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CAPE MAY New Jersey

Known for its Victorian “painted ladies” and spotless beaches, this historic resort town has an atmosphere all its own.

By Shannon Gallagher

As a kid I spent many a Christmas break in Key West. Although I could not partake in the Duval Street debauchery that has made the continental United States’ southernmost city infamous, I was enraptured by the funky beach community and its unique, not-quite-island vibe.

Cape May, New Jersey’s southernmost destination, has the same quirky ambience. Though it more closely resembles the geography of other Northeastern summer hot spots like Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, or Montauk, there’s a decidedly everyman feel to this tiny oceanside community, and the best part is, it’s only a four-hour drive away from the Hudson Valley.

The trip to Cape May is relatively painless, and you’re talking to someone who has spent her adult life trying to avoid New Jersey highways at all costs. About halfway down the Garden State Parkway the surrounding development all but disappears, and surprising glimpses of water make you almost forget you’re in Jersey altogether. Nevertheless, by the time you reach Exit 0 you’re glad to know “Reality Stops Here,” and it does. Driving into Cape May is like stepping through the rabbit hole into a Frankie and Annette beach party, but circa 1900. Famous for its “painted ladies” (Victorian houses decked out in three or more fanciful colors), Cape May has a spooky, dollhouse feel that — when combined with the salt air, sand, and sunshine — gives the place an undeniably offbeat charm.

Cape May photosShore points: The Cape May area’s many charms include colorful Victorian-era homes (left) and the Mad Batter’s sunny dining area

Cape May photos

I stayed at the Carroll Villa, an Italian villa-style hotel built in 1882 and located less than a block away from the beach. Harry Kulkowitz, who bought the business in 1976, added the building’s now-famous awning when he opened the Mad Batter, a three-squares-a-day restaurant that occupies most of the first floor. Today, Harry’s son Mark runs the bed and breakfast with his wife Pam. Under their direction the creaky old hotel has gotten quite a facelift, including eclectic new wallpaper throughout and a few suites with modern décor (like the Wizard of Oz suite). While it has maintained its Victorian charm, the historic inn now offers all the fluff we digital age people have come to expect, like flat screen TVs, refrigerators, and private bathrooms (for which they had to sacrifice 13 rooms, bringing the total to 21). “We are constantly trying to figure out a way to connect modern and Victorian,” says Kulkowitz.

The heart of the Carroll Villa is the Mad Batter. “It’s sort of like Cheers,” Kulkowitz laughs. “We like to have a good time. We have a reputation.” That reputation is twofold: not only do they apparently serve the best brunch in Cape May, they are a local favorite all year-round, even in high-tourist season. The drink menu features the most extensive selection of fruity martinis I’ve ever laid eyes on. Were I not pregnant I would have had to indulge in one of their many frozen cocktails; the Mad Batter Slammer (a Southern Comfort and tropical fruit concoction) sounded pretty tempting. Brunch was fantastic (as was dinner), and the relaxed, festive atmosphere was half the fun of it. While both menus are pretty classic, there are a number of seafood options, especially the jumbo lump crab dishes that practically scream “fresh and delicious” right from the page.

Cape May’s collection of horseshoe crabs and the boardwalk in nearby Wildwood also garner attentionCape May photosCrab photograph by Lena Bernatsky. Wildwood photo courtesy Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority

Well-fed and rested is a fine way to approach a day in Cape May. While there is plenty to see (and buy) just strolling about town, having a car is helpful to get to some of the more far-flung sites. Sunset Beach, with its legendary sunsets, is also home to the wreckage of the Atlantus, a concrete ship built during World War I that became stuck on a sandbar just 150 feet off the coast. Here, beachcombers can also find Cape May “diamond,” pieces of quartz crystal littered throughout the sand that can be polished and faceted to resemble an actual “girl’s best friend.” Top off the day with the Summer Evening Flag Ceremony, held every night at dusk between Memorial Day and Labor Day. A group of children (the spots are sometimes reserved a year in advance) lowers Old Glory and folds it military-style as a recording of Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” plays in the background.

