Beyond the Big Apple: exploring New York State

Hudson Valley

When you’ve had your fill of the action in New York City, take a road trip outside the city limits to discover the delights of the Hudson Valley

There’s no buzz in the world like the buzz of New York City, and it hits me the minute I step out of the airport and into a cab bound for the bright lights of Manhattan. It’s brash, bold and beautiful – just the way I like it – and it’s good to be back. 


24 hours in NYC

I’m staying at Lotte Palace New York, a swanky hotel on Madison Avenue. I’ve arrived late at night, so when the sun glows over the city skyline and Hudson River from my 48th-floor room the next morning, I head out for a stroll. Minutes after leaving the hotel’s gleaming brass doors behind, Manolo Blahnik shoes and Dolce & Gabbana handbags beckon to me from the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue. 

“I am not Carrie Bradshaw,” I remind myself, but it’s understandable that fiction is blurring a little with reality. With yellow cabs whizzing by and subway steam billowing out of street grates – it’s all looking very Sex and the City.

Later, as I wander through the charming streets of the West Village, I go one step further and walk down the very street where Carrie Bradshaw lived. It’s all brownstones and stoops, cafes and florists, and there’s her place, where I’ve watched her life unfold in outfit after dazzling outfit. 

I only have a day to explore this wonderful city before heading upstate and I don’t want to waste a minute. When I last visited decades ago, the Twin Towers still dominated the skyline and the pandemic hadn’t yet brought the city to its knees. 

Using my CityPass app, which is the simplest way to visit many of NYC’s attractions without having to line up for tickets, I’ve booked a visit to the 9/11 Memorial to pay my respects. The Memorial is vast, taking up eight of the 16-acre World Trade Center complex. The outdoor 9-11 Memorial Plaza features twin waterfall pools representing the tower footprints, and the names of all 2,983 people who lost their lives in the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks are inscribed around the perimeters. The recently opened Perelman Performing Arts Center is the latest addition to the memorial, the ultra-modern theatre hosting music, dance, opera, theatre and film performances that celebrate resilience.

Allow at least an hour to make your way through the 9-11 Memorial Museum, where images, audio and items (a crumpled ambulance, a briefcase, a lone shoe) bring that day back to life in horrifying detail. New York may have been through a lot but the unabashed love New Yorkers have for their city is unwavering, and this alone makes it as intoxicating as ever.

I walk the 2.3km High Line on the West Side, take the subway to do a little shopping at Rockefeller Center, and indulge in cocktails and caviar at Nubeluz (a chic new rooftop bar at The Ritz-Carlton New York). Then it’s time to hail a cab and make my way to The McKittrick Hotel for an immersive theatre experience called Sleep No More. Handing over my phone and donning a ghoulish mask, I spend two mesmerising hours exploring several floors of a staged hotel with other masked patrons as actors appear out of nowhere to act out scenes. The best way to describe Sleep No More? A brilliant, adults-only adventure that’s like stepping into someone else’s nightmare. 

Having never ventured beyond Manhattan during my last visits to New York, I’m excited to discover that the state has a whole lot more to offer just a couple of hours out of NYC. 


Exploring the Hudson Valley

If you’d rather take the train than hire a car, alight at Rhinecliff in the Hudson Valley. Stay at the gracious Mirbeau Inn & Spa Rhinebeck and you’ll be picked up from the station in a Rolls Royce and driven 3km to the hotel. A few days here will help you wind down from the hustle and bustle of NYC. Indulge in a spa treatment or two, laze in a cabana by the pool, and unwind in the steam room and sauna. 

If you’re driving, browse the shops of Rhinebeck rather than stay there, and make your way to Tivoli down the road. This charming little town is home to six restaurants, an ice-cream shop, and not much else… apart from an utterly fabulous boutique hotel. Artsy and intimate, Hotel Tivoli is the kind of place that, if you stumbled upon it on a road trip, you’d come home raving about it. 

With just 11 rooms, it feels more like staying at a very stylish friend’s house than an actual hotel. The leopard-print stair runner leads you from the hallway reception desk past incredible artwork (the artist owners’ private collection) up to your room. My quirky attic room sports a colourful Moroccan rug, bright red desk, lime-green 70s-style armchair and red steel bed with sumptuous sheets and just-right pillows that make you sigh when you dive gratefully into bed after a big day out. 

There’s so much to do in the local area that we’ve been zipping about all day. We’ve ducked into the Culinary Institute of America (students come to the CIA from around the world to train as chefs here, including Anthony Bourdain), taken off in a bi-plane for a breezy joy flight over the farms and autumn colours on either side of the Hudson River, and lingered over wine and dinner at The Corner, the farm-to-table bar and restaurant back at the hotel.

The Corner is an inviting gathering place as beautifully decorated as the rest of the hotel. In fact, as general manager Janett Pabon tells us, it was the oversized lilac chandelier the owners chose for the bar that inspired the design choices they made throughout the hotel.

“Brice and Helen Marden were both artists and they loved light, they loved colour,” Janett says. “There’s history behind each piece.”

We share filo-wrapped feta with chilli, honey and fig and an endive salad with pomegranate, gorgonzola, grapefruit and hazelnuts. I then savour every bite of my grilled butterfield branzino (fish). Like my dining companions, I claim to be too sated for dessert. When the chef brings out a gooey chocolate cookie scattered with sea salt, however, we devour it without hesitation. 

We head next door to check out the adorable ice-cream shop, but not even a reputation for having the best ice-cream in New York can create the extra room required for more than a sample (beet and berry – it’s delicious). On my must-try list for next time is the apple cider donut flavour. One of the staff members’ kids is studiously tucking into a pint of it back at the bar when we return. “Is that your favourite?” I ask. He nods. Around here, ice-cream is serious business.

You don’t have to drive far in New York State to pass by an envy-inducing mansion. If you loved Downton Abbey, make time to visit the servant quarters and opulent rooms of Staatsburgh State Historic Site. As we learn on a guided tour, the 65-room mansion and surrounding estate was a summer escape for a wealthy family and their friends during the Gilded Age (1876-1917). The Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, 15 minutes down the road near Poughkeepsie, offers more fascinating insight into the past, this time into the lives and achievements of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt. 

Poughkeepsie is one of many quaint Hudson Valley towns, each with a main street worth a wander and neighbourhoods of timber houses with rocking chairs on the porch and yellow school buses trundling by. If it all looks a bit familiar, this is probably why: more than 500 movies have been filmed in the area.

More to explore in New York State

While you’re in town, be sure to stretch your legs on the Walkway Over the Hudson. This former railway bridge is the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge and a great way to enjoy panoramic views over the surrounding countryside. You’ll have crossed the 2km bridge before you know it, though, so consider hiring a bike to explore the trails looping for kilometres on both sides of the river. 

From here, drive further north to the Finger Lakes for wine trails, hiking and some pretty incredible museums. In Corning, where the first glass light bulbs were made, be sure to spend a morning at the Corning Museum of Glass. In Rochester, just south of the US/Canadian border, revisit the toys and games of your youth at The Strong National Museum of Play – it’s fun and very interactive. Also in Rochester, you can wander through the impressive home of Kodak founder George Eastman. Eastman made photography accessible to the masses with the invention of the Kodak camera and his home is now the oldest photography museum in the world. 

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