VACATION IDEAS: ROAD TRIPS
New York's Hudson Valley
Just north of New York City is one of America's most scenic and historic corridors, amid the mansions of presidents & plutocrats, artists & inventors.
Ever since the Dutch patroons settled the green hills that flank the Hudson River in the seventeenth century, aristocrats have been building their dream homes along its scenic banks; today many are open to the public, offering a glimpse into the rarified world of America's early movers and shakers. Built mostly on the eastern bank, they cover every style in the book, from Gothic to Beaux-Arts to Federal; this concentrated wealth of historic architecture, unique in the United States, can easily fill a week's drive or more (especially during its gorgeous fall foliage season), but you can take in the approximately 130-mile stretch from New York City to the town of Hudson in as little as three or four packed days.
In New York City, car rental outfits are plentiful; cut rates in half by renting at Newark Airport. Invest in a good regional map and head north on the Henry Hudson Parkway, which leads into the Saw Mill River Parkway and to Tarrytown, the first stop. From there, scenic Route 9 links the rest of the towns, though the Taconic State Parkway may be used when time is short.
And you can save bucks as well as time by following a classic itinerary focusing on the historic highlights and patronizing the clusters of economical motels and dining spots where you can eat well for less than $15 a person. Note that most attractions close from approximately November through April, with some opening again briefly in December with romantic holiday candlelight tours; always check when planning your trip.
New York City to Tarrytown
(25 Miles) Head north out of Manhattan on the Henry Hudson Parkway, past white birch trees and the occasional creek tumbling over mossy boulders, the boxy tenements of the Bronx melting into inviting forests freckled with red-brick and white-clapboard towns. In well under an hour - but light-years away from Manhattan - you make your first stop, the pretty village of Tarrytown. This is Sleepy Hollow country, so don't miss Sunnyside (W. Sunnyside Lane, 914/591-8763), the riverfront homestead of that tale's writer, Washington Irving. This Dutch stone cottage "all made up of gable ends, angles and corners," in Irving's words, makes an excellent spot for a picnic.
Adjacent is Lyndhurst (635 S. Broadway, 914/631-4481), a sprawling jumble of towers, rose windows, and steep roofs that's America's finest example of Gothic revival. This 1838 cross between an Arthurian fantasy castle and a setting for a romance novel is dressed in "Sing Sing marble" quarried by inmates from the notorious Ossining prison nearby. The elaborate interior fools our eyes with trompe l'oeil plaster passing for marble, mahogany, and flocking, a technique then much in vogue (and ironically more expensive than the real thing).
It's pricey, but you do get a lot of sightseeing bang for those bucks at Kykuit ("KIKE-it," Dutch for "lookout"; 914/631-8200), a wisteria-clad stone mansion built in 1913 for John D. Rockefeller and which housed four generations of his clan before joining the National Trust as a historic site. Approaching on the shuttle from the Kykuit Visitor Center at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, the scale of the grounds is impressive, stretching down to the river and dotted with Governor Nelson Rockefeller's modern sculptures. The gardens, fountains, and vistas are worth the trip in and of themselves, but the house also offers great artworks, furniture, and Oriental porcelain, and there's even a fascinating collection of classic cars in the coach barn.
SleepsSaw Mill River Motel (25 Valley Ave., Elmsford, 914/592-7500, sawrivermotel.com) Just outside Tarrytown, a pleasant, two-story red-brick affair with 127 rooms. Elmsford Motel (19 Tarrytown Rd., 914/592-5300) A more basic but clean and quite presentable 48-roomer.
Eats In the small but lively Tarrytown downtown, inexpensive restaurants abound despite the upscale look. Top picks: Bella's Restaurant (5 South Broadway, 914/332-0444) Plain, honest diner-style food in a plain, honest setting; entrées $6.25 to $11.25 with bread, salad, and two sides. Main Street Pizza (47 Main St., 914/631-3300, mainstreetpizzatarrytown.com) The pizza's great, but the dinners ($5.75 to $12, including bread and either pasta or salad) are even better in this sparkling tiled eatery.
Tarrytown to Hyde Park
(55 Miles) The next morning, pick up Route 9 for the idyllic 25-mile drive to the town of Garrison, where Boscobel (1601 Rte. 9D, 845/265-3638; boscobel.org), a 12-room mustard-and-cream Federal-style frame house, was built in 1808 for a certain States Morris Dyckman upon his return from England (where, like many staunch loyalists, he'd fled after the British defeat in the revolution - not unlike King Charles II, who hid from the anti-Royalist troops of Oliver Cromwell in the English forest for which the house is named). Simple and practical, the period furnishings are a far cry from the overwrought Victoriana of some of the area's other manses. Don't miss the floor in the entry hall; a cloth painted to look like marble. From here, time permitting, two great side trips across the Tappan Zee Bridge are the military academy at West Point (845/938-2638; general admission free, guided bus tour $6 adults, under 12 $3) and the Storm King modern art center (Old Pleasant Hill Road, Mountainville, 845/534-3115; adults $7, seniors $5, students $3, under 5 free).