Another good coastal spot is Higbee Beach, a popular wildlife management area (and a former nude beach) known for its horseshoe crab mating ground and exceptional birding. A 199-step climb to the top of the historic Cape May Lighthouse offers one-of-a-kind views. The Cape May Bird Observatory is unparalleled (as many birders might already know), thanks to the sheer volume and diversity of birds in the area.

But if you’re looking for a little action, head back up the Garden State to Wildwood, home to the best boardwalk on the Jersey Shore. The famous attraction is a two-mile stretch of rides (more than Disneyland), carnival games, and all the fast food you would expect. Go during the day and stroll along the Atlantic, or wait for evening to take in all the neon lights. Just make sure you don’t eat too many funnel cakes.

Cape May
Carroll Villa (and Mad Batter): 877-275-8452
Cape May Lighthouse: 609-884-5404
Cape May Bird Observatory: 609-861-0700

 

Next stop: Bash Bish Falls and Lenox, Massachusetts

 

 

Bash Bish FallsConverging cascade: Bash Bish Falls’ twin branches are separated by boulders made of schist and granite

Photograph courtesy of Gene Peach/Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Bash Bish Falls State Park

BASH BISH FALLS/LENOX Massachusetts

A dramatic — and easy-to-reach — waterfall is just one of several attractions in the nearby Berkshires.

By Rita Ross

“Bash Bish is an all-star attraction guaranteed to satisfy,” raved one on-line hiking guide. That’s high praise indeed for a mere waterfall, but this well-known cascade — the highest in all of Massachusetts — has legions of fans.

“It’s such a beautiful falls,” says Paul Antoniazzi, park supervisor at the falls’ home, the 4,000-plus–acre Mount Washington State Forest. “Bash Bish is seductive; it really draws you in.”

Legend has it that an Indian maiden named Bash Bish was accused of being unfaithful. In punishment, she was strapped to a canoe and sent tumbling over the falls to her death. To this day, they say, you can see her mysterious image in the falls’ mist and hear the splashing water murmur her name.

Bash Bish is tucked away in the southwestern corner of the Bay State, just over the state line from New York and not far from northwestern Connecticut. Although it is no Niagara, in some ways it shares a similar mystique. Crowds flock to the falls on summer weekends, and it’s often been the subject of photographs and paintings (Hudson River School artist John Frederick Kensett painted at least five landscapes that feature it). And in 1858, tightrope walker the Great Blondin painstakingly toed his way along a wire above the Bash Bish gorge — the same feat he famously accomplished the following year over Niagara Falls. The stuntman reportedly commented that Bash Bish’s boulder-strewn chasm made it the scarier of the two tightrope-walking feats.

Dramatic drop-off

Theatrics aside, Mother Nature’s creation is the real attraction at this spot. The falls begins as a small mountain spring on Mount Washington, then flows into Bash Bish Brook amid an ecosystem that developed after the retreat of the glaciers about 13,000 years ago. The waterway then travels through a series of forest gorges until it reaches its dramatic drop-off: a plunge of about 200 feet total, through the famous twin cascades (divided by an outcropping of schist and granite) and into a sparkling pool about 60 feet below.

Edith Wharton’s 50-acre estate, The Mount, is situated in nearby Lenox, MassachusettsThe Mount

Vegetation thrives near the falls. Along with the soft moss that flourishes in the mist, you’ll see hemlock, oak, maple, and beech trees nearby. A variety of wildflowers, including pink lady’s slipper in the springtime, carpet the forest floor. The surrounding area is also a prime habitat for deer and wild turkey — and deeper into the woods, bear or bobcat. “One of the most unique aspects of the region is our population of timber rattlesnakes,” says Antoniazzi. He notes that the reptiles are endangered, and thus “should always be respected” by humans.

Access points

You don’t have to be a bushwhacker to reach Bash Bish Falls. The falls are accessible from Route 41 in the town of Egremont, Mass. They’re about four miles from Copake Falls, NY and 14 miles from Great Barrington, Mass. There are two main paths; one is an easy three-quarter-mile hike from the lower parking area on the New York side. “You gain elevation slowly this way, so it’s good for kids and older people,” notes Antoniazzi. This path parallels the river that flows out from the falls; many visitors favor this route since you can hear the enticing sound of the cascade getting louder as you approach.

