Resolved to get away from the city for the weekend and with little time to spare on Friday between the end of work and the onset of the Sabbath, I was looking for a place that was close enough to reach in time, but distant enough to feel away.
The Catskills and Berkshires were too far, the roads to the Jersey Shore and the Hamptons too traffic-clogged, but the hills of Pennsylvania , 80 miles west, seemed to make sense — on the map, at least.
So, with the old Mount Airy Lodge commercial jingle bouncing around inside my head, I headed across the Hudson and Delaware Rivers to a quaint bed-and-breakfast in a quiet, wooded corner of the Pocono Mountains near Hickory Run State Park.
Though the Poconos may lack the cachet that New York ’s other weekend destination areas carry, the region seems to have undergone a facelift since the dreary days of the 1980s and early 90s. Then, the area had a reputation for run-down resorts, cheesy heart-shaped Jacuzzi bathtubs and dumpy antique shops.
But over the last few years, resorts have been refurbished and rebuilt, charming B&Bs have popped up and inns have cleaned up and gone Wi-Fi. You’re more likely to find yourself in an environmentally friendly B&B built with local timber and served by well-water than in a cheap motel with mosquitos swarming outside patchy window screens.
At least, that’s what my wife and I found at the Inn at Hickory Run, a four-bedroom B&B built by a couple of engineering graduates just three years ago.
The inn is at once state-of-the-art and environmentally friendly. The structure was built with local timber, and each room is themed according to a different type of wood. Heating and air conditioning are provided by geothermal furnaces, lights, doors and electrical appliances are controlled by automated computer systems, and, of course, the entire place has wireless Internet.
At the same time, the Inn at Hickory Run retains a charming, rustic atmosphere, with fireplaces in every room and set in the unspoiled Pennsylvania countryside.
Instead of being awakened by garbage trucks crushing trash in the middle of the night, I fell asleep to the pitter-patter of rain, the soft croaking of frogs and a gentle breeze outside my open window.
Rather than negotiating my way past crazy people mumbling to themselves on Broadway in the morning, I stepped out of the inn right into the woods, climbing above a little-used railroad track to sweeping views of the nearby cliffs and the river that ran between them.
And when the temperatures dipped and the spring air got a little nippy, I headed back to the inn for some refreshment, a dip in the bathroom hot tub and some wine by the in-room gas fireplace.
Even as it has changed to keep pace with the 21st century and the increasingly discriminating tastes of New Yorkers, the Poconos has retained its country charm.
Just 90 minutes from Manhattan, the area has some of the best hiking trails, waterfalls, lakes, swimming holes and fishing spots within two hours of the city.
And with quaint railroad towns nestled in the mountains, outlet shopping, resorts and charming bed-and-breakfasts, it makes for a perfect weekend getaway.
My wife and I spent most of our time at the Poconos decompressing. We relaxed in our cozy inn, hiked up mountaintops in Hickory Run State Park, and hopped stones in streams between waterfalls. We also made time for a little sightseeing and shopping at Jim Thorpe, a picturesque old railroad town with a storied history nestled in Pennsylvania ’s verdant mountains.
Once called the Mauch Chunk, the town was founded by the Lehigh Coal Company and became a key railroad transfer point for passengers during the heyday of the railroad era. The town eventually fell into disrepair as the railroads died out, but it began a revival about half a century ago when, in a bid to draw tourists, the town changed its name following the 1953 death of Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe.
Walking down Jim Thorpe’s main road feels like walking in a Norman Rockwell painting, with historic inns, boutique shops and picturesque homes lining a main street that is dwarfed by the surrounding Pennsylvania mountains.
Some of the Poconos’ most beautiful waterfalls are just a hike away, though you don’t need a map – or a plan -- to find waterfalls in the Poconos. The area is teeming with them.
There’s also horseback riding, amusement parks and spelunking, for those who prefer different types of outdoor adventures.
Perhaps best of all, the revival of the Poconos is still a secret to most New Yorkers.
That means that while you’ll find a surfeit of pleasant surprises tucked away in these beautiful hills, you’ll find the Poconos is mostly free of the mobs of annoying New Yorkers that flock weekly to New York’s other weekend destinations.
(The author was a guest of the Poconos Visitor’ Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau. To learn more about visiting the Poconos, call 1-800-POCONOS or visit www.800poconos.com. To reach the Inn at Hickory Run, call 1-877 797 3618 or visit www.innatchickoryrun.com).