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The UnHamptons

Brag about your prewar digs in this Hudson Valley hamlet, and you're likely to be asked "Which war?"

This preserved nineteenth-century village on the Hudson has become a low-key retreat for New Yorkers of a certain taste and income level. "As soon as I get to the Sprain Brook," says Manhattan trial lawyer Steve Bassin, "it's green instead of gray, and the pressures of the city just fall behind." He writes letters by the hearth in the early morning; his wife, Carol, cooks elaborate meals in the afternoon; and at night, they sit on the porch of their Nantucket-style house for hours talking with friends. "It's like going to your hiding place," he says. But while the village may be sleepy, it's not snoring. There's a movie house and a theater company, several upscale restaurants and boutiques, and everything from antique cars to livestock competitions at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds. "Rhinebeck is for people who don't require an intense social scene and just want quiet," says local carpenter and former Manhattan actor Michael West. Another attractive feature is the sense of community. "I feel like I'm in a place with some sense of value and not just an ant on the hill," says Bassin. Come Sunday night, it's never easy returning to the city: "It's like they let me out of jail and I go back of my own accord. How stupid can I be?"

FAMILIAR FACES Liv Tyler or Eric Roberts can be found breakfasting at Blondies, and Bob Guccione Sr. buys his canvases at the Rhinebeck Artist's Shop (he paints figure models). Authors James Gurney and Scott Spencer, illustrator Elwood Smith, and photographer Annie Leibovitz all live in or near Rhinebeck.

HOT TOPIC Not even PCBs in the Hudson raise local hackles as much as the prospect of commercialization. When CVS won initial approval earlier this year to become the first chain store in Rhinebeck, fourth-grader Emma Alban launched a protest, replete with petitions, buttons, and lawn-front signs.

TRAVEL TIME A two-hour drive on the Taconic or about an hour and 40 minutes by Amtrak from Penn Station to Rhinecliff.

THINGS TO DO In the nineteenth century, this region was dubbed Millionaire's Row. After walking the grounds of the Vanderbilt or Roosevelt or Wilderstein estate, weekenders can dine like robber barons in Rhinebeck. There's French at Le Petit Bistro (845-876-7400), sushi at Osaka Japanese Restaurant (845-876-7338), or Adirondack duck at the Beekman 1766 Tavern (845-871-1766). "Lines go out the door," warns New Yorker cartoonist Danny Shanahan.

NICE PLACES TO VISIT You can stay in a Revolutionary-era room at the Beekman Arms, which claims to be the oldest continuously-operating hotel in America (845-876-7077; doubles start at $85). Or if you'd rather spend the night in the woods (yet still wake up to terry-cloth robes and freshly baked muffins), book a room at the Olde Rhinebeck Inn (845-871-1745, doubles start at $195).

ENTRY PRICE A small two-bedroom Cape in the village could go for $175,000, while a restored Victorian home on a 100-acre estate on the river might run as high as $8 million. A three-bedroom house in the center of the village rents for $2,000 a month. And if a listing is prewar, make sure to ask which war. That stone cottage might have been built by the Dutch before the Revolution, while that converted barn likely predates the Civil War.

RECOMMENDED REALTORS Helen Battistoni (845-876-7091), Terry Euell (845-876-4343), Leigh Ponvert (845-677-0200).

COMMON COMPLAINT With fairs and festivals throughout the summer, weekend crowds sometimes swell to 30,000, bringing the traffic, congestion, and parking problems most city slickers thought they had left behind. As one native mother complained, "Pretty soon, you'll have to go to Rochester."

4Litchfield County
Don't be fooled by the sleepy pastoral landscape: The hills are alive with boldface New Yorkers.

In this bucolic slice of Northwestern Connecticut, a storybook landscape of two-lane roads, restored Colonial homes, and white steepled churches, the word scene doesn't get used very often. "I'd be hard-pressed to give you a list of five places to go to be seen," says Christopher Morley, a Wall Street bond trader who bought a summer home (and a canoe) in Falls Village with his wife, Leone Young, in 1987. "I prefer to go to places where I'm not seen." He's not alone. "We didn't want an area where we felt we had to get dressed up every weekend," says Leslee Fein, who bought a home with her husband, Harold (a music-company exec), in Goshen in 1999. "We wanted something low-key." That isn't to say that Litchfield County doesn't have its share of celebrities. But it's the large lots, lack of traffic, and dearth of nosy locals that brought them there in the first place.

FAMILIAR FACES The list is long: Joan Rivers, Dustin Hoffman, Jasper Johns, Dick Ebersol, Bill Blass, Ivan Lendl, and Meryl Streep. Harrison Ford is reportedly the area's newest celebrity fugitive.

STREETSCAPE Harley-riding executives in full leathers can be spotted at the popular White Flower Farm filling up little wagons with geraniums. Former biker and current Whitney Broadcasting chairman Bill O'Shaughnessy bought in Litchfield last year and loves it. "Nobody is posing," he says. "The croissants and muffins, however, are not as good as they are in the Hamptons. And you sometimes have to scramble for a New York Post."

THINGS TO DO While the surrounding countryside offers hiking, horseback riding, and fishing, the most popular sport is perhaps competitive antiquing down in "the Burys" -- Woodbury, Roxbury, and Southbury. The Litchfield Jazz Festival in Goshen brings in the heavy hitters each August (August 3 to 5 this year, with Dave Brubeck and Roy Hargrove, among others). The West Street Grill in the town of Litchfield draws the likes of Philip Roth, Diane Sawyer, Mike Nichols, and Manolo Blahnik head George Malkemus. (Hint: Ask for the Parmesan-aïoli bread; it's not on the menu, but they'll make it for you. Richard Gere's a big fan.)