The second popular entry point is via a one-third-mile trail which descends from the upper parking lot. It affords a dramatic view of the falls from above but requires a fairly steep hike back when you leave, and it can be slippery during rainy periods. An extra five-minute climb to the “Eagle’s Nest” allows you to spy all of the feeder falls that contribute to Bash Bish — well worth the extra effort.

Folks visit the falls all year-round, but it’s most popular in warm weather and during leaf-peeping season. “Yes, summer weekends, especially in July and August, can be crowded,” Antoniazzi says, noting that many visitors make a point of stopping at the falls when they’re in the vicinity for other events. “We’ve had times when there was a bluegrass music festival nearby, when close to 1,000 people made the trek to the falls in a single day.” Go early or late in the day to boost your odds of solitary time at the falls.

“We get people from all walks of life, from all around the world,” Antoniazzi says. “Lots of local people say their parents brought them here as kids, and now they bring their own children. And with the economy the way it is, more people are taking day trips. We’re expecting a lot more visitors this year.”

Guests picnic outside the “shed” at TanglewoodTanglewoodPhotograph courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra

Don’t take the plunge

Although the falls empties into an enticing pool at its base, Antoniazzi sighs when the subject of swimming is brought up. “It’s strictly forbidden,” he says. “We can’t emphasize enough that the falls can be extremely dangerous.” Several swimmers and climbers have suffered tragic, sometimes fatal, accidents over the years, and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has added fences at strategic points, along with printed warnings and patrols. If swimming is a must-do on your agenda, Antoniazzi suggests the facilities in nearby Taconic State Park.

The outdoor oriented, Antoniazzi says, often combine a stop at the falls with hiking the 30 miles of trails on Mount Washington, or visiting Mount Everett (the latter hike boasts a panoramic view that takes in three states).
Camping isn’t allowed right by the falls, but backpack camping is offered in the state forest on a first-come, first-served basis. Seeking a bit more in camping creature comforts? The adjacent Taconic State Park offers drive-in sites for tents and camper vehicles, and cabins for rent at the Copake Falls area. A nearby half-mile hike to Sunset Rock offers great vistas.

After the falls

A something-for-everyone Berkshires vacation itinerary might include a stop at Bash Bish, then a 45-minute drive north on Route 7 to Lenox.

The Lenox-Stockbridge area was discovered by well-heeled visitors from Boston and New York in the 1800s. The region has since been a magnet for those seeking a respite from city life — but who also want fine world-class cultural activities, cozy B&Bs, art galleries, antique shops, and fabulous food.

Culture, close by: The artist’s self-portrait at the Norman Rockwell MuseumNorman Rockwell Museum photoPhotograph courtesy of Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust

The most famous regional venue is Tanglewood. The concert series held at the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra dates back to 1937. The season’s 300,000 attendees savor dozens of classical, pop, and jazz events in an idyllic outdoor setting. (This year’s lineup includes performances by Garrison Keillor, James Taylor, Chris Botti, Yo-Yo Ma, and nearly all of classical music’s best-known artists.) Tanglewood offers several ticket options, including a nifty order-ahead package deal: two lawn tickets to a summer concert (subject to availability) and two passes to the nearby Clark Art Institute museum, all for $45.

Another new Berkshires joint-ticketing program is just for art lovers: One $25 ticket provides admission to the nostalgic Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge — currently celebrating its 40th anniversary — and the contemporary art museum MASS MoCA in nearby North Adams, where a major Sol LeWitt retrospective is on view.

Keep up with the Joneses with a day trip to the Mount in Lenox, where the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton (best known for The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth) made her home. The sprawling 50-acre estate and gardens — all designed by Wharton herself — overlooks Laurel Lake and is open for tours for $16 and under.

Where to sleep and dine

For accommodations, you’ll find dozens of B&Bs and cute inns in this part of the Berkshires; many function as popular eateries, too. Examples in Lenox include the Village Inn, a cozy Colonial retreat with 32 guest rooms dating to 1771, and the Brook Farm Inn, where the owners provide a poem of the day, as well as afternoon tea.

