—you can watch them stoking the furnace, collecting the molten material on long rods, and blowing the glass into graceful shapes.
Rhinebeck Tru-Value Hardware & Bathrick's Gifts 47 E. Market St., Rhinebeck; 914/876-3049. Tru-Value has everything—Portmeirion china and wool kilims, Burpee seeds and penny nails—and if they don't have it, you don't really need it. People get lost in here for hours.
Rhinebeck Artist's Shop 56 E. Market St., Rhinebeck; 914/876-4922. Should the Hudson inspire you, stop in here for Winsor & Newton watercolors and oils, sticks of imported Japanese sumi ink and hollowed-out bamboo-reed pens, sketchbooks, brushes, canvas, and paper.
Culinary Institute of America Bookstore Rte. 9, Hyde Park; 914/452-9600. So you forgot to reserve three months in advance for dinner at one of the school's four restaurants?The student store, in the back of the main building, is worth the trip. It has any kitchen tool you can imagine and books on every aspect of cooking.
Café Pongo 69 Broadway, Tivoli; 914/757-4403; dinner for two $40. Tivoli resembles the Woodstock of 1965: a burgeoning arts community still small enough to have low rents and studio space available, big enough to support a great restaurant like Café Pongo. The bakers rise at 3 a.m. to make the bread for the Tivoli Bread Supply Co.; it's terrific, as is the green-curry shrimp at dinner.
Beekman 1766 Tavern 4 Mill St., Rhinebeck; 914/871-1766; dinner for two $70. Haute chef-restaurateur Larry Forgione owns this restaurant at the Beekman Arms hotel, and his focus is on simple American country cooking with the best ingredients from local purveyors. Free-range Pennsylvania Dutch turkey pot pie is actually a large bowl of delicious stew, with two cheddar biscuits standing in for crust; the medallions of venison arrive perfectly cooked, tender and rare, on a mound of so-rich-don't-ask mashed potatoes. Reservations are crucial.
Max's Memphis Barbecue Rte. 9, Red Hook; 914/758-6297; dinner for two $40. Come only if you're really hungry: the Jekyll Island curried crab cakes, smoked duck, cheese grits, and corn bread are too good to waste. Serving dinner only, this zippy rib shack—open kitchen, asymmetrical doorways, Southwestern-desert colors on every wall—will make you cry, "Arteries be damned!"
Calico Restaurant & Patisserie 9 Mill St., Rhinebeck; 914/876-2749; dinner for two $40. This tiny robin's-egg-blue and white bistro and patisserie—open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday—is always hopping. If you linger long enough over lunch on Saturday, you're sure to see one of the stunning wedding cakes being picked up.
Yet Another Roadside Attraction Rte. 199, Milan; 914/758-0535; brunch for two $17, no credit cards. The sign reads THE BEST PANCAKES IN DUTCHESS COUNTY, and it's no lie. This luncheonette serves a dozen kinds—three to a plate, piping hot, and big as a hubcap (well, almost). If the blueberry cornmeal ones are on the menu, don't even consider anything else.
Eveready Diner Rte. 9, Hyde Park; 914/229-8100; lunch for two $20. It's the fifties all over again, only with Pearl Jam on the jukebox and cappuccino in the coffee cups. Airstream diner snobs won't be impressed with this shiny new number, but it sure is fun, and the food is good. Who could resist "Bring My Baby Back Ribs" or the "Hound Dog" hot dog?
Luna 61 61 E. Market St., Red Hook; 914/758-0061; dinner for two $40, no credit cards. The framed poster in the bathroom, titled HOW TO WIN AN ARGUMENT WITH A MEAT EATER, lists cancer stats that will make you grateful you chose this all-organic vegetarian place. The food is far from bland. You'll find Asian-influenced dishes (futomaki roll with avocado and watercress), reinvented Mexican classics (burrito with sheep's-milk cheese), and juice blends with weird names—"Hale-Bopp" contains apple, broccoli, kale, and cucumber.
As a child, I loved the Dutchess County Fair. It's as authentic as they come: apple pies, prizewinning heifers, roller coasters, and cotton candy. Every August, I tried to con as many family members as possible into taking me. My paternal grandmother was always game; she and my grandfather would be my escorts several days in a row.
Grandma and I went on every ride, laughing as we were tossed about or spun around, defying gravity. (Only the violent Viking Ship gave us pause.) After our heads stopped spinning, we were ready for lunch. Our daily diet consisted of "walk-away" sundaes—a block of vanilla ice cream plopped into a specially designed cone, dipped in chocolate, and rolled in nuts. As for the games, well, we were never very good (probably that family hand-eye coordination problem).
The two of us strolled the exhibition halls with an enthusiasm shared by no one else in the family; Grandpa would often wait patiently outside. The agricultural displays—mammoth tomatoes, neon-bright petunias, gemlike jars of canned peaches, and lattice-topped rhubarb pies—inspired a pre-Martha Stewart awe. That unspoken faith in superlatives (largest! smallest! strongest!) was oddly reassuring. Finally, as night began to fall, we'd head for home.
The best part is, all these years later, it's exactly the same.
Dutchess County Fair Springbrook Ave., Rhinebeck; 914/876-4001; August 24-29.