HOT TOPIC Where to put native daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe's childhood home in the town of Litchfield. The owner wants it near the town's mansion row on North Street. Millionaire neighbors fear tourists. Another pressing concern: cell-phone antennas. There aren't enough. To avoid disrupting the eighteenth-century ambience, telcos have suggested placing them in church steeples. Locals say those plans don't have a prayer.

TRAVEL TIME There are any number of ways to get there, from freeways to country roads that are often just as fast. The commute from midtown takes anywhere from 90 minutes to two and a half hours, depending on which part of the county you're headed to. Washington is about two hours, Litchfield around fifteen minutes more.

NICE PLACES TO VISIT If you're looking for a central location, the Litchfield Inn (800-499-3444, rooms start around $125) is an excellent choice (Dennis Hopper was a recent guest). For a tad more indulgence, the Mayflower Inn (860-868-9466) charges $400 to $600 a night for its brand of nineteenth-century elegance (and that's for a "standard" room).

RECOMMENDED REALTORS E.J. Murphy Realty in Litchfield (860-567-0813); Klemm Real Estate in Washington (860-868-7313); the Surnow Group in Washington Depot (860-868-3038).

PRICE POINTS Summer rentals range from $15,000 to $60,000. A modest three-bedroom home on a side road starts at around $250,000. How high do they go? A thirteen-room "equestrian estate" in Roxbury is currently on the market for $9.5 million.
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5Delaware River
Along the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border lies a closer, cheaper, quieter alternative to the beach.

Made up of tiny towns on the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides of the Delaware River, Bucks and Hunterdon Counties draw a liberal, artistic crowd -- Oscar Hammerstein II, James Michener, and Dorothy Parker were among the early pioneers -- along with magazine editors, gay couples, and Wall Street executives. "It has a casual attitude, but the quality of life is really good," says decorative-arts dealer David Rago, who relocated his auction house to Lambertville, New Jersey, from Manhattan in 1996. Each town has a distinct personality -- from the history-book feel of Frenchtown, whose population hasn't grown at all in the past 100 years, to the dozens of hippie T-shirt shops and hipster galleries along Main Street in New Hope, Pennsylvania -- but most New Yorkers head out in pursuit of secluded farmhouses, canoe trips down the river, and country quietude. "We wanted a house down a winding dirt road with a shed out in the woods where my wife and I could write," says Pulitzer-winning author Jonathan Weiner. "It's nice to get away from the pressure cooker of New York and hang out with local people who are doing carpentry, teaching school."

SOCIAL SCENE Weekenders may spend their days pricing antiques at the Golden Nugget flea market in Lambertville or riding bicycles along the tow path, but just because they've chosen the river over the beach doesn't mean they're spending all their weekend nights catching up on their sleep. Whether attending a fund-raiser for fact (Fighting aids Continuously Together) in Bucks County or a private party at an artist's studio, the locals and part-timers manage to mix it up together.

FAMILIAR FACES Local homeowners include Rod Stewart, actress Blair Brown, TV journalist Soledad O'Brien, news anchor Forrest Sawyer, artist Alex Katz, and screenwriter Ted Tally. Frank McCourt and Sheryl Crow were seen looking at property in the area, and there's always the rumor that Barbra Streisand is shopping for an estate.

TRAVEL TIME Expect an hour and 45 minutes by car from midtown, with a virtually hassle-free ride once you're out of the Lincoln Tunnel, though one resident claims she can make it from Upper Black Eddy to a bar in the financial district in 50 minutes post-rush hour. The Trans-Bridge Lines service several towns in the area from the Port Authority Bus Terminal (610-868-6001).

THINGS TO DO Summer highlights include the Riverside Symphonia (609-397-7300) and Tinicum Polo every Saturday afternoon at Tinicum Park. New Hope's early days as a theater mecca can still be felt at the Bucks County Playhouse (215-862-2041), and insiders catch jazz concerts at the Gobbler's, a converted roller-skating rink in Point Pleasant (215-297-8607). Hamilton's Grill Room in Lambertville (609-397-4343) is a favorite for Mediterranean food, and the bar at the Swan (609-397-1960) serves drinks in the courtyard during the summer, but the area is known for its gourmet cuisine (many restaurants are BYOB, so call ahead).

NICE PLACES TO VISIT The Bridgeton House in Upper Black Eddy (610-982-5856, doubles start at $139) and the Black Bass Hotel in Lumberville (215-297-5770, doubles start at $80) both offer incredible views of the river. New Hope's Logan Inn (215-862-2300, doubles start at $135) was just renovated.

ENTRY PRICE Rentals for a two-bedroom cottage start at $2,500 a month and run up to $15,000 for a historic riverfront estate on 30 acres. Second homes range from $250,000 to $4 million. Fieldstone houses with fireplaces and hardwood floors can still be found for under $1 million, and new homes in Solebury or Upper Makefield townships can go for $1 million to $2 million.

REALTORS Kurfiss Real Estate (215-794-3227) and Lisa James Otto Country Properties (215-862-2626) serve Bucks and Hunterdon Counties.

HAMPTONS FACTOR Getting "accidentally" lost along someone's mile-long driveway in order to catch a glimpse of his sprawling estate could soon become a common pastime for locals. "There is that ritzy element," says Jennifer Chaki-Artur, general manager of a cosmetics store in New Hope. "There are people here who have private helicopters that they use to commute to New York."