If you live in New York City (or even if you live in Chicago), you may have discovered a great little blog called The Upstater. It's a great destination if you want to get a feel for what's out there, what the realities are of buying a place in the country, what you need to know and what questions to ask. They also have links to some really great country houses.
But if you want to know about an area, talk to people who have lived there.
So, Dear Reader, here's my personal guide to the country destinations within a reasonable distance to the city - towns I know well.
First, let's start with my home turf - Ulster County. Ulster County is just two hours from Manhattan and, to my mind, is where upstate begins. The first county exit on the Thruway is
New Paltz: Nestled beneath the Shawangunk Ridge, home of the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park, this is where you want to be if you're a climber. It's also home to the State University at New Paltz, which means it's a lively town with plenty of shops and services.
Head up Route 32 toward Kingston and you'll find
Rosendale: This link takes you to a great NYT article on the town written by an enthusiastic Rosendalian who left Brooklyn behind for small town life. Rosendale is small and funky with a lively arts scene, reasonable prices and some spectacularly beautiful places. It's also just an hour and forty five minutes from the city and on the bus route. Nearby High Falls and Stone Ridge must not be missed if you're interested in natural beauty and wonderful places to live.
Next stop? Kingston. It's the current "in" spot - with the uptown Stockade district enjoying a resurgence of interest (and buyers), more restaurants than you'll be able to visit in a month of visits and a comfortable small city vibe. Kingston's Rondout area, at the intersection of the Hudson and the Rondout, has been drawing artsy types for years now. Uptown's been flexing its muscle, with a farmer's market, the amazing O+ Festival, coffee shops, vintage clothing shops and a growing number of moviemakers and musicians. Where are the bargains? Midtown Kingston - the area between the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) and City Hall. Kingston has beautiful old brick buildings, Victorians, bungalows and multi-family houses as well as reconverted factories now opening as artist spaces.
Head west on Route 28 and in just ten minutes you're in the most famous small town in the world - Woodstock. If you think you know Woodstock, think again. This is where you'll find the Woodstock Film Festival, the Woodstock Writer's Festival, the Woodstock Playhouse, the Bearsville Theater. Sophisticated shops with designer clothes rub elbows with traditional hippie tie dye and everyone gets along. Spot celebrities, take a swim in Big Deep or hike Overlook - once you've lived in Woodstock no place else will do. Trust me - I came back after 25 years.
Farther up Route 28 is a very cool town - Phoenicia. Nestled beneath the Catskills, Phoenicia is a mountain town that will surprise you. You're heading into the Catskill Park, which is 750 thousand (yes, thousand!) acres of beautiful wilderness, but Phoenicia offers great food, interesting shops, galleries and a pharmacy that is a throwback to the 1960s. Plus there's the Esopus Creek, which, when it's behaving itself, offers tubing and some of the best fly fishing in the country.
If you stick to the Hudson, north of Kingston you'll find Saugerties. Somehow this great little town isn't on New York's radar yet - it's the last exit just before Hudson and it's well worth a stop. With a beautiful downtown with lively shops and restaurants, antiques, plus a world class horse show venue, Saugerties is always hopping. Plus, Jimmy Fallon grew up in Saugerties. What's not to love?
I've left out lots of towns, and not because they don't deserve mention. Esopus, Ulster Park, Highland (how about that Walkway Over the Hudson?), Marbletown, Olive, Hurley - they've all got amazing things to offer. Ulster County has the Hudson River and it has the Catskill Mountains. It has the Ashokan Reservoir and the Shawangunks. There's the Catskill State Park and Ellenville, it's southernmost city with the only Actor's Equity theater in the region - Shadowlands.
In my opinion, the best thing about being a realtor in this area is that my job lets me travel around the entire county - and every turn in the road offers something that makes my eyes, and my heart, really happy.
Next time, I'll fill you in on Otsego County - the beautiful farmland that should be the pride of NYS.