WHY GO: When bold-faced names wanted to sneak away from the “Big City” – back when our country was first formed – they came to the wilds of what is now Katonah and Bedford in Westchester County, NY. They still do, though the “wilds” have been tamed a bit. And even though there’s a outdoor music venue to rival Tanglewood, an open-to-the-public estate of our country’s first Chief Justice, an innovative world class contemporary museum, and two charming villages within a few minutes drive of each other – not to mention a laid-back 8-room luxury inn owned by a Hollywood star – all this may come as a surprise to Getaway Mavens readers. As Bedford/Katonah NY is in my own back yard, yes visit, but please keep word of mouth to a whisper. It’s just that kind of place.
Things To Do In Bedford and Katonah NY
GO TO A CONCERT: Caramoor. An electric gate opens onto a long, winding primeval-forest of a driveway that takes you through 100 acres of gardens, greenhouses, performance pavilions and the main house – a Spanish-style stucco villa that encircles an open courtyard. It took investment banker Walter Rosen and his wife, Lucie ten years (from 1929 – 1939), to build a summer home to house their collection of Renaissance, Rococo, Chinese and English art and furnishings and entertain a diverse group of friends with concerts, recitals and parties. The museum-like home is cause in and of itself to find your way to this pocket of Westchester, NY but, amazingly, not the numero uno reason people flock here from all over the world. Caramoor is billed as a “Garden of Great Music”: Jazz, Chamber Music, Classical and Roots concerts play to blissed-out audiences in the gardens, courtyard and home throughout the year. It’s like a slice of the Berkshires in a New York City commuter town, and sometimes feels like Westchester County’s little secret. For a special experience, visit Caramoor on select Thursdays or Fridays in Sept. and Oct for a tour of the home and “Afternoon Tea” – tea and scones served on the Rosen’s china ($31). Check website for concerts and programs year round.
TOUR: The John Jay Homestead, Katonah. John Jay, along with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, helped broker the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which effectively ended our new nation’s war with England. In turn, President George Washington offered Jay any post in the newly formed government. Jay chose to utilize his law degree, earned at King’s College (now Columbia University) when he was 19 years old, as America’s first Chief Justice. Elected Governor of New York State in 1795 (in absentia) he stepped down as Justice to serve New York until 1802. Yet with all these bone fides, most people have never heard of the man who was not as outspoken as Adams and Franklin, and who preferred to live out his post-public service life in the middle of nowhere – a two day carriage ride from New York – as a “Gentleman Farmer” on 750 acres.
The home stayed in the Jay family through five generations until 1954 when it was turned over to the State as a tourist site – one of the few with most key pieces of furniture original to the home, including a unique portable Barrister’s Bookcase that comes apart for easy transport, a shortened piano forte designed for Jay’s granddaughter, four poster canopy beds (including the one in which John’s wife Sara passed away), and two “Balloon Chairs,” fashioned to commemorate the flight of the first hydrogen air balloon in Paris in 1783 – an event witnessed firsthand by Sara Jay and Benjamin Franklin. Perhaps most thrilling for visitors to see is Jay’s original roll-top desk, imbued with history. One is left to only imagine the important documents that must have graced its surface. The home went through several expansions, including one in 1920 that doubled the size of the house, and is a lot larger than it first appears. Expect to spend at least 1½ hours. $7 adults, kids free, April – October 10am-4pm, Nov – March 10am-3pm. One hour tours on the hour.
VISIT: Katonah Museum of Art. As a “non-collecting” museum, The Katonah curates ten exhibits each year, building programming and family events around works of contemporary art, furniture, found objects, collage and at times strange juxtapositions. In the outdoor sculpture garden, see “Six Ladders” by Andrea Lilienthal – colorful multi-story ladders like totems, leaning against tall pine trees – through April 2014. $10 adults, open Tues – Sat 10-5, Sun. 12-5; guided tours Tues-Sun @ 2:30 free with admission.
STROLL/SHOP: Katonah Downtown. This small suburban commuter-rail-stop with a bit of the Brooklyn about it has found footing as a boutique’y day trip. You won’t find any big-box or franchise stores here, but instead, less costly “with-it” alternatives to shops an hour to the south in New York City.
Splurge on a makeover at Eiluj Beauty Lounge, which features cutting edge cosmetics and creative stylists to show you how to use them. Scented soy candles made from Chinese teacups and soup bowls make the perfect hostess gift. You can pick up a bunch, along with other stylish home and body accessories, without breaking the bank at Ouvo Moderno. (small $9, large $18 in the most sophisticated scents).
VISIT: Bedford Town Green. The Bedford Historical Society manages ten buildings around the original 1681 Town Green, where the spire of the gleaming Presbyterian Church is the highest point around, rendering this quaint village a living museum.
Where To Eat In Bedford and Katonah NY
EAT: Campagna @ Bedford Post Inn. The former “Farmhouse” restaurant has been updated as tweaked Italian Campagna. You’ll find Branzino ($34), Lamb ($35), and plenty of innovative pasta dishes here. Owner, Richard Gere, dines here on occasion, but you’ll be enjoying the food on your plate too much to care.
EAT: Blue Dolphin Diner, Katonah. The most recommended restaurant in town, (“it’s not really a diner”), this little blue Italian eatery has a cute homespun interior and churns out satisfying, very reasonably priced meals you might find in Capri or on the Amalfi Coast. Most pasta dishes are in the $16 range, and the most expensive entrees are barely $20. And that’s for dinner. Expect a line around lunch and dinnertime – the Blue Dolphin doesn’t take reservations.
EAT: Bedford 234, formerly Meeting House, Bedford. Once a casual coffee house and the only restaurant in town, Bedford 234 has been elevated to a sophisticated burger and chops kind of place with a smattering of small and large bites – and even vegan options. Perfect for before of after a movie at the Bedford Playhouse next door.
Where To Stay In Bedford NY
STAY: Bedford Post Inn. The 8-room Bedford Post Inn, is owned by Richard Gere – who took a dilapidated farmhouse and turned it into a Relais & Chateaux hideaway, much to the delight of town officials. In Bedford, movie stars were a dime a dozen, but a decent luxury inn was hard to find. Until Gere & Co. stepped up, unless you could score a guest room at Ralph Lauren’s, Michael Douglas and Katherine Z-J’s, or Martha Stewart’s home in this horsey, whitewashed, historic town about 45 miles from NYC there was really no place to stay overnight. Guestrooms are outfitted in the colors of serenity; creams, eggshells and lots of wood. White louvered shutters frame windows. Grey marble baths are massive with showers big enough for a couple to dance in. $550-$650 per night includes afternoon wine and nibbles hour, hearty warm breakfast and classes at the Bedford Post’s Yoga Loft.