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Time out: Rich life in the river valley

There’s a certain hazy, sweet air in a Hudson Valley summer. Maybe it’s the oxygen from all those trees that blanket the hills above the river. Or perhaps it’s the river itself-part inland, part ocean.
Then again, it could simply be the heady perfume of countryside mixed with the smog of New York City, grinding away only 90 miles to the south.
There’s no mistaking the Hudson Valley has a mystique all its own. It’s both quaint, with colonial-era villages and farms, and hip-tantalizingly close to the hum and drama of Manhattan.
Settled more than 300 years ago, the village of Rhinebeck in Dutchess County blends these two worlds. You might stroll through its small farmers’ market on a Sunday morning, picking up chunks of artisan cheese or huge cloves of fresh garlic from local growers. The next day, the same farmer is likely to be hawking her wares at Manhattan’s Union Square Greenmarket.
For taking in the Hudson River valley’s historic mansions, trails and scenic parks, Rhinebeck is a great home base. It’s a walking village filled with 18th- and early 19th-century homes on tree-lined streets. Most of the village lies in a historic district (one of the nation’s largest) listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Farm to table

Frequented by weekenders from the city accustomed to fine cuisine, Rhinebeck has innovative restaurants. A refreshing number of them emphasize fruits, vegetables, cheeses and herbs from local farmers, along with grain-fed poultry and beef. One of the most popular is Gigi Trattoria, whose “Hudson Valley Mediterranean” blends traditional Italian fare with local products. Terrapin’s eclectic menu shows influences from Asia, the Caribbean, South America and Italy.
Next door, Terrapin’s more casual sister, Red, is popular if you’re not in a hurry. (Service can be slow.) Phoenix Rising’s American bistro fare is a favorite among local residents. Max’s Memphis Barbeque in nearby Red Hook draws on family recipes and slow-smoked meats for traditional Southern barbeque and “New South” entrees.
Tiny Osaka fills the dine-in/takeout sushi and Japanese niche in Rhinebeck. For a traditional American menu, try the Traphagen Restaurant at Beekman Arms Inn. Eat in the dining room or the more rustic tap room, said to be the oldest tavern in the country.

Trails with views

Have a cheap, hearty breakfast at Pete’s Famous on East Market Street, then head out to see the sites. Scores of parks lie within a short drive. The result of land preservation efforts spearheaded by Scenic Hudson, an environmental organization, Poets’ Walk Romantic Landscape Park is about a five-minute drive from the village. The 120 quiet acres of rolling farmland and woods offer breathtaking views of the Hudson River on land that inspired Washington Irving, the author of “Rip Van Winkle.” It has two miles of trails. Burger Hill Park’s 550-foot hilltop is conquered by sledders and anyone who can appreciate panoramic views of the Shawangunk Ridge, Catskill and Taconic Mountains and the Berkshires. The new Rhinebeck and Red Hook Historic District Bike Route takes riders 20 miles through the heart of the Hudson River National Historic Landmark District.

Mansion row

The Hyde Park Trail runs 8 1/2 miles along the Hudson on a paved surface great for both hiking and biking. Best of all, it links three national historic sites open for tours-Vanderbilt Mansion; Springwood, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s home; and Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home-with Riverfront Park in the town of Hyde Park.
Nowhere is the Gilded Age more alive than at the Vanderbilt estate, built in 1899 for Frederick Vanderbilt and his family in Hyde Park. It has magnificent views of the Hudson, restored formal gardens and artifacts from around the world.
Nearby is Springwood, where Franklin Roosevelt was born and lived much of his life. It is here also that he and Eleanor Roosevelt are buried. The family home was built in the early 1800s in the Georgian Colonial style. The FDR Presidential Library and Museum on site hold historical documents and personal items of the president.
Val-Kill, a Dutch Colonial cottage made of fieldstone, was Eleanor Roosevelt’s refuge on the Roose-velt estate. Built in 1926 next to a stream, the house and gardens are open to visitors from May to October.
FDR’s lifelong companion and confidante, Daisy Suckley, lived at Wilderstein in Rhinebeck. With a five-story tower, Tiffany stained glass windows and a garden designed by Calvert Vaux, Wilderstein is not only intriguing but beautiful. It is open from May to October.
A $50 national parks pass admits you to each of the sites, except Wilderstein. It’s good for a year from first use at any of the hundreds of national parks sites around the country.

Shop in town

Many of Rhinebeck’s shop owners have an urban sensibility when it comes to ordering merchandise-and they are laid back if all you want to do is browse. One such shop, Winter Sun & Summer Moon, carries Eileen Fisher clothing, Dr. Hauschka skin-care products, Dansko shoes, note cards, jewelry, sake sets and Indian pillows. At the independent Oblong Books & Music, you’re likely to catch a reading by a well-known author, thanks to the store’s proximity to Manhattan. Hammertown, with locations also in Pine Plains and Great Barrington, Mass., sells bedding and fine linens, Bella Cucina foods, Simon Pearce hand-blown glassware and other items for the home.
For a place to lay your head at night, check out the listings on the Dutchess County tourism Web site: www.dutchesstourism.com/lodging.asp.

More must-sees

At the world-famous Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, you can have a massage or facial, take a yoga or meditation class, or just walk the quiet grounds and browse the bookstore. Dia:Beacon, a 300,000-square-foot museum housing major modern art pieces, opened two years ago in a restored printing factory along the river in Beacon. Upstate Films, founded in 1972, shows independent and art-house movies in town. The Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College is the only Frank Gehry-designed performing arts center on the East Coast. Bard SummerScape’s 2005 season focuses on the musical world of American composer Aaron Copland (http://fishercenter.bard.edu).
-Sally Parker

07/29/05 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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