Tell most people you are planning a trip to New York, and they'll imagine skyscrapers and intensity and noise. But stretching north and west of the city, upstate New York has a different kind of energy. A trip to the Hudson Valley is worth the effort at almost any time of year, and Hudson has come a long way in the last 200 years. In the 19th century, it evolved from a thriving port into a mob-run den. Today, an eclectic mix of artists, writers and foodies have migrated north to live out their downsizing fantasies. And I will be heading along one of America's most scenic highways, to join them.
Right now, however, I am stuck at JFK airport, and my priority is hailing a cab to Brooklyn. When I finally succeed, the taxi curls around the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to Brooklyn Heights, where the buildings are bathed in a bronze glow of the fading daylight. My friend, Brooklyn resident Michael Davis, will be my host in the Hudson Valley. He's an architect, and his apartment is a penthouse loft in the Eagle warehouse on Old Fulton Street. Of course, Frank Freeman's imposing 1893 red-brick replica of an Italianate Palazzo wasn't always a lofty apartment block. The building was home to the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper, once edited by the American literary hero Walt Whitman. The building's facade is still dominated by a huge clock face, the reverse of which forms the focal point of Michael's apartment.
Eagle warehouse residents have the sort of views that I thought only characters in Woody Allen films enjoyed. There's the Brooklyn Bridge, and beyond it the so-familiar skyscrapers of Manhattan's midtown. We join the early evening queues already forming outside Grimaldi's Pizzeria (19 Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn. Tel: +1 718 858 4300; grimaldis.com), a local institution and, some say, purveyors of the city's finest pizza (an hour later, I can happily verify this).
From the Waterfront to the Promenade we take in our final views across the East River - Staten Island, the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan - before heading home for an early night before we hit the road in the morning.
Our final stop in New York is for breakfast at 217 E 61st Street, an Upper East Side townhouse in the Treadwell Farm Historic District. It's the former home of Michael's late mother, the radical artist Tilly Davis-Laycock. This townhouse boasts an impressive list of previous owners. Originally bought as a wedding present in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt for his daughter Alice, it later fell into the hands of an exiled Russian prince, who in turn sold it to its most glamorous resident in 1960, the tragic Montgomery Clift. The actor died here six years later, following an overdose. Although the bar and the built-in bookshelves Clift installed still remain, the plaque outside stating 'Montgomery Clift lived here, 1960-1966' was stolen long ago.
With breakfast over, the journey up the Hudson begins. From the FDR Highway, we take the Harlem Dykeman Street exit and cross over Manhattan Island to the Hudson Parkway to take the Taconic State Parkway. The drive to Hudson takes 30 minutes (alternatively, the Amtrak direct from Penn Station takes one hour 45 minutes).
It's on our first river crossing, the Tappan Zee Bridge, that I get a glimpse of the Hudson proper. The river is wide and majestically lazy, and stretches north as far as you can see, to the quaintly named Sleepy Hollow, Pleasant Valley and beyond. As we carry on driving, the pizza parlours, diners and townhouses of New York are replaced by the Hudson River Valley's own attractions, such as Hyde Park, Roosevelt's presidential estate, and the numerous mansions that line the riverbank, including the Beaux Arts Vanderbilt and Queen Anne Wilderstein.