Bash Bish Falls/Berkshires
Bash Bish Falls (Mount Washington State Forest): 413-528-0330
Taconic State Park: 518-329-3993
• General Berkshires info
Tanglewood: 617-266-1494
Norman Rockwell Museum: 413-298-4100
MASS MoCA: 413-662-2111
The Mount: 413-551-5111
Village Inn: 800-253-0917
Brook Farm Inn: 800-285-7638

 

Next stop: Lime Rock Park and Lakeville, Connecticut

 

 

Lime Rock ParkPhotographs courtesy of Lime Rock Park

LIME ROCK PARK/LAKEVILLE Connecticut

“Civilized” car-racing is a big draw in northwestern Connecticut’s Litchfield County.

By Rita Ross

Picture this: You pile the kids in the car with a picnic basket, blankets, and lawn chairs to enjoy a soothing spin along picture-perfect, northwestern Connecticut country roads. After arriving at a bucolic, 325-acre park, you settle on a grassy slope, unpack your gear — and spend the afternoon scoping out Ferraris, Porsches, BMWs, and other automotive beauties as they whiz by on a circuit below.

This out-of-the-ordinary day-trip destination is Lime Rock Park, a world-renowned track that’s a mecca for car-racing enthusiasts but has a decidedly genteel air. Think well-manicured polo club instead of scruffy, greasy auto track.

“We’re definitely not your typical facility. In fact, we’ve been called ‘the Tanglewood of auto racing,’ ” says Lime Rock’s Marketing and Public Relations Manager Renea Topp.

You won’t find any packed grandstand here — hillside seating is the preferred vantage point — and no beer-swilling crowds of noisy gear-heads. “Spectators love it because the racing is a huge part of Lime Rock Park, but it’s not the only thing,” says Topp. “You’ll see families with their coolers here for the day. It’s a friendly atmosphere.”

She says the track conducted a survey a while back that asked people why they come to Lime Rock Park. “Racing was about seventh on the list,” she says. The main reason: the scenic atmosphere. “Another top one was the beautiful drive to get here.”

Lime Rock Park photosAuto pilots: Race car drivers come through the first turn (above left) and straightaway at Lime Rock Park as fans watch from the grassy “grandstand”

One especially cool thing about Lime Rock: You can get up-close-and-personal with the cars and drivers. “Even during the big professional events, when the drivers are hard-core and serious about the race, they still enjoy letting fans come up and touch the cars in the paddock (where cars are worked on between races) and talk to them,” says Topp. “The kids, especially, go nuts.”

The unique hillside seating arrangement offers fans a 60-percent vantage point of the 1.53-mile, roughly oval track, which was recently repaved and upgraded. “It’s not like you have to watch the race on a TV screen like at some big tracks; you can actually see the cars go through their paces. It takes something like 43 seconds per lap,” according to Topp. Admission varies from $10-$80 per person, depending on the day or event. Parking is free, and there’s no charge for kids under 12. RV and tent camping is allowed on certain weekends, and the park has three concession stands and a VIP tent for special events. “It’s unique and fun for people, even if they don’t know anything about the cars,” Topp says.

Crowd pleasers

Two of Lime Rock’s biggest summer events are the American LeMans Northeast Grand Prix series (July 17-18) and the Vintage Festival on Labor Day weekend. The LeMans features top-echelon, high-performance cars driven by pros from around the world — these babies can do 180 m.p.h. down the straightway and 60 on the turns. The Vintage Festival offers a chance to check out top-of-the-line, amazingly preserved classic vehicles, some of which are worth millions of dollars.

Although Lime Rock isn’t NASCAR-oriented, they do honor all motor-heads by holding one NASCAR-sanctioned stock car event during the season. “The cool thing is that you’ll see young drivers looking to make their big break in the NASCAR circuit,” says Topp. “Then, the next year, they’re in the top-tier nationals.”

Get your motor running

The Lime Rock track is open to individual drivers at certain times. But if you catch the bug and want to race, don’t expect to just pull off the street in your muscle car and zoom around the track.

