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Warwick Valley and Sugarloaf: Black Dirt Beauties 

click to enlarge Sugar Loaf - CHRISTINE ASHBURN
  • Christine Ashburn
  • Sugar Loaf

Warmhearted, wonderful, sleek, unique: It's hard to overpraise the Warwick Valley. An hour and a world from Manhattan, clever planning, educated entrepreneurial energy, and a welcoming spirit have kept this landscape unspoiled while nurturing the endeavors and souls of local and transplanted creatives alike.

There's a Shangri-La feel to this valley ringed by rich black dirt farmland. Early settlers must have felt it in the very air; they christened hamlets with names like Amity and Edenville. Moderns concur: Warwick was recently named a Top 10 Weekend Getaway by the website Stylecaster, right along with fabled places like Laguna Beach.

Yet Warwick hasn't a snobbish bone in its body. The village website (the town of Warwick is a village of the same name, two more villages, and several hamlets) highlights an article titled "Discover a World of Adventure in Warwick, NY." One might expect glib self-promotion; the link leads to a local third grader's articulate tribute to the Albert J. Wisner Memorial Library. The town website's local history page frankly confronts the unfairness of early dealings with the Lenni Lenape.

Blended genius and decency empowers Warwickian greatness. Longstanding traditions—the making of wine and cider, the teaching of art and music of every genre, the fostering of individual and community wellness, the retailing of fashion-forward goods for the home and body—just keep improving.

Community celebrations are cunningly organized. Applefest, with its national top-100-events status, is kept to one day, because shutting down the streets for an entire weekend is a pain. But that's far from the only celebration Warwick has up its sleeve. The Warwick Summer Arts Festival, happening across a variety of venues throughout the week of July 19-26, will be a community-wide explosion of exuberance: performances, master classes, and openings and shindigs highlighting every form of the fine and performing arts.

Fun of every flavor is ongoing. Wine and Design offers "Paint It Forward" parties every month; paint and sip to help a local cause. Village Billiards hosts "Bands Billiards and Booze!" evenings; bring your favorite vinyl discs to spin in a sort of old-school DJ open mike night, then hear a live band free from 9 to 11:30pm.

So cherished are the arts here that there's an entire zone they rule. Sugar Loaf Artisan Village houses dozens of independent artists and crafters in a walkable array of shops and studios, many housed in 18th-century buildings. Sugar Loaf is a treasure trove: Oils, acrylics, watercolors, stained glass, photography, pottery, antiques, jewelry, woodworks, candles, soap, and sculpture are just some of the offerings. Browse, shop, and feast; they've got cooking down to an art here too, not to mention music, poetry, and comedy in a world-class performance center.

So take your wanderlust to this enchanted valley for an adventure: shopping, wining, dining, a farmers' market spree, a pilgrimage to the transreligious Pacem in Terris retreat center, a cutting-edge seminar at the Seligman Center. Treat yourself right: Make the sweetness of Sugar Loaf and the wonder of Warwick part of your turf. You'll wonder what took you so long.

Top 10 Things to Know About Warwick & Sugar Loaf

One of Warwick's early industries, iron mining, played a significant role in the American Revolution; the chain that kept British warships from sailing up the Hudson was forged in Warwick. You can hike to abandoned mines—ask at the Sterling Forest State Park Visitors Center and they'll direct you. The 4.3-mile hike also includes Sterling Lake and a fire tower with panoramic views.

Warwick playwright and actor Kevin Anthony Ryan was a semi-starving Manhattan actor in the 1980s before he settled in the valley and became beloved town clown Oakie Doakey. His new work, "The Stations of George Reeves' Cross," which debuts at the Warwick Community Center July 24-26, has been called "brilliant" by the foremost George Reeves historian. Suicide or murder? Check out this slice of Surrealist history and find out.

Surrealism lives on in Sugar Loaf, too. The Seligmann Center at the Citizens Foundation is the onetime home of Swiss Surrealist Kurt Seligmann, and many events there are dedicated to Surrealist heritage. Then there are the Citizens Foundation initiatives devoted to local economics, health care, and place making. Way to keep it real.

The Warwick Valley Railroad may have been small, but it was definitely the Little Engine That Could. Its arrival in 1862 cut the eight-hour travel time to New York City in half, changing everything. It was also the first railroad to carry fresh milk in refrigerated tankers.

Milk is still making news in Warwick. A beloved local dairy, Schuller's, just changed hands from one family to another family; Warwick residents will be able to get fresh cold milk (free of hormones and antibiotics of course) on their doorsteps every morning from the new management, Moore Dairy and Distributors. In real bottles.

The Village of Warwick rocks a cherished historic preservation district with everything from a pre-Revolutionary stone tavern to a funky brick gas station on display; don't miss the row of Victorian-era "painted ladies" adorning Maple Avenue.

Speaking of history, the 1760 Burt Farmhouse on Galloway Road is still occupied by direct descendants of builder Daniel Burt. We're talking 12 generations who've made Warwick home. And speaking of cutting edge, ribbons were recently cut on the solar array that now powers the farm—panels, of course, arrayed on a barn so that the historic farmhouse would stay intact.

One of Warwick's many finely tuned specialties is wonderful wine. Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery, Demarest Hill Winery, Clearview Vineyard, and Applewood Winery are artisanal and lovely operations where you'll be welcomed to visits, tastings, special events, and live music. Check out Doc's Cidery at Warwick Valley to get the scoop on how a historic Hudson Valley specialty is revitalizing apple farming and taking the country by storm.

As you might expect in an area famed for high-quality soil, farm-to-fork is also huge in this valley. The farmers' market, topflight and diverse, is a 22-year-old institution that draws nearly 40,000 shoppers (not all at once, they note) on Sundays to partake of everything from arugula to strawberry rhubarb pie, with a live-music soundtrack. Restaurants, from the all-vegan Conscious Fork to Eddie's Roadhouse, serve the freshest of the fresh with pride and creativity. Take a Black Dirt Farm Tour to get familiar with the roots.

At Pacem in Terris, you can visit the home of the philosopher/artist Frederick Franck, a Netherlands native who saw art as meditation, practiced dentistry with Albert Schweitzer, and authored 35 books, the best-known being The Zen of Seeing. Touring the grounds and enjoying Franck's "Icons" in the sculpture garden is free all summer long.

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