It may share the same island as the Hamptons, but it's a world apart (for the time being, at least).
If there's one thing every North Fork loyalist would like to make perfectly clear, it's that he or she has nothing in common with those see-and-be-seen, Range Rover-riding, Nick & Toni's- dining, Polo-store-shopping residents of the high-voltage towns on the south side of the Peconic Bay. "People don't go there to go out," explains Carol Cohen, a clothing designer who has spent every weekend of the past eighteen years at her Southold farmhouse. "People go there to stay home." The lush farmland between Riverhead and Orient Point (which includes the hamlets of Orient, East Marion, Greenport, Southold, Peconic, Cutchogue, Mattituck, and Laurel) sort of resembles the Hamptons of old, with its shingled cottages and roadside farm stands -- before the local drive-in mutated into the Bridgehampton Commons shopping mall. That's not to say there has been no evolution on the North Fork. It's just that here, former potato fields have been reborn as equally view-friendly vineyards or sod farms instead of side-by-side 7,000-square-foot estates. "It's still very rural," says Eberhard Müller, executive chef at Bayard's, who spends his days off on a tractor at Satur, his organic farm. "Hopefully, it will stay that way."
FAMILIAR FACES Painter Aaron Shikler, sculptor Robert Burks, architect Richard Gluckman, Über-publicist Susan Magrino, and former Hearst Magazines head Claeys Bahrenberg, are residents. David Page of Home restaurant co-owns a vineyard in Mattituck called Shinn. Alistair Cook resides in Nassau Point. Derek Jeter is rumored to have purchased a place in Southold for his family.
HOT TOPICS The onslaught of traffic and parking-lot overflow caused by the Cross Sound Ferry from Orient Point to New London has sparked a firestorm. Fanning the flames is vice-admiral Thor Hanson, who founded the Southold Citizens for Safe Roads in 1995, when the ferry company introduced a high-speed passenger-only boat favored by eager gamblers headed to Foxwoods casino. "Our house is four miles from the ferry terminal," says Hanson. "But sometimes we can't even turn left onto our road. We've counted 130 cars coming in the opposite direction."
TRAVEL TIME At least a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Manhattan on the dreaded L.I.E. The same goes for the no-frills Sunrise bus, the North Fork's answer to the Jitney. The LIRR takes about three hours.
THINGS TO DO The twenty or so wineries are the area's headline act. Farm stands are good enough to be considered an indulgence. The best include organic Sang Lee Farms in Peconic and Wickham's Fruit Farm in Cutchogue. Local restaurants like Claudio's (631-477-0627), a fried-seafood mecca on the wharf in Greenport, are of the homey but lowbrow variety. Riverhead's Tanger Outlet mall has 170 stores from Barneys to Cole Haan to Old Navy. Nightlife revolves around dinner parties and the village cinema in Greenport.
NICE PLACES TO VISIT The Victorian Bartlett House Inn (631-477-0371, doubles start at $140) feels like a classic New England bed-and-breakfast. The Greenporter, (631-477-0066, doubles start at $275), a fifties-style motor lodge in the middle of Greenport, will reopen in July with a new personality, a French bistro, a wine bar, a swimming pool, and a Jacuzzi. A full spa is set to follow in 2002.
RECOMMENDED REALTORS Suzanne Hahn at Hahn Realty (631-477-0551) has been covering the area for twenty years. Cook Pony Farm (631-765-5810), a South Fork transplant, is a newcomer but already well established with offices in Mattituck, Cutchogue, and Southold.
ENTRY PRICE A two- or three-bedroom house on a half-acre will sell for $235,000, but there aren't many of those left. Four-bedroom, two-bath homes on landscaped grounds with proximity to the water go for $400,000 to $600,000. A top-of-the-market waterfront home larger than 4,000 square feet can command up to $3 million.
PARADISE IN PERIL The abiding concern is how to keep more Manhattanites from discovering this rural oasis. ("I've seen a variety of expensive cars that I never saw before," says Cohen, "Even our local supermarket, the IGA, has upgraded. They have balsamic vinegar now.") To that end, more than one North Fork regular "helpfully" mentioned the fact that nearby Plum Island, a lab for animal-disease research, recently considered raising it's bio-safety level to 4, the worst level possible.
If you're thinking muscle cars and big hair, you've never been to Spring Lake or Bay Head.
Spring Lake's heart consists of a shimmering serpentine lake lined with magnolias and crisscrossed by hand-hewn wooden footbridges. Oceanside, a noncommercial boardwalk is perfect for joggers and cyclists, and a walkable downtown has enough quaint shops to allow visitors to leave the car in the city. In recent summers, locals at the pool bar at the Warren Hotel, accustomed to rolling off the beach in T-shirts and sandals, have found their laid-back happy hour invaded by young, cash-flush Manhattan professionals in sundresses and Prada sandals. "It's started looking like a fashion show," complains Jocelyn LoBuono, who returns every summer to kick back with her friends from St. Rose High School. "I started feeling like I had to dress up." This summer, the Warren is gone. It was razed to make way for ten Victorian homes, all but one already sold at prices starting at $2.4 million. Farther up the coast lies Bay Head, another upscale beach town, recently called "not a real Jersey shore town" by one of the state's major newspapers. While the stroller remains the vehicle of choice, Bay Head, too, has found itself invaded by young couples looking to cash in their bonuses for a stretch of white-sand serenity. On the beaches dolphins swim by in the morning, and in the fall, the fishing and surfing are excellent.