“The best way is to join a car club,” says Topp. Lime Rock rents the track on various days to different clubs (there are several in the region, including a mid-Valley–based Porsche club). For an average rate of $300 per car, club members can race on the professional circuit. You’re required to go out with an instructor until you feel confident, says Topp; then you’re matched with drivers of equal ability. On a given day you might run one or two 20-minute sessions in the morning, with a lunch break; then more pulse-pounding circuits in the afternoon. “There’s no typical driver,” says Topp. “It runs the gamut from men and women who are passionate about cars, who participate every chance they get, to others who might only want to drive on a race track once in their lives.”

But for the car-crazed with the time and the cash, Lime Rock has been a draw since its 1957 opening. Legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite was there on opening day, and the late actor Paul Newman was a Lime Rock regular. “He was a member of the Sports Car Club of America; it’s the highest level of amateur racing,” says Topp. “We’ve always strived to respect the members’ privacy. Paul Newman, for instance, liked coming to Lime Rock because he wouldn’t be mobbed by fans here. People were respectful. It was like his own backyard playground where he could get away.”

Lime Rock ParkThe Michelin Man makes a pit stop at Lime Rock

Top racers

The track is often used by the Skip Barber Racing School during the week. The eponymous school was started in 1975 by Lime Rock’s president and owner, a Harvard grad who held 32 track records around the U.S. The school has trained more than one-third of all Indy 500 competitors and one-fourth of the current NASCAR Sprint Cup racers. It’s since expanded to locations at more than 20 auto tracks nationwide.

In addition to the racing school and private club drives, Lime Rock also offers driving classes to those who don’t necessarily have Indy 500 dreams. “We get a number of younger kids whose parents want them to learn good driving techniques,” says Topp. “The instructors let people know the seriousness of driving fast — that it’s okay here at the track under a controlled environment, but out there on the road every day, you really need to know how to control your car safely.”

While some might argue that auto racing isn’t an ecologically sound activity, Topp says there’s a growing initiative to go greener in the racing world. “There’s a push to build more efficient cars, and many of them use ethanol fuel,” she says.
She adds that Lime Rock is conscious of potential sound pollution, too. It’s located across the street from an old church, and the track has catered to community wishes by maintaining a no-racing-on-Sunday schedule for 50 years; lower-decibel events, like auto shows, are held instead.

“Lime Rock is a great weekend destination,” Topp adds. “You can take the kids for the day and drive home and be back in time for dinner. In fact, our motto is that we’re ‘the fastest day-trip ever.’ ”
But some visitors stretch a visit into a two- or three-day trip, she says. “There might be a racing event on say, a Friday and Saturday. Then people might stay in the Berkshires on Sunday and go to a museum, or antiques shopping. Usually, the guys want to go to the track, and the women enjoy the museums or shopping. So there’s something for everybody. It’s a win-win situation.”

Lake WononscopomucLovely to look at, difficult to pronounce: A view of Lake Wononscopomuc, a popular swimming, fishing, and boating spot

Photograph courtesy of Interlaken Inn

Nearby

Lime Rock is located just outside Lakeville and Salisbury in Litchfield County. Lakeville offers swimming, fishing, and boating on Lake Wononscopomuc; access to the Appalachian Trail; golfing; biking; rafting on the Housatonic river (with an easy stretch for novices and whitewater options for thrill-seekers); shopping; galleries; dining; and more.

Salisbury features clapboard estates, cute shops, and the nation’s oldest library. With four art galleries in the area, the region has been dubbed “Little Chelsea.” You’ll also find plenty of antiques shops along Route 7.

When it comes to accommodations, a top choice is the Interlaken Inn resort and conference center in Lakeville. The inn, with 86 rooms in five buildings, offers extensive spa services, hiking, skiing, music and comedy shows at the Infinity Music Hall and Bistro, and fine dining at Morgan’s Restaurant. Romantics delight in the various couples packages, which include massages, horse-drawn carriage rides, and picnics by the lake. Other popular spots to stay include the Earl Grey Bed & Breakfast in Salisbury, an 1850s home with two cozy rooms, one-and-a-half acres, and a barn; the Wake Robin Inn, a stately white mansion with 23 rooms, opened in 1899 as the Taconic School for Girls; and the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, with 26 rooms, located in a historic 1806 house.

