The Catskills

Overview

Introduction

A short drive of about 90 mi/145 km north of New York City, the Catskill Mountains became a popular early 20th-century vacation spot for Jewish residents who wanted to escape the summer heat of the city—hence the nickname "The Borscht Belt." Many big-name entertainers and comedians (Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Alan King, for instance) started out in such popular getaways as Kutsher's, the Nevele, the Concord, the Pines and the legendary Grossinger's, which were especially well-known in the 1940s and 1950s.

With the decrease in airfares during the 1960s, many Catskill regulars began traveling to Europe and elsewhere for their summer holidays, neglecting the nature reserves north of New York City. This precipitated a long economic decline that only began to be reversed in recent years. Now, the Catskills are something of a new-age mecca. Ashrams, meditation centers and health spas have replaced many of the old resorts, although a few of the venerable hotels are still in operation. Whatever religion you may or may not follow, the Catskills are still beautiful to visit, with good fishing, skiing and hiking.

While you're in the area, visit Woodstock, the town that gave its name to the original 1969 music festival and its anniversary concerts. (The name was always somewhat misleading: The first Woodstock was actually held 50 mi/80 km away in Bethel at the famous Yasgur farm. Woodstock II, in 1994, was held in Saugerties, and five years later, Woodstock III took place in Rome.) The 1969 site is now home to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. There you can see indoor and outdoor concerts and visit the memorabilia-filled museum devoted to the 1960s and the original Woodstock Music & Art Fair.

The town that lent its name does have a legitimate place in rock 'n' roll history, however. Many stars have taken up residence in the town at one time or another, most notably Bob Dylan and members of The Band.

For a different kind of trip, drive over to Ellenville, renowned for its hang-gliding opportunities, or lie on the floor and watch the mesmerizing colors shift inside the World's Largest Kaleidoscope in Mount Tremper.

The nearby area has rich ethnic diversity, reflected in its many celebrations throughout the year, such as the Irish Festivals in East Durham (Memorial Day weekend), the German Alps Festival in Hunter (August) and the International Celtic Festival in Hunter (August).

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