Billy Joel famously sang of taking the greyhound down the Hudson River line in his iconic song “New York State of Mind”, but there is something uniquely extraordinary of cruising along route 87 and making your way upstate.
As the concrete jungle gives way to wide open roads with thick forestry and leaves that vibrantly change its colors in the early autumn, one thing is quite clear: Toto, we’re not in Manhattan anymore.
To many who haven’t traveled outside of New York City, Upstate New York is a nebulous area surrounding the prime destination.
I Heart New York, though, a government- funded tourism agency supported by the state, is tirelessly working to combat that misconception with several offices worldwide, and an unprecedented budget of $60 million allocated by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“Probably our main charge is to get the world to know about New York and that it’s more than Manhattan,” Markley Wilson, the organization’s director of International Marketing, told The Jerusalem Post during a press tour of the region.
But not only is upstate New York more than Manhattan, it’s wholly different.
Surrounded by nature, stepped in history, and with a plethora of farm-to-table dining establishments to choose from, Upstate New York a world away from the hectic hustle and bustle of the Big Apple.
In terms of food, farm-to-table dining is not just a trend in Upstate New York, it’s a way of life.
Take, for instance, the Pennings Orchard Farm Market, located in the scenic Warwick, NY, a small town of roughly 30,000 in the state’s Hudson Valley. Located on 100 acres of sprawling green farmland, owners Steve and Jill Pennings pride themselves on their locally grown produce. Its pub and grill offers over 30 locally grown products such as hormone-free meat, eggs, hand-crafted soaps and homemade jams.
Apples are the flagship product of this diverse establishment, with the apple-picking season running from September to November. The farm is proud of its rich family history dating back to the 1970s, when Steve Penning’s father, Jake, established a modest dairy farm as an immigrant from Holland. Today the farm is still very much a family enterprise, with Steve’s son responsible for cultivating its new (and booming) hard cider business.
“Warwick and the Hudson Valley have arrived – we’re on the map,” Pennings said of the tourists from the tristate area who happily flock to the farm in the autumn.
As far as accommodations are concerned, there are charming bed and breakfasts galore in upstate New York, with many of them offering their own personal touches to make a guest feel right at home.
Warwick’s Sleepy Valley Inn, for example, is another family-run enterprise that puts the comfort of its guests as its No. 1 priority. Owned by John Christison and master pastry chef Peggy Murphy, the former barn has been retrofitted to a charming inn with four rustic rooms. Each room comes equipped with a queen-sized bed, whirlpool tub and gas fireplace. During the late autumn, one can enjoy a homemade breakfast served by a crackling fire in the inn’s fireplace. And at a rate of $145-$165, a romantic getaway for two has never been more reasonable.
Nestled in the bucolic town of Warwick, NY, the Inn is a short distance from unique mom-and-pop shops with goods you’ll never see in your neighborhood shopping mall; one of the country’s few remaining drive-in movie theaters; and the massive Woodbury Common outlet which has over 200 name brand stores.
“We don’t want to see Warwick boom, we just want to keep it strong the way it is,” explained Michael Johndrow, head of Warwick’s chamber of commerce, from his office (with a touch of small-town charm) located in a non-functional red caboose.
“New Yorkers want to get away from the cement, and the hustle and bustle for a nice weekend here,” he said.
Of course, a well-rounded vacation requires more than copious amounts of fresh food and a warm bed.
To that end, upstate New York offers its fair share of history and Mother Nature.
The lush Finger Lakes is a three-hour drive west and is one of New York’s most prized destinations. Named after 11 long narrow lakes in central New York which resemble long, dainty fingers, a visit is a must for those who love the outdoors.
A refreshing hike along Watkins Glenn State Park, for example, offers a glimpse of the Finger Lakes in all its natural beauty. During the two-mile hike in the mountain gorge, one can take in 19 majestic waterfalls.
For history buffs, a tour of the sprawling West Point Military Academy is a must-see on an Upstate New York to do list. The university, which prides itself on alumni such as Buzz Aldrin and Dwight D. Eisenhower, is located on 16,000 acres 50 miles north of NYC in Orange County.
West Point offers condensed one- or twohour guided tours to give one a snapshot of how the future best and brightest of America get their education. Some sights include the Cadet Chapel, a majestic example of Gothic architecture, and The Plain – a lush, green parade field where cadets hold several ceremonies throughout the year.
Lastly, for those who want a dash of culture, the Corning Museum of glass is a sight to behold. At the museum located in Corning, a four-hour drive northwest of New York, one can see the beauty of glass in all its different incarnations. As a trip to the museum demonstrates, glass is surprisingly versatile. From the time of the Pharaohs to avant-garde artists of today, visitors can see how glass has continued to be both an artistic and functional staple throughout the ages. Those who are artistically inclined can even enroll in a glass-making workshop to get a sense of the basics of the art.
It may be true of NYC that if you make it there you can make it anywhere, but in Upstate New York, one can take a back seat, relax and just enjoy oneself.
The writer was a guest of New York State Tourism Board and United Airlines.