Lime Rock Park/Lakeville
Lime Rock Park: 860-435-5000
Rafting
Interlaken Inn: 800-222-2909
• Earl Grey Bed & Breakfast: 860-435-1007
Wake Robin Inn: 860-435-2000
White Hart Inn: 800-832-0041

 

Next stop: Hull-O Farms, Greene County

 

 

cows at Hull-O FarmsA mooving experience: Caring for cows — and admiring the green pastures they graze in — are some of the pleasures found at Hull-O Farms

Photograph courtesy of Hull-O Farms

HULL-O FARMS Greene County

This working farm offers families a hands-on opportunity to get back to the land.

By Greg Ryan

I’m closing in on the Thruway’s Exit 21 — the turnoff I need to reach my destination, Hull-O Farms in Durham, Greene County — when the default jingle on my Verizon sounds off. I recognize the number: It’s Sherry Hull, the co-owner of Hull-O, with whom I’ve spoken once or twice in preparation for our interview. I don’t hazard the safety and legal risks inherent in cell-phone conversation at 65 miles per hour, so I allow the call to go to voicemail instead. I figure it’s a reminder about directions or a heads-up she’s running a few minutes late.

But no: “Hi Greg, it’s Sherry from Hull-O. If it’s not too much trouble, would you mind stopping by a store and picking us up a gallon of milk? If it’s not too much trouble. Thanks.”

Now, I haven’t worked in magazines for long, but this was definitely a first. Pick up milk for an interviewee? I might be miffed under different circumstances, especially considering — irony of ironies — that Hull-O keeps several milking cows. But coming from Sherry, the request felt warm, welcoming, inclusive. I could tell she saw me less like a walking tape recorder and more like an actual human being. I was happy to do it. When I arrived at the farm a half-hour later, gallon of whole milk in hand, Sherry met me with a cold glass of water and a plate of blueberry muffins, a (delicious) sign of her gratitude.

Other guests at Hull-O might expect similar neighborly treatment. Sherry and husband Frank (or Miss Sherry and Farmer Frank, as visitors call them) and their 300-acre farm are part of a growing agritourism industry, offering vacationers the chance to return to our region’s agrarian roots by living out the simple life on a farm for a few days. Visitors, most of whom are families with young children, stay in one of the Hulls’ three guest houses for a minimum of two nights. Once there, they can settle in and nuzzle up to farm animals; enjoy home-cooked, field-fresh meals; and assist the Hulls with the day-to-day tasks involved in running a farm.

If you’re thinking Hull-O is some Disney-fied ranch, complete with community theater actors playing farmhands and a gift shop selling souvenir pitchforks, think again. “We really are a working farm,” Sherry says. I can attest to that: This is real country, folks. Besides the vacation resort, the family raises livestock, operates a meat business, keeps a pheasant preserve, and sells hay. Seven generations of Hulls have tilled the land in Durham; Frank has been at it since he was as tall as a nanny goat. “I was raising cattle at eight,” he says, “and buying and selling at 15.”

These days, however, family farms need to fight like a maniacal rooster just to break even. Hull-O is no exception. By 1994, the Hulls knew their homestead would be the next Durham Valley farm to perish unless they could bring in more revenue. Frank’s grandmother had run a boarding house on the farm in the 1930s and 1940s. In a bid to acquire the extra funds they needed, Sherry and Frank decided to reenter the lodging business. “The first people called and asked me what the price was, and I had no idea,” Sherry laughs. “I had to tell them I’d call them back so I could figure it out.”

Hull-O Farms photosGuests at the farm can become friends with a variety of cuddly creatures

Now the couple has hosting city slickers down to a science. The three guest houses (with two to four bedrooms each) all have their own ambience. The daily itinerary varies by the family — “We let guests participate at whatever level they want,” Frank says — but generally follows a similar schedule. Visitors make their way to the main farmhouse around 8 a.m., where the adults kick-start their synapses with a cup of coffee. Then it’s out to the field for chores: feeding the baby animals and hand-milking the cows and goats under Farmer Frank’s supervision. Parents will know that a grange full of farm animals — cows; goats; chickens; horses; lambs; turkeys; ducklings; bunnies; kittens; puppies; and a 14-year-old, 60-pound pot-bellied pig named Curly — all ready and waiting to be petted and imitated, is just short of paradise to a four-year-old kid. The favorite seems to be the baby chicks, which wobble about in the farmhouse foyer. “I have some children who return just for those chicks,” Sherry says.

