New York City Getaway: Rhinebeck’s Victorian Flair, County Fair

I’ve been visiting Rhinebeck in New York’s Dutchess County since the 1960s, and so when I recommend the village to friends, I find myself waxing lyrical about how Rhinebeck is the most enchanting place in New York State.

Ninety miles of New York City, Rhinebeck is an ideal place to spend a weekend and explore the Hudson Valley, the 200-plus mile swath of lush, oftentimes mountainous green that stretches from Manhattan to Albany on either side of the Hudson River. No wonder Chelsea Clinton chose Rhinebeck for her wedding.

The surrounding landscapes bring to mind settings in Washington Irving’s classic stories. County roads meander, with farms and forests on the horizon. A small old church and cemetery will appear off to the side. Several miles west steep cliffs dip down to the Hudson River at Rhinecliff.

Rhinebeck is a Victorian village, built largely in the 1800s with designs promoted by the famous architect Alexander Jackson Davis, its streets lined with gate houses, rustic cottages, and English and Oriental villas.

Never fear, though, that this place is stuck in time. Its shops, restaurants, and galleries are au courant.A number of store windows display Soho-chic clothing. Others, like Bluecashew Kitchen Pharmacy and have received accolades for their eclectic selection of contemporary  home furnishings. An old church has become the restaurant Terrapin.

Well-known artists sell their paintings and sculpture here. The older anchors remain: the Beekman Arms Hotel with its tavern, an old stagecoach stop dating back to 1766, Schultzville’s General Store, the Smoke Shop, where locals come each day for cigars and newspapers, and the Wine and Liquor Shop, one of my favorites.

The Antiques Barn and a number of smaller shops provide venues for antique lovers, as do nearby villages such as Red Hook and Pine Plains.

Photos courtesy of Dutchess County Tourism

Wilderstein, the recently restored mansion of the late Margaret Suckley, sixth cousin and intimate friend of Franklin D. Roosevelt, is located in Rhinebeck. This is Roosevelt Land, after all: the Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Historic Site, the family’s Federal style mansion, Springwood, overlooks the Hudson River in Hyde Park, ten miles south.It was here that the first presidential library was created and where, at Top Cottage, the four-term president and Margaret often met secretly.

The neighboring Vanderbilt Mansion, a lavish structure with sweeping lawns down to the water, hosts outside concerts each Wednesday in summer. Eighteen miles south of Rhinebeck in Poughkeepsie, Locust Grove, the 19th-century estate of telegraph inventor Samuel Morse, offers gardens and three miles of trails, and the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College offers a stunning collection of Hudson River School Paintings.

The Dutchess County Fair, which I loved as a child, runs this year from August 23 to 28. The second largest in the state, it features a lineup of agricultural contests and entertainment that ranges from Chubby Checker to bull riding.

My idea of paradise is staying at a B & B right in the village, dining at one of the local restaurants, checking out a local concert, an evening event at nearby Bard College, or an art flick at Upstate Films, and walking back to our room on the quiet, tree lined streets.