You drive slowly along country roads with no particular mission or destination except to unwind in the outdoors. Soft breezes blow through trees that used to be green but are now the autumn colors of red, purple, orange, yellow and gold. The weather is neither too hot nor too cold. No wonder people pick autumn as their favorite season.
And no wonder that each autumn I try to be where nature's beauty is in full glow, most recently the Hudson Valley in upstate New York.
"Look at that," I said to my friend Jean, "those leaves are red on one side and gold on the other."
But you can't spend full days just looking at leaves. There's also eating, sleeping, talking with the locals and visiting new places. And for three pleasurable days, she and I did it all.
Planning ahead made it possible to stay in a lovely room at the Emerson Hotel (named after the writer who discovered the area long before we did).
"Many visitors come just to see the autumn colors," the concierge told us. "Autumn is our busiest season."
The Hudson Valley is a compilation of various counties, and we spent most of our time in Dutchess County. Since I grew up in New York and now live in Los Angeles I wanted to experience the quiet of the country, to visit farms, see animals and think about a quieter kind of life. The Hudson Valley has plenty of farmland, and farmers open their doors to visitors who bring their children to buy fresh produce, homemade cheeses and jams. At some farms visitors are invited to pick their own fruit off the trees.
Our first stop was Fishkill Farms, inherited and managed by Josh Morgenthau, grandson of Henry Morgenthau Jr., former U.S. ambassador and secretary of the treasury under President Franklin Roosevelt. Here the biggest pumpkins and the reddest apples greeted us, and we sampled a variety of apples and chose Jean's favorite, the sweet and juicy Macoun. We bought enough for snacking, and the taste of fresh pressed apple cider convinced us to load up on bottles of that, too.
From there we drove to the Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie, where we were met by goats and cows who seemed oblivious to tourists as they chewed the fresh grass. One friendly goat beckoned to us by sticking her nose through the fence until we came over to pet her. Perhaps she wanted us to know she was partly responsible for the goat cheese indoors.
Inside we met Colin McGrath, the farm's resident award-winning cheesemaker, who was making fresh cheeses. McGrath described the rounds and triangles and demonstrated some of his skills. He gave us samples of hard and soft cheeses and told us that he is a graduate of the CIA.
In the Hudson Valley it is understood that CIA means the Culinary Institute of America. While this area is also home of the Vassar campus and Bard College, the CIA is the college for students who have chosen food and wine as a career. Visitors, too, can take quickie cooking and baking courses if they come on the right day and time, which unfortunately we did not. As a consolation prize, however, we came away with recipes.
And we had lunch at the CIA's brightly lit American Bounty Restaurant, with its large windows showcasing the green outdoors. Run by smiling, unhurried students, our lunch was first a feast for the eyes. Then, from appetizers to desserts, it was an unhurried gastronomic event. We were told that the CIA's influence keeps other local restaurants on their toes.
The Hudson Valley is full of historical sites -- homes, museums, hilltop views of the Hudson River, and memorials to patriots from the American Revolution and Europeans who fought on the Colonists' side against the British. Bits of learning from school textbooks came rushing back as we looked at documents preserved in glass, paintings of patriots, names long forgotten.
Skipping forward a couple of centuries, we visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum that opened to the public in 1941. I enjoyed looking at family photos taken by the president, who became a serious photographer at 15. Roosevelt served for four terms, longer than any other president. Parts of the museum's photographs and papers deal with the Depression and the New Deal and personally with the polio that paralyzed Roosevelt below the waist and eventually put him in a wheelchair. Eleanor Roosevelt is also honored for meeting with world leaders and looking for solutions to global problems after her husband's death.
According to our guide, Darian Rivera, many of the visitors who tour the grounds are veterans who bring their families so that they might better understand World War II and what happened to those who fought in it.
WHEN YOU GO
The Emerson Hotel, Mount Tremper, N.Y., is an extremely comfortable retreat after touring. It has an excellent spa as well as what is reported to be the largest kaleidoscope in the world. Here you're on your back in a dark room surrounded by a 10-minute show of colorful shapes while lively music surrounds you. Breakfast is served for a moderate cost: www.emersonresort.com.
For dinner, try the new Brasserie 292 with its creative black, white and red design and a chef who knows steaks. Every table was filled when we dined. It's best to make a reservation: www.brasserie292.com.
Swift, a new restaurant at The Roundhouse at Beacon Falls is a comfortable place to unwind with a mixed drink, an imaginative menu and good service: www.roundhousebeacon.com.
Marilyn Zeitlin is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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