Are you starting to panic about finding the perfect presents for friends and family now that Christmas shopping days are running out? Do you fancy a retail experience that’s a world apart from the uninspiring offerings found in many identikit high streets and out of town malls? Or maybe you just want to get away from it all in a picturesque part of the world that’s somewhat off the beaten track yet also within relatively easy reach of Scotland? If any of these scenarios apply, then you should give serious thought to taking advantage of Norwegian’s low-cost flights from Edinburgh to New York Stewart International Airport.
Although the Big Apple itself is but a 90-minute coach ride south from the airport, picturesque New York State counties such as Dutchess County and Orange County also hold plenty of appeal, with the latter home to the world’s biggest premium outlets destination, Woodbury Common. It’s a shopper’s delight like no other, with more than 240 high-end and designer stores, plus a plethora of dining options, sprawling over more than 20 acres of pristine trading space and surrounded by forests just beginning to put on their showstopping autumn display at the time of our visit.
We head there on the first morning of our two-night, three-day tour of New York State, having taken a seven-hour flight on a new Boeing 737 the previous evening. It’s a high-quality budget service, with no in-flight entertainment, charging points for electrical entertainment items, nor free meals or drinks that would have to be pre-ordered, but it’s comfy enough and soon we’ve disembarked and are heading for supper at Italian family restaurant Cosima’s in Newburgh, where a vast platter of its signature grilled chicken penne pasta hits the spot.
Homewood Suites by Hilton Newburgh Stewart Airport, a couple of minutes’ drive from the terminal, provides our first night’s accommodation and very pleasant it is too, offering, as the name suggests, not just a bedroom, but also a kitchen, bathroom and living space big enough for a small family.
After a dreamless sleep and an artery-narrowing breakfast of bacon and pancakes, we hit Woodbury Common Premium Outlets. There are some humongous discounts and I put my flexible friend to work in the likes of trendy fashion outlets such as American Eagle and designer goods emporium Coach. Before too much damage is done, we break for a lunch of moreish Bourbon Street chicken and shrimp at American diner institution Applebee’s (memo to Applebee’s – please open a UK outlet).
In the afternoon, our driver Jim Ferraro drops us at the quirky and laid-back Palaia Winery, which doubles as a live music venue, bar and restaurant at weekends. After a generous tasting session, I opt for a bottle of the “Zappa Franc” blend for $17, though the “Pinkish Floyd” rosé was also very good.
Creative juices flowing by this time, we are decanted at Storm King Art Centre, a 500-acre outdoor museum of large-scale sculptures and site-specific commissions, including monumental works by the likes of Richard Serra, Isamu Noguchi, Mark di Suvero, Alexander Calder and Andy Goldsworthy. Set amid 2,100 protected acres of Schunnemunk Mountain State Park, it’s also a great place for leisurely picnicking.
Time is not our friend, however, on this whistlestop tour and soon we’re whisked off the pretty streets of stylish Beacon in Dutchess County and dine at Kitchen Sink Food and Drink. It’s one of the finest restaurants in the Hudson Valley if the awards it has won are anything to go by, and chef Brian Arnoff’s mouthwatering menu provides a showcase for locally sourced ingredients, many of which come from the family farm in nearby Hyde Park.
My final night is spent in a vast two-bedroom suite at the conveniently located Hyatt House in Fishkill, which has tourist attractions such as West Point Military Academy and the 212ft tall Walkway Over the Hudson pedestrian bridge – the world’s longest – within easy reach.
Our destination the next morning though is the home, library and museum of Franklin D Roosevelt at Hyde Park, where chief of interpretation Scott Rector does a great job of explaining the story of the 32nd US president, who overcame polio to serve four terms of office and led the country through the Great Depression and the Second World War. The tour of the house gives a fascinating glimpse of what everyday life would have been like for Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, while the library and museum is so comprehensive it would require several days to take it all in.
Our visit coincides with an extraordinary exhibition (which runs until the end of the year), titled The Art Of War, which features more than 150 propaganda posters from 1941-1945 that vividly capture the impact the Second World had on American society, and includes illustrations by Norman Rockwell and Theodore “Dr Seuss” Geisel.
All this education proves thirsty work, so we head across the road to the Hyde Park Brewing Company for a couple of pints of Rough Rider Red Ale and a Philly panini for lunch, before stopping off the charming village of Rhinebeck, a centre for art and culture, independent boutiques, plenty of eating and drinking options (including the Beekman Arms, America’s oldest continuously operated inn), sweet shops, chocolatiers and the Megabrain Comics shop – perfect for last-minute present buying.
Next we hit Millbrook Winery, voted best in the Hudson Valley for the past 20 consecutive years. It has a gorgeous 1940s wooden Dutch barn where tastings are conducted and also offers great tours – the boozy smell of grapes in the bottling area is heady indeed.
On the way to the airport we stop off at the quaint and cosy Charlotte’s Restaurant, where chef Mikael Moller serves up a delightful dinner of butternut squash soup, his signature osso buco, and a warm brownie with homemade vanilla ice cream and coffee. It sets us up perfectly for the flight back home, which thanks to favourable winds takes less than six hours.
So that’s the stateside Christmas shopping done. But of course there are always the January sales... wonder when the one in Woodbury Common starts?
Andrew Hoyle was a guest of Norwegian, New York State Tourism, Homewood Suites by Hilton (https://homewoodsuites3.hilton.com) and Hyatt House Hotel (www.hyatt.com). Norwegian offers direct flights from Edinburgh to New York Stewart International Airport, a gateway to discounted shopping at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets (https://uk.simon.travel) and New York City. Fares start from £157 one-way. Book now for travel up to 29 March 2019 at www.norwegian.com/uk or 0330 8280854 (opt. 1)
For more information on New York State, Orange County, Dutchess County and the experiences available, visit www.iloveny.com, www.orangetourism.org and www.dutchesstourism.com