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Winter parades and a nunnery of notables near New York

Where to go outside New York

A city that never sleeps can get a bit tiring. Head out of the bustle to find peace, beauty and great food in the surrounding towns and mountains 

A city that never sleeps can get a bit tiring. Head out of the bustle to find peace, beauty and great food in the surrounding towns and mountains 

December/January 2017

1 PHILADELPHIA
70 MINUTES
BY EXPRESS TRAIN 

Philadelphia could be New York’s less manic sister, delivering its share of world-class culture, food, architecture and history (the Declaration of Independence was signed here in 1776). It is at its best in winter, when skating rinks pop up throughout the city, and historic neighbourhoods like Chestnut Hill are prettily lit for Christmas. The colourful Mummer’s Day Parade on New Year’s Day, believed to be the oldest festival of its kind in America, involves costumed revellers marching through the streets.
       If you like the intimacy of the Frick, you will love the Barnes Foundation, whose collection houses works by the biggest names in 19th- and 20th-century art, including Picasso, Renoir and Van Gogh. Leave Penn Station by 5.30 on a Friday evening and you can be ensconced in the gallery by 7.30, with an hour and a half’s retinal therapy before dinner (it closes at 9pm on first and select Fridays).
       Book into the Rittenhouse 1715 for a quiet night in an elegant setting just steps from the celebrated Rittenhouse Square and its feast of restaurants. Whether or not you feel obliged to tackle a Philly cheese steak in a tin-ceilinged tavern, you can’t easily eat badly in this city.
       For the return trip, hire a car and drive via Lancaster, Intercourse (yes) and Paradise – the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country – for a glimpse of the simple lifestyle of the Amish, Mennonite and Brethren communities; their famous quilts and sturdy furniture make excellent gifts.

2 TANNERSVILLE
90 MINUTES
BY CAR 

For great skiing within easy reach of New York, head for the high Catskills. Drive via Palenville, stopping for a light lunch at Circle W. The owner looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
       If it’s not too crowded at the Kaaterskill Falls, it’s worth parking and hiking up the slope to feel the spray on your face and to take in the view that inspired the Hudson River School painters. Farther up the twisting road is a mecca for ice climbers; the brave can join their dangerous escapades during the Catskill Ice Festival (Jan 29th-Feb 1st 2017).
       Push on into Tannersville with its vividly painted, frontier-like buildings; walking down main street feels as if you have strayed back into the Gold Rush era. The well-connected members of the Onteora Club (or affiliated clubs in NYC) can rent vast “cottages”, or stay in its Field House, sinking into deep armchairs after a day on the slopes. The club has long been a hub for lovers of the decorative arts, and past visitors include Mark Twain.
       If you can’t stay there, there will be room instead at the Deer Mountain Inn (from $225 a night), which has a timbered bar, roaring fires and delicious food. Once it snows head to Hunter Mountain and Windham Mountain resorts. East Coast skiing tends to be hard and fast, but there’s enough variety to keep a downhill skier happy for a day. If you’re more inclined to the horizontal, try Mountain Trails Cross-Country Ski Centre.

3 TIVOLI, NY 
1  HOUR 40 MINUTES
 BY TRAIN TO RHINECLIFF THEN 15 MIN BY TAXI 

As soon as you pass under the George Washington Bridge, emerging into the spectacular scenery of the Hudson River Valley, the hustle of the city melts away. Arrive at the Suminski Innski (thesuminskiinnski.com, from $110 a night) for sunset, and as the rays flood through the ruby glass panels around the door you’ll feel a benediction to rival Manhattanhenge. Sitting on the terrace of this boho B’n’B, you can look out across the Hudson to the Saugerties Lighthouse (above) at the hem of the Catskill Mountains (but bring earplugs as trains run past several times a night).
       A short walk up the hill is the village of Tivoli, packed with stores and bars and an improbable array of good restaurants – Santa Fe, Panzur, Tivoli General. For a treat, try the Corner, the restaurant of the coolly beautiful Hotel Tivoli. Founded by Brice Marden, an artist, and run by his wife, Helen, the hotel and its restaurant sport impeccably hip designer furniture, Sputnik light fixtures and a Murano glass chandelier at the crest of the stairs.
       If you can peel yourself away, catch a concert at Bard College’s Frank Gehry-designed Centre for the Performing Arts, or head on to Rhinebeck for an indie movie at Upstate Films. The December Sinterklaas parade is magical: 250 masked actors, magicians and performers dancing in the street. Drawing on the Hudson Valley’s Dutch Heritage and Solstice traditions, it’s a shot of holiday spirit.

4 BETHLEHEM, CONNECTICUT
2 HOURS
BY CAR 

If you’re going to make a pilgrimage at Christmas, it might as well be to a town named Bethlehem. Leave enough time to wend through some of Connecticut’s most spectacular scenery, dotted with pretty towns. Litchfield has a soothing atmosphere of long-settled wealth, with white colonial and Greek Revival homes lining the elm-shaded streets. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, was born and raised here, and Alexander Hamilton’s killer, Aaron Burr, earned the first ever law degree at the Tapping Reeve House and Law School. If you arrive at lunchtime, head to the West Street Grill for fine American fare.
       The main draw of Bethlehem is the Abbey Regina Laudis, a self-sufficient Benedictine community set in an alpine landscape just outside town. The abbess, Mother Lucia Kuppens, has a PhD in English, her predecessor, Mother Dolores Hart, gave Elvis his first screen kiss, and many of the sisterhood had high-powered jobs and fascinating lives before joining the order.
       The holiday centrepiece is the 18th-century Neapolitan crèche, populated with an array of animals and figures. The tree-lighting ceremony is beautifully sung by the nuns, who are permitted to mingle briefly with the congregation after the service. For outsiders, it’s a quietly cheering chance to visit the friendly face of fundamentalism: a religious community lit by an unassailable conviction in the goodness of God.

5 SHELTER ISLAND
2 HOURS 30 MINUTES
BY CAR 

There’s no place better to while away hours by the sea than Shelter Island. Nestled between Long Island’s North and South Forks, it is separated from the competitive wealth and glamorous dissatisfaction of the Hamptons, and accessible only by a 15-minute ferry ride or by private boat. Although there are pockets of privilege, it’s low-key, even in season, when you can bake on Sunset Beach, cycle on quiet lanes or kayak up hidden inlets.
       But when the wind whips up and icebergs spike the Long Island Sound, it is more special still. You can take bracing, salt-sprayed walks in the magical 2,100 acres of the Mashomack Preserve, skate on the frozen pond and hike or fly kites along empty shingle beaches.
       For a peaceful place to stay, try the House on Chase Creek, or, for a touch of luxury, the Ram’s Head Inn, heading to the Shelter Island Heights Pharmacy – for eggs, bagels and overheard conversation. At the heart of this idyll lies Sylvester Manor, a house of mythic history and prettiness. Enter through the gates (open to the public Mon-Fri, 9-5) and you are in a magical world: the drive winds past gnarled trunks until the view opens to reveal a 17th-century yellow mansion so well-settled it appears to have grown there. If you come by the north ferry, leave by the south, stopping for lunch at Sag Harbour, and ending the weekend with a Bloody Bullshot and a long lunch in the old-world American Hotel.

2 Readers' comments

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Michael@halaby.aero - January 6th 2017

Not sure why there is a photo of Montauk lighthouse for Shelter Island? Did anyone actually visit Shelter Island for this review? No one who goes there - and likes the place - ever recommends Sunset Beach.

Kevin in EH - November 26th 2016

What is this "Sag Harbour" you speak of? I am aware of a "Sag Harbor," however.