No matter which road you take, the mountains are there in the distance - layer upon layer of them, green and cool on the hottest summer afternoon. Streams and waterfalls lace the hills, and the great rivers - the Hudson and the Delaware - bookend the area, east and west.
Most of the old-fashioned glamour is gone now. But the reasons for it - the landscape and the waterscape - remain. Interspersed among these hills are farm villages and 19thcentury river towns - some glowingly refurbished, some sadly falling into ruin. Many are surprisingly lively, with city-quality restaurants, adventure outfitters, good shopping and antiquing. It's also a place of small-town pleasures: country fairs and roadside stands and Fourth of July parades. Small, twisting roads curve past white clapboard churches, covered bridges and bright red barns in bucolic settings. A car trip through the Catskills is as good a way as ever to spend a weekend (or a full week) this summer.
One of the state's oldest towns, Kingston has plenty to offer weekend visitors, whether it's meandering through a historic district, browsing art galleries and antiques stores, admiring the 19thcentury architecture or roaming the revitalized harbor district.
THINGS TO DO A leisurely walk through the restored stockade area takes you along an arcaded main street, with several antiques shops, plus clothing stores and a great bookstore - Pages Past (845-339-6484, 75 Pearl St., pagespast .com), which has a fine collection of used as well as kids' books. In this neighborhood, you'll also find many examples of sturdy 18thcentury stone houses, their weathered gray and white walls a perfect foil for the greenery that surrounds them.
DON'T MISS Just outside Kingston, the Esopus River is a prime trout-fishing area. The most famous streams are farther west - the Beaverkill and the Willowemoc.
WHY It's becoming as well known for its antiques stores as Hudson, on the other side of the river. At last count, 30 or so shops were clustered mostly along Main and Partition streets. Some good bets: the antiques co-op that sits behind a nicely restored JJ Newberry storefront (236 Main St., 845-246-9106), and Willow Tree, just across the street, which has antiques as well as new stuff, such as colorful pottery and retro-looking dish towels, tablecloths and place mats (243 Main St., 845-247-9046). Contrary to popular belief, Niagara isn't the state's tallest waterfall. Kaaterskill Falls, west of Palenville, is nearly 100 feet higher. Park on Route 23A, and climb up to see them.
DON'T MISS Opus 40, just outside town, is an environmental sculpture by Harvey Fite that sits in what was once a bluestone quarry. The piece is centered on a tall monolith, surrounded by acres of fountains and sculptures ($10, 50 Fite Rd.; 845-246-3400, opus40.org).
NEW PALTZ, NY
THINGS TO DO Huguenot Street is the oldest street in America to retain its original buildings. You'll find six 18th century stone structures - a favorite is the restored church, set in its own quiet churchyard. The local historical society arranges tours for 15 or more (845-255-1889, huguenot street.org). You can soar over the hills in nearby Ellenville, where the Mountain Wings Hand Gliding Center can arrange a course ($125-$150, 845-647-3377, mtnwings.com). High Xposures Adventures (Mohonk Preserve, 800-777-CLIMB, high-xpo sure.com) leads classes in rock climbing in the Shawangunks. If you want to learn to tie a fly, stop at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center in Livingston Manor (1031 Old Rte. 17, 845-439- 4810, cffcm.net). Then, join anglers lined up along the Willowemoc River.
DON'T MISS The Catskill Preserve, 700,000 acres of forever-wild forest land, has trails with spectacular views.
WHERE TO STAY
Sunrise House B and B , 193 N. Branch Rd., Jeffersonville, 845-482-3778, sunrisehousebandb.com
They call it a "place with a view," and that it has: a spectacular panorama of the mountains. This is a classic farmhouse with Adirondack chairs on the lawn and a big front porch.
Mohonk Mountain House , 1000 Mountain Rest Rd., New Paltz, 845-255-1000, mohonk.com
COST $510-$790 per couple includes three meals and afternoon tea plus most activities
A little on the pricey side, the Mohonk Mountain House offers a glimpse of the 19th century Catskills: Presidents Taft and Wilson both stayed here. There's also fine hiking in the private preserve.
Winter Clove Inn , Winter Clove Road, Round Top, 518-622-3267, winterclove.com
COST $95-$108 a person, includes three meals
Run by the same family for generations, its Colonial building has 50 or so guest rooms, a swimming pool, tennis courts and golf course, plus hiking trails.