Panoramas and palatial estates, civilization and wilderness still rubbing shoulders, and a majestic river bathed in golden light are the hallmarks of the Hudson River Valley. Close enough for a day trip, different enough to feel you've really been away.
It's for good reason that the Hudson River Valley has been called "The landscape that defined America." Home to some of the country's first European settlers, during the American Revolution it was the scene of fierce and decisive battles, and the fortifications at West Point (now home to the U.S. Military Academy) were dubbed the "Key to the Continent." Later, its mountainous vistas provided inspiration for painters Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and other founders of the Hudson River School of Art who celebrated the area's unique light.
Springwood, home of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Today, the Valley's past is ripe for exploration. Dozens of house museums trace its history, from the sturdy dwellings of early Huguenot settlers in New Paltz to the grand estates of captains of industry standing proudly on the shores of the Hudson. The fully-furnished, 54-room Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park (a few minutes outside of Poughkeepsie) provides the best glimpse into a past world of the elite. Just down the road is elegant Springwood, the lifelong home of president Franklin D. Roosevelt. The 300 acre site, with its gardens and trails, also contains the Presidential Library and Museum which regularly hosts enthralling exhibitions.
Lovers of contemporary art will be captivated by the region's newest museum, Dia:Beacon. This enormous space exhibits the work of 23 late-20th-century masters in custom-designed galleries. At Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, the exhibition space is defined by sky and land with large, welded steel sculptures sited on 500 acres of lawns, fields and woodlands.
At the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, there's art in the Frank Ghery designed building itself, hosting dance, theatre, cinema, opera, and classical music performances.
The Hudson Valley is a great place to enjoy gorgeous scenery. Its mountains—the Hudson Highlands, Catskills, and Shawangunks (whose cliffs are a mecca for rock climbers)—offer hundreds of miles of trails for hiking, biking, and skiing.
Vintage airplanes take to the sky at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.
The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, a few minutes from the Amtrak station in Rhinecliff, not only puts vintage planes through their barnstorming paces, it provides some rare vistas. You can book flights in an open-cockpit biplane that soars over the Hudson River and the surrounding countryside for a true bird's-eye view. Up the road, at the Dutchess County Fair Grounds something exciting is almost always going on, be it the Antiques Fair, Crafts at Rhinebeck, or the County Fair itself.
The sloop Clearwater sailing past the Mid-Hudson Bridge near Poughkeepsie.
Up the line, in Hudson, NY and vicinity, the activity level is high. This spring, Hudson placed fifth in Budget Travel magazine's list of the "Ten Coolest Small Towns in the USA." Part of the attraction is to be found in the 60 or so antique shops, the charmingly restored period houses, and the ever-growing roster of fine restaurants.
Warren Street, which begins near the Amtrak train station, is the main stroll for shopping, dining, gallery hopping, and cultural events. The 1855 Hudson Opera House presents theater, art, and musical productions (but no opera yet) as its restoration continues.
Plan to stay for a bit: Valley hostelries run the gamut from the grand Victorian Mohonk Mountain House to dude ranches, charming bed & breakfasts and soul restoring spas.