HOT TOPIC In Spring Lake, they're mourning the loss of the Warren and talking about who scored what antique from the liquidators' auction. Others are vehemently denying the recent rumor -- not unbelievable in a town where tastefulness often crosses the line into stuffiness -- that the Town Council plans to ban the ice-cream man from the streets because of all that racket. "If they got rid of the ice-cream man," says Dorothy Lau, of the Spring Lake Historical Society, "I'd have to hit them over the head."
FAMILIAR FACES Spring Lake counts among its residents author Mary Higgins Clark, who set her latest novel here, as well as newscaster Jack Ford and Houston Astro Craig Biggio. Olympia Dukakis and Kate Nelligan are occasional renters. Bill Parcells owns a place in neighboring Sea Girt. TV executives Roger and Michael King are known for their lavish parties in Bay Head.
TRAVEL TIME An hour and 50 minutes by train from Penn Station to Spring Lake; Bay Head is another 25 minutes. By car, Spring Lake is an hour-and-a-half (traffic free) drive down the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway; stay on Route 35 South to reach Bay Head, twenty minutes away.
NICE PLACES TO VISIT In Spring Lake, the Normandy Inn (732-449-7172, doubles start at $153) is an antique-laden dreamworld. The Bay Head Harbor Inn (732-899-0767, doubles start at $125) allows children, while Conover's Bay Head Inn (732-892-4664, doubles start at $165), a few doors down, is geared toward couples seeking romance.
ENTRY PRICE Despite the skyrocketing buyer's market, Realtors say the rental market in Spring Lake -- $50,000 to $60,000 for the summer -- has softened somewhat. Buyers' options range from a five-bedroom ranch cottage three blocks from the beach for $299,000 to a renovated five-bedroom Victorian with ocean views for $1.4 million. In Bay Head, the buyer's market remains white-hot, with listings ranging from $405,000 for a three-bedroom to $4.5 million for a bayfront four-bedroom.
REALTORS John & Johnson GMAC Real Estate in Spring Lake (732-449-3200); Diane Turton Realtors in Bay Head (732-295-9700).
James Taylor called them dreamlike; Arlo Guthrie immortalized Stockbridge's Officer Obie
While it's unlikely that he had East Hampton in mind at the time, Sartre's proclamation is resoundingly apt to those who choose the Berkshires: Hell is other people. These verdant hills, on the other hand, would have been right up his alley. Here, refugees from the city change from peacocks to badgers -- shy, watchful, and private. At his North Egremont "country store," Craig Elliot greets the New Yorkers who come out irregularly with a sly "Welcome home." He'll happily fix your fishing line one day and offer to sell you the motorbike that nearly killed him the next. Around here, he's more essential to the routing of information than a switch from Cisco, and his value is probably steadier. Lee Kalcheim, the veteran playwright and All in the Family writer who spends weekends and summers in West Stockbridge, gathers his literary friends together for volleyball and high-minded repartee. He says the Berkshires are like Greenwich Village in the sixties moved to a bucolic setting. "The peace, the tranquillity, it rejuvenates me," says entertainment lawyer Charles Mirotznik, who can't wait to get to his Tyringham farm on Friday nights. "It's a world apart from the litigiousness of New York."
FAMILIAR FACES Pass through Williamstown this summer and you might catch Bebe Neuwirth, Mike Myers, or Michelle Williams, but, of course, they'll be working. Residents include James Taylor, Gene Shalit, Emmanuel Ax, Seiji Ozawa, Yo-Yo Ma, Pauline Kael, and theater producer Michael Frazier.
TRAVEL TIME Two and a half hours up the winding Taconic State Parkway, under conditions that provoke seething envy among the I-495 parking-lot crowd.
THINGS TO DO Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is probably the best-known of the area's cultural attractions. Its glorious lawns and auditoriums are packed every day and evening throughout the summer with music lovers and family picnickers. This season marks Ozawa's valedictory after 28 years. Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Becket -- home to the first theater in the United States designed specifically for dance -- has become one of the greatest modern-dance venues anywhere. Shakespeare & Company has found a new home in Lenox -- a vast estate that will include the 430-seat Founders' theater and a stage to be erected in a naturally formed rock amphitheater that was last used by Native Americans.
NICE PLACES TO VISIT: Wheatleigh in Lenox (413-637-0610) has undergone a $4 million restoration; this lovely Italianate villa is now a member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World. Its nineteen rooms and suites range from $435 to $1,175 per night. The restaurant offers a menu that mixes classic French with American genius. The more modest, Colonial-style Red Lion Inn (413-298-5545; rooms start at $189 in the summer) in Stockbridge is an area landmark and stands out in a region where inns and B&Bs abound.
ENTRY PRICE Summer-house rentals range from $8,000 for a three-bedroom contemporary to $25,000 with a pool and some wooded acreage. Something that will impress not only your friends but an orbiting space station as well could go for $75,000. In the Great Barrington area, $300,000 can get you a three-bedroom, two-bath contemporary.
REALTOR Dorian Held at Wheeler & Taylor Realty Company in Stockbridge (413-298-3786).
SIGNS OF THE TIMES In a peculiar case of cultural regress, the glorious old Mahaiwe movie theater in Great Barrington is being transformed into, get this, an opera house.