Following Miss Sherry’s homemade breakfast and chicken-egg collecting with Farmer Frank, families are free to do what they want. They can continue assisting Frank with chores around the farm or do a little country-style relaxin’ by themselves. A four-acre pond is available for swimming or fishing; after Labor Day, a 12-acre corn maze awaits kids looking for a puzzle to crack.

Day-trip options exist off-site as well. You’d never know it from the pastoral view, but the Zoom Flume Waterpark is just two miles down the road. Howe Caverns, a Schoharie County underground tourist spot popular among families, is only 45 minutes up Route 145.

There’s more feeding to be done at 4 p.m., and Sherry serves dinner around six. And oh, what a dinner it is. Frank advises guests to “bring your clothes, your appetite, and your camera,” and of the three, I’d say the second is by far the most important. Clad in a white apron, Sherry cooks the entire feast herself in a standard one-stove kitchen, sometimes for 30 people. And talk about local ingredients? Those vegetables and grass-fed meats traveled around 100 feet from the backyard to your plate. Frequently served dishes include German pot roast with potato latkes; and a spinach salad with fresh strawberries, shaved almonds, and raspberry vinaigrette. After dinner, there’s usually a sunset tractor ride and a bonfire with s’mores. Then it’s back to the guest house to hit the hay.

Hull-O isn’t the only farm vacation resort in the area. Apple Pond Farm and Renewable Energy Education Center, located in Callicoon Center, Sullivan County, also offers the chance to frolic among farm animals, participate in daily chores, and generally lead an idyllic lifestyle by staying in the three-bedroom guesthouse. One difference between the two farms is the clientele. Apple Pond is less family-focused, and the daily schedule more open — even when compared to Hull-O’s already flexible itinerary. “We really engage guests as much as they want,” says Dick Riseling, co-owner of the farm along with his partner, Sonja Hedlund. Riseling and Hedlund emphasize environmentally friendly, organic farming. Much of the property functions on wind, photovoltaic, solar thermal, and geothermal energy, and the farmers are happy to educate guests about the benefits and methods behind their renewable energy systems.

Whether you visit Hull-O or Apple Pond, you will have a no-frills, back-to-basics getaway. At Hull-O, there are no phones in the guest houses; although there are televisions, the Hulls find their guests don’t often switch them on. Instead, they play board games or tend to the animals out in the field. A farm vacation offers something Club Med cannot: true, quality alone time with the family. “It’s very special to watch a family work together,” Sherry says. “Where else can you milk a cow these days?” Hard to argue with that. Nor should you want to, lest you risk that wonderful muffin greeting.

Hull-O Farms (Open May-October)
Durham; 518-239-6950

Apple Pond Farm (Open year-round)
Callicoon Center; 845-482-4764

 

Next stop: Hershey Park, Pennsylvania

 

 

Hershey ParkPhotographs courtesy of Hershey Park

HERSHEY PARK Pennsylvania

Get sweet savings on admission to this three-in-one, family theme park.

By Greg Ryan

The great chocolate baron Milton S. Hershey must have enjoyed catering to our need to indulge ourselves. There are his eponymous candy products, of course. And in 1907, the founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company created a park near his factory where employees could grab a little R&R, off the clock, with their families. (Back then, leisure time meant canoeing and picnics — not riding 2,600-foot-long Sooperdooperloopers.)

A century later, this same land is home to a 110-acre theme park that thrill-seekers along the East Coast flock to every summer (it’s about a four-hour drive from Poughkeepsie). Hersheypark features 65 rides, including: 11 roller coasters (one of which is the aforementioned Sooperdooperlooper); the ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park, a 200-animal, walk-through zoo that got its start 100 years ago from Milton’s private animal collection; and the Boardwalk, a water park modeled after the beachside attractions of Coney Island and Atlantic City. New this summer is “The Shore” wave pool and the Intercoastal Waterway, a “lazy river” float. The park’s admission tickets grant you entry to all of these attractions. Additionally, right outside the park is the new Hershey Story museum, where admission is $10 and less, and the Hershey Chocolate World factory, where you can take a free tour (and eat free chocolate).

