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Sometimes the best vacation destination is one you’ve overlooked—Just beyond your front door.

By Robin Cherry
 

A few years ago, I spent an entire day sitting on the floor at JFK airport as a wicked Nor-easter pounded its way up the East Coast. As night fell, my flight to the balmy Caribbean island of St. Thomas was cancelled and instead of sinking my feet into the sand as turquoise waves lapped the shore, I found myself lugging my summer clothes up four flights of stairs to my New York City apartment. That’s when I learned to embrace the winter staycation.

The staycation or stay-at-home vacation is a relaxing way to save money and “see the USA” that’s just around the corner from where you live. I’ve long since moved from that fourth-floor walk-up to a house in the Hudson Valley, and staycations have helped me better get to know my surroundings.

After a freak Halloween snowstorm, a friend and I packed my neighbor’s boxer, Beatrix, into the back seat and drove three miles to Poets’ Walk. A mere three miles away from my house was a bucolic landscape with breathtaking views of the majestic Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. Although I’d lived here for a few years by then, I’d never been. Poets’ Walk was designed in the 1840s as a series of outdoor “rooms,” each of which was meant to elicit a different emotion. In the case of Beatrix, the snow and open air elicited euphoria, which she passed on to us: There’s nothing like an overjoyed boxer to bring a smile to your face. We meandered through meadows and forest thickets lined with rough-hewn wooden benches and pavilions; Beatrix greeted her fellow canines with characteristic enthusiasm. I’ve been back to Poets’ Walk dozens of times since, but it was that snowstorm that introduced us.

Another snowstorm inspired me to pop into The Tavern at The Beekman Arms, the country’s oldest continuously running inn and a former stomping ground of George Washington, Benedict Arnold, Alexander Hamilton and, later, Hudson Valley presidents Martin Van Buren and FDR. The tavern’s Colonial Tap Room—with its wide plank floors, sturdy wooden beams and stone hearth fireplace—is warm and welcoming. The friend who told me “Locals don’t go there; it’s just for tourists” doesn’t know what he’s missing. On a snowy day, it doesn’t get any better.

Here are a few other Hudson Valley haunts where I go to get away from…nothing, really.

The Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies has a collection of contemporary art that includes more than 3,000 works by more than 400 of the most prominent artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Robert Mapplethorpe and Cindy Sherman.

Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck is a quintessential independent book store with one chair and thoughtful (and sometimes quirky) staff recommendations.

Wilderstein is a Queen Anne mansion with a five-story turret overlooking the Hudson River. Its last owner, Daisy Suckley, who died in 1990 a few months shy of her 100th birthday, was FDR’s “closest companion.” “He told me once,” she wrote in her diary soon after his death, “that there was no one else with whom he could be so completely himself.” The interiors were designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s cousin, Joseph Burr Tiffany, and the grounds were landscaped by Calvert Vaux, best known for New York’s Central Park.

Gigi Trattoria, where Bill Clinton had lunch the day before daughter Chelsea’s Rhinebeck wedding, serves “Hudson Valley Mediterranean” cuisine, using the best of the area’s farms and purveyors.

The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners.

This is the fourth in a series of Winter Getaways stories on Chevy Culture.

Robin Cherry is a Hudson Valley-based travel, food and pop culture writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Afar, Islands and many other publications. She blogs at garlicescapes.com and is writing a book on the history of garlic that will be published in 2014. Follow her on Twitter @garlicescapes.