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The UnHamptons

There's no law that says you have to go out to the Hamptons this summer. Here's the skinny on ten places where you can really relax.


In the gently rolling foothills of the Catskill Mountains, a bucolic haven for the creative mind.This Catskills village seems to offer the best of both worlds to New Yorkers in search of escape and stimulation. "The combination of the natural beauty and the eccentric, artistic community makes it ideal," says Holly George-Warren, a Manhattan editor and writer who has been traveling to the Woodstock area since the late eighties. "There are interesting people to talk to, but when you just want quiet, you can sit on your terrace, stare at the mountains, and wait for foxes and bear cubs to run by your backyard." The area has long attracted artists, writers, filmmakers, and, especially, musicians. Bob Dylan and the Band recorded their legendary Basement Tapes at the house they called Big Pink in West Saugerties. "It's really a hybrid community," says Laura Levine, an artist and illustrator who has owned a vacation home in Mount Tremper since 1987. "Gays, straights, locals who have been here for generations, people who have just moved up -- it's a happy place to be. I don't mean to make it sound like a Utopia, but it's pretty darn close."

FAMILIAR FACES Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke; Kate Pierson and Keith Strickland of the B-52's; Marshall Crenshaw; Jules Shear; Levon Helm and Garth Hudson of the Band; and, of course, the Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian all have homes in or near Woodstock. Musicians like Ray Davies, Natalie Merchant, Michael Stipe, and Dave Matthews frequent the Bearsville and Dreamland recording studios.

TRAVEL TIME Woodstock is two hours away on Route 87. The bus from Port Authority to Kingston, Woodstock, and Phoenicia takes about two and a half hours. Amtrak from Penn Station to Rhinecliff takes about an hour and 40 minutes.

THINGS TO DO Achieve that philosophical apex of a sound mind in a sound body. Hike one of the trails on Overlook Mountain, then attend a meditation class at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper. Or do Pilates or yoga at the Moving Body in Woodstock after tubing on Esopus Creek in Phoenicia. And because of its proximity to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, the area boasts many excellent restaurants. The Bear Café (845-679-5555), in Bearsville, sits on a gurgling stream and offers fresh, imaginative new-American fare, as well as a lively (dare we say glamorous?) bar scene. New World Home Cooking (845-246-0900), between Woodstock and Saugerties, serves up a heady blend of spicy world-fusion cuisine.

NICE PLACES TO VISIT For old-world charm in a funky ambience, stay at La Duchesse Anne in Mount Tremper (845-688-5260, doubles start at $80), about eight miles outside Woodstock. Or indulge yourself at the luxe -- and pricey -- Emerson Inn and Spa (845-688-7900, doubles start at $500, including dinner, breakfast, and afternoon tea), also in Mount Tremper.

ENTRY PRICE Rentals in Woodstock range from $3,000 to $10,000 a month; $10,000 gets you a pool, a tennis court, twelve acres, and possibly a view. Buyers can land a three-bedroom, two-bath house in styles ranging from contemporary to California ranch to a restored farmhouse -- on three to five acres -- for $300,000 to $400,000. North and west of Woodstock, rentals for the season run from $5,500 to $6,000, which can get you a charming log three-bedroom, two-bath house in a private location, possibly on a stream. From $350,000 to $400,000 will buy you a three-to-four-bedroom house with a fireplace, often with views or proximity to water.

REALTORS Joyce Beymer of Joyce Beymer Real Estate in Woodstock (845-679-6617); Ruth Gale of Ruth Gale Real Estate in Phoenicia (845-688-5610).

SIGNS OF THE TIMES The area's popularity among the fashion flock has been raising eyebrows. Kirsty Hume, Angela Lindvall, Amber Valletta, and Kate Moss have all been spotted around town. Vogue even ran shots of fashion editor Camilla Nickerson showering topless outside the home she shares with her husband in Greene County. Still, "it seems like the culture there is deep and resilient enough to withstand the high and low tides," says Jason Fine, a magazine editor who's rented a home in the area with some friends for the past few summers. "Sure, you can walk into a club and see Ethan Hawke. But you're also going to see the guy you saw talking to himself in the beer aisle at the supermarket."

2Fire Island
The last word in laid-back beach weekends hasn't changed much since Ford was president.

Bare feet. Bicycles. Little red wagons. There's something very seventies about Fire Island. The place has a cutoffs-and-flip-flops, communal-living, let-the-kids-run-free kind of vibe. There are no cars -- water taxis carry passengers between towns, and deer walk the streets freely. The houses are, for the most part, modest and situated on tiny lots, creating at least the feeling of egalitarianism. Still, despite the laid-back attitude, this sand-swept Eden is by no means pretension-free. "I take great pride in the fact that I haven't been to the Hamptons since the eighties," says Rachel Zients, a 30-year-old TV producer who's been going to Fire Island most of her life. "We've got this whole roll-barefoot-out-the-door thing happening. But there's a pretension in 'Oh, look how quaint we are.' "

LAY OF THE LAND Fire Island is a small world, but one in which you're more likely to bump into your old grade-school buddy than anyone you'd read about on "Page Six." Each of the island's dozen tiny towns has its own personality: The Pines and Cherry Grove are legendarily gay; Point o' Woods is exclusive, and gated; Dunewood and Fair Harbor are family areas; and Corneille Estates is littered with group houses.

HOT TOPIC Want to make a good impression at your host's dinner party? Complain about those pesky "groupers" -- share-house renters -- and their noisy all-night parties. Attending a bash at a share house? Complain about day-trippers: This summer, yet more public restrooms -- a source of contention for years -- will open in Ocean Beach. Wherever you are, complain about the deer that stroll boldly down walks and ravish gardens.

LIFE'S A BEACH For all that New Yorkers like to complain about Ocean Beach's hard-partying element, they also take a perverse pleasure in assimilation. "We usually go out one night in O.B. to observe the absurdity of the disco scene," says a 28-year-old book editor with a share house near the town. "It's really fun to dance out there because it's so ridiculous." Houser's Grill and the Albatross are two old O.B. standards; the Monster and the Ice Palace (in Cherry Grove) are two longtime gay hangouts. For a quieter evening, meet at Le Dock in Fair Harbor for drinks and watch the sun set.

TRAVEL TIME Bay Shore takes about an hour on the L.I.E. The LIRR has regular train service, and from there it's a fifteen-minute walk or a five-minute cab to the ferry dock. Tommy's Taxi (631-665-4800) offers a direct van service to the dock. The boat takes half an hour.

NICE PLACES TO VISIT There aren't many inns and bed-and-breakfasts. Fire Island's oldest hotel, the Houser Hotel in Ocean Beach, opened in 1921 (631-583-8900, rooms, some with private bath, cost $330 for a weekend, $110 a night midweek). Black Sheep in Exile B&B is a gay-friendly guest house and restaurant in the Pines (631-597-6565, rooms are $440 for a weekend, $80 a night midweek). Many houses are also available to rent by the weekend; offers listings and information.

ENTRY PRICE This year, three-bedroom houses rented for between $15,000 and $23,000, with four-bedrooms going for $20,000 to as high as $40,000 for the season. Sales have been slow since February, but because July and August are the busiest months for buyers, it's too soon to tell if the slowing economy will bring real-estate prices down. Currently, $250,000 to $350,000 will get you a house on a 50-by-80 piece of land. Oceanfront or bayfront views will raise the price, and a newly built house could run you as much as $700,000.

REALTORS Dana Wallace of Dana Wallace Realty (631-583-5596); Larson Realty in Saltaire (631-583-9200).

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