What’s not to love about New York City?
At least at first. But after you’ve been visiting this vibrant metropolis for a while and start finding yourself getting worn down by the constant movement, consider taking a break with a relaxing cruise upstate to visit the Hudson Valley-land of mansions. You don’t even need a car for this excursion--just, perhaps, a taxi to get you to the pier on time.
One of the most popular cruises offered by NY Waterway (the nation’s largest privately-owned ferry service) visits both Kykuit, the legendary Rockefeller Estate, and Philipsburg Manor, a working Dutch-Colonial farm.
My own tour began aboard a stable catamaran that provided a speedy hour-long cruise up the Hudson River. With the wind whipping my hair, we breezed past Harlem and the upper tip of Manhattan, then the Bronx, and on to Tarrytown. Yellow school buses there transported us to Philipsburg Manor.
Before touring the historical farm, we purchased an inexpensive and tasty deli lunch near the gift shop and enjoyed it leisurely on a sheltered patio overlooking the scenic site.
We had plenty of time to explore the farm before and after our tour to Kykuit. Upon crossing the bridge into the historic area, we stepped back in time to 1750. Interpreters dressed in era clothing performed chores such as spinning yarn, milling wheat, and feeding oxen. Guided tours of both the manor house and a fully functional, water-powered gristmill provided deeper insight. My daughter especially enjoyed the animals, which included a playful farm cat and an assortment of historic breeds of cattle, oxen, sheep, and chickens housed in a massive New World Dutch barn.
Our mini-bus to Kykuit took the scenic route through Washington Irving’s storied village of Sleepy Hollow. After passing between the impressive estate gates, we rode down a long, long drive past acres of green, green grass, disembarking in a large turn-around in front of the mansion.
Philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, who was the founder of Standard Oil, built this relatively modest mansion in 1913. It housed four generations of his family, and most of the interior furnishings and art are original to the house. Its delights include Beaux Arts gardens dotted with sculptures by Henry Moore and Alexander Calder, a majestic patio overlooking the Hudson River and beyond, and Nelson Rockefeller’s private basement art museum displaying works by big names as well as a gallery of unique tapestries based on Picasso paintings. At the conclusion of the tour, we visited the carriage house and its collection of unusual horse-drawn vehicles and classic cars.
From beginning to end, the tour was like a well-oiled piece of machinery. The Kykuit Cruise takes 7 1/2 hours. It departs on weekends from mid-May through the end of October. Shorter trips to the Gothic Revival Lyndhurst mansion and overnight trips are also available.
I was surprised to discover that many, many more major Hudson Valley mansions are open to the public. The only way to do justice to this beautiful area so rich in historical sites is to return in the future and take a more leisurely, all-encompassing car trip.
After disembarking, we were ready again to hit the streets of NYC. We walked over to West 43rd Street for a revitalizing snack at the Little Pie Company, where goodies galore, including pies and cupcakes, are baked in an open kitchen. We selected a huge slice of cherry pie to share and settled in at a sidewalk table to people-watch and reacclimatize to the pace of the city.
Enhance your mansion experience with a stay on the Upper East Side at the small, European-style Hotel Wales. Situated in Manhattan’s Carnegie Hill area and surrounded by historic mansions, Hotel Wales is as removed from Manhattan's pulse as Wales-the-country is from frenetic London's. It is as quiet a neighborhood as you’ll find in NYC. At 10 p.m. the streets are almost car-less, and only a few pedestrians are out. Still, you don’t need an alarm clock to wake up at around 7 a.m. because that’s when the honking, the garbage trucks, and the jackhammers start, making it very clear that you’re in the Big Apple.
Noise aside (it is inescapable in NYC), this small hotel built in 1902 is one of the city's oldest and has original oak wood molding, high ceilings, and decorative fireplaces. Complimentary cookies and hot drinks, including cappuccino, are available around the clock in the large Pied Piper Room named for the classic fairy tale. A breakfast buffet with live harp music is available here daily at additional charge. An adjacent reading room features framed vintage illustrations from children’s books on its walls.
Downstairs off the lobby, popular Sarabeth’s restaurant serves up fabulous breakfasts and lunches (the pastries are scrumptious) and is famous even on the West Coast for their delicious jams (don't miss the peach-apricot). The lunches are good, too. It is worth a meal visit even if you don’t stay in the hotel.
Hotel Wales is just a block from The Jewish Museum--housed inside a 1908 French Renaissance mansion and holding the country’s largest collection of Judaica--and two blocks from The Cooper-Hewitt--housed inside Andrew Carnegie’s 1903 mansion and holding the Smithsonian Institution’s National Design Museum collection.
Many more of Manhattan’s finest museums are located up and down Fifth Avenue in this leafy strip known as the Museum Mile. Fitting to this story, one of them--the Metropolitan Museum of Art--is built on the site of one of Rockefeller’s former townhouses.
I love New York.