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Head for the Hills

New Yorkers are trading the overcrowded, overpriced Hamptons for the simpler pleasures of the Catskills. For very little cash, you can have acres of land, pastoral views—and maybe even a model next door.


Easy Living: At their Roscoe retreat, Anne Slowey and Rodger Fairey entertain on the porch.  

Bovina, New York, has never had a drugstore, let alone a dry cleaner. Its only restaurant closed last summer. But this summer, Bovina has buzz. Around town—hell, around all of Delaware County—phones are ringing with the news: Brad and Jennifer are buying 300 acres, the old Carter farm! They’ve got every contractor in the area onboard. And then: When they actually get here, will they want to hang out with us?

Until recently, the Catskills were best known for crumbling resort hotels and a series of local ski hills—Hunter, Windham, and Belleayre—that draw busloads of day-trippers during the winter. But these days, as FOR SALE signs dot every other rambling dairy farm, big new houses crop up on newly cleared mountaintops, and Two Old Tarts does a brisk trade in almond croissants at the farmer’s market, it’s become clear that these sleepy, charmingly shabby environs are being rediscovered. Yes, by people like the Aniston-Pitts, but also by people like you, tired of summer shares and East End beach traffic, and itching to actually own a weekend house.

Take Jared Paul Stern. On a rainy summer Friday, the Post’s “Nightcrawler” is not working the phones or trying to figure out what he’s wearing to the evening’s shindig at Soho House. As is his new norm, Stern is at home in Greene County, where his girlfriend, Ruth Gutman, is teaching him the joys of making brownies from a box. Though “we can’t do plumbing,” says Stern, in the year since they closed on their three-bedroom cottage they’ve learned to do just about everything else. They’ve built bookcases, upholstered furniture, rewired vintage chandeliers, and painted the dining room to match an orange Hermès shopping bag. Around the house, there are photographs of the years the couple spent renting, testing the waters from the South Shore of Long Island to New Canaan, Connecticut. “We loved Bellport,” says Ruth. “But it was too expensive.”

They finally bought in Oak Hill, paying about $200,000 for four acres and a 2,500-square-foot fixer-upper. It’s a place where the most exciting group to join is the 12 Tribes, a local hippie cult. Which is not to say there’s nothing to do here: Stern has been known to head into town to pick up vintage postcards or take in some donkey basketball. “It’s the Catskills version of Bridgehampton Polo,” he says. “But a lot more entertaining—it’s not just about swilling champagne and kissing up to Jason Binn.”

It’s the old Hamptons lifestyle without the new Hamptons scene, claims this generation of homesteaders—though there’s certainly no shortage of beautiful people. Kirsty Hume and Donovan Leitch set up house in Woodstock. Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke bought a farm by her parents in Woodstock. Robert De Niro is here, as are Yoko Ono and The Sopranos’ Steve Buscemi and Edie Falco. Kelsey Grammer lives in Andes, and he’s just about everywhere (“He even goes to the A&P like everyone else,” says one local). Since Chandra North moved to Stone Ridge, she’s made new friends, had a baby, and learned to cross-country ski. “I like the beach as much as anyone,” she insists. “But I can’t deal with sitting in traffic for five hours.”

Even Giselle and her Yorkie have found time for sojourns in the mountains between fashion shoots and trips to Brazil. “My boyfriend was talking to her once, and she was like, ‘Now, where is your house? And how do you get there? And do you have a car?’ ” recalls Jed Root, a photographers’ agent who weekends in one of the area’s legendary homes, a twenties concrete castle on 40 acres in Palenville that he bought two years ago for about $375,000. “The next time we saw her, she was like, ‘Oh, hey, I bought a house near Woodstock and a Toyota 4Runner.’ ”

When you’ve grown accustomed to pooling funds for a $40,000 summer rental, there’s serious sticker shock in seeing a house that can be all yours with a $20,000 down payment. A three-bedroom pad on at least ten acres with a swim pond, a barn, and paddocks, 100 miles or so from the city, costs about half what you’d pay for a one-bedroom in Manhattan.

And for those jaded by celebrity-packed store openings and P. Diddy sightings, two dress-down days a week are refreshing. “The last thing I want is to go out on weekends and put on makeup,” says “Page Six” reporter Paula Froelich, who recently bought a one-bedroom cottage on four acres in Lexington for $60,000 (when friends come to visit, they stay at the $25-a-night Lexington Inn). “I bought in the Catskills because (a) it’s affordable, (b) there’s more than one fucking road that goes there, and (c) no one wears Jimmy Choos.” And this from someone who’s best friends with Lizzie Grubman.

City people coming to the Catskills is certainly nothing new. The New York State Legislature declared the mountains “forever wild” in 1894 and created the Catskill Park. Now the region is unofficially defined by county lines—anything in Sullivan, Ulster, Delaware, or Greene counts.

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