Hershey Park

This summer, the theme park’s “Family Stimulus Package” can net you some sweet savings. One option is to make a pit stop at a Giant Food Store on your drive down to Hershey and pick up discount coupons. The best bargains are available early in the season: In May, the coupons are valued at $15 and include a free parking voucher; in June, $11 and a free parking voucher; and following that, just $11. (Check www.familystimuluspackage.com each month for other deals with retail partners.) Book a room in the Hotel Hershey or Hershey Lodge in May or June, and any kids under 18 you’ve brought along gain complimentary breakfast and free admission to the theme park; stay overnight in July or August, and your family receives a $50 spending card. Mmmmm. That’s good stuff.

Hershey Park
Hershey, PA

 

Next stop: Albany, NY

 

 

Albany, NYNatural wonders: The unique Albany Pine Bush Preserve

Photograph courtesy of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission

ALBANY

Outdoor activities in the Capital District are — surprisingly — numerous and varied.

By Jennifer Leba

Much like the moment when technicolor is finally added to The Wizard of Oz, the city of Albany suddenly throws off its gray shroud and bursts to life in the late spring and summer months. Everywhere, it seems, people are dining outside, music can be heard in the parks, and the Hudson beckons to old and young alike. It all kicks off on May 9 with the 61st annual Tulip Festival. On May 27, 30,000 people are expected at the annual Art on Lark festival, which shows that big city about two-and-a-half hours to the south that it’s not the only place with a happening art scene. (Don’t miss the Sidewalk Chalk Art Contest.)

But there are many more reasons to visit the Capital Region throughout the summer. If you’re like me, the words “pine barrens” immediately conjure up images of South Jersey. But you may be surprised to learn that the 3,010-acre Albany Pine Bush Preserve, located between Albany and Schenectady, is recognized as one of the world’s best examples of an inland pine barrens ecosystem (there are only about 20 around the globe). There’s a unique diversity of animals and plants to be discovered, but many folks who come to hike or mountain bike on the 18 miles of mostly flat trails are hoping to lay eyes on the preserve’s most famous resident — the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly, which only appears in May and June. “It’s quite easy to spot them,” says Wendy Craney, communications and outreach director. “But we suggest that people join one of our organized butterfly walks; it enhances the experience.” Other organized programs at the preserve include bird watches, family camp activities, and lunchtime hikes on the first Friday of each month. The Discovery Center, which opened in 2007, is a hands-on, interactive nature center that walks you through everything you can expect to find in the preserve. You can also rent paddle boats on Rensselaer Lake or go kayaking with L.L.Bean, which runs a discovery school where you can test out the latest equipment.

Albany Aqua DucksRide your tour bus into the Hudson with Albany Aqua Ducks

Photograph courtesy of Albany Aqua Ducks & Trolleys

One of the more unique ways to get out on the water is with the Albany Aqua Ducks. If you’re not familiar with these amphibious vehicles — they start out as a bus and transform into a boat as they splash into the river — they’re a wonderful way to tour the city’s main sights. (You can also opt to tour Troy instead.) Most standard tours last 90 minutes and cost $26 for adults, $15 for children 4-12. This summer, in honor of the Quadricentennial celebrations, you may be lucky enough to have Mr. Henry Hudson himself as your guide. Oh, all right, he’s just an actor, but he’ll be dressed in full Henry Hudson regalia, and will regale you with stories of his own trip up the Hudson. (His boat, by the way, did not turn into a bus.)

Summer is perhaps the most pleasant time of year to visit the USS Slater, the nation’s only remaining World War II Destroyer Escort that’s still afloat (there were originally 563 of them). Take an hourlong guided tour of this Navy vessel that scouted for enemy submarines and kamikaze planes while escorting ship convoys across the Atlantic. If you still can’t stand to go indoors, catch live musical theater at Playhouse in the Park in Washington Park (coming this summer: High School Musical).

Albany
Albany Pine Bush Preserve: 518-456-0655
Albany Aqua Ducks: 518-462-3825
USS Slater: 518-431-1943
Playhouse in the Park: 518-434-2035

 

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