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3 Northeastern weekend escapes

By Peter Jon Lindberg, Heather Smith MacIsaac, Meeghan Truelove
In Maine, a lobster-roll lunch can precede an afternoon of blueberry picking and Skee-Ball by the boardwalk.
In Maine, a lobster-roll lunch can precede an afternoon of blueberry picking and Skee-Ball by the boardwalk.
  • Travel ideas for Maine, New York's Hudson River Valley and Virginia
  • Browse the 12,000-plus volumes at Hudson City Books
  • State that captivated Thomas Jefferson now lures John Grisham, Robert Duvall
  • In Virginia, The Inn at Little Washington draws a well-heeled crowd

(Travel + Leisure) -- Enjoy the seaside charms of southern Maine, antiquing in the Hudson River Valley and Virginia's emerging wine country.

Maine's Southern Coast (260 miles round-trip from Boston)

This is Maine at its most alluring: a rich landscape where sunrise on a sandy beach can be followed by a hike through a mist-shrouded wildlife preserve, where a lobster-roll lunch can precede an afternoon of blueberry picking, where Skee-Ball by the boardwalk can segue into a candlelit dinner at a country inn.

Our list of favorites for a weekend away is as much about the land as the sea -- pine forests and Colonial-era villages meet lighthouses, harbors, and the spray of the surf.

Lay of the Land: Right over the New Hampshire border, about an hour from Boston, Kittery is best known for outlet shopping, but its tranquil residential enclaves are a world apart: woodsy Kittery Point has a top-notch lobster shack and a virtually undiscovered state park, Fort Foster.

Next up the coast are the Yorks: Rockwellian York Village, blue-blooded York Harbor, and honky-tonk York Beach, where old-time motels, ice cream parlors, and arcades face the sand.

Off nearby Cape Neddick stands whitewashed Nubble Light, the state's most celebrated lighthouse.

A low-key version of Provincetown, gay-friendly Ogunquit is a long-standing artists' haven (several galleries line Shore Road).

It has the loveliest beach on the coast, framed by grassy dunes and a tidal river. Walk the oceanfront Marginal Way foot-path to Perkins Cove, a minuscule marina traversed by a pedestrian-only wooden drawbridge.

The Bush family may have put Kennebunkport (and its sister village, Kennebunk) on the national map, but old money has been ensconced here for ages -- only now those elegant captain's mansions and Federalist houses have luxury sedans parked out front.

For all the patrician polish, there remains a salty authenticity to the "K'bunks," especially beside the marina, along the beaches, and in the many lobster pounds lining the shore.

Forty-five minutes away lies Portland (population 64,500), which may seem like a small town on paper but is Maine's largest and most cosmopolitan city, with eclectic shopping and a thriving culinary scene.

For the quintessential Maine coast experience, catch a ferry at the Casco Bay Lines terminal to one of the hundreds of islands in breezy, briny Casco Bay.

The Route: Boston to Cape Neddick: 72 miles; Cape Neddick to Ogunquit: 9 miles; Ogunquit to Kennebunkport: 12 miles; Kennebunkport to Portland: 30 miles

Hudson River Valley (250 miles round-trip from New York City)

Just in time for the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's initial voyage up the river, the Hudson Valley has emerged from a deep slumber.

The landmark mansions and mom-and-pop storefronts have been joined by galleries, performance spaces, and flourishing restaurants; locals run the gamut from farmers to art-world heavy hitters (is that Brice Marden at the local tavern?).

History meets new energy in our ideal weekend mix.

Lay of the Land: The small cities of Hudson and Beacon bookend this stretch of the Hudson River Valley, with larger Poughkeepsie in the middle.

All three suffered a period of decline in the 20th century, but have since gone to great lengths to spruce up their main streets, lined with 18th- and 19th-century buildings running perpendicular to the Hudson River.

Hudson in particular has scarcely a vacant storefront left; galleries and cafés join the antiques shops on Warren Street, where goods range from the ancient to the modern -- Sheraton looking glass to a set of Frank Lloyd Wright tables.

Spend a lazy afternoon browsing the 12,000-plus volumes at Hudson City Books.

Further downriver, in Annandale-on-Hudson, the Frank Gehry--designed Fisher Center for the Performing Arts landed like a meteor on the Bard College campus, its rippling sheets of stainless steel startling and spectacular amid a landscape still dominated by farms, stone walls, and Calvert Vaux cottages.

Nearby villages Tivoli, Red Hook, and Rhinebeck are abuzz with new enterprises in art, music, and food (just try to find a chain restaurant outlet amid the pick-your-own orchards and cut-your-own flower fields).

Even before the arrival of Dia:Beacon in 2003, artists were already homing in on Beacon as an affordable alternative to New York, but the opening of the contemporary art venue immediately catapulted the working-class town from former "hat-making capital of the U.S." to essential destination on the international art map.

As befits the so-called Brooklyn North, galleries -- more than 10 on Main Street alone -- dominate the brick storefronts; Homespun Foods, the local coffee spot, percolates all day long; and a resourceful, communal attitude prevails.

The Route: New York City to Beacon: 62 miles; Beacon to Annandale-on-Hudson: 39 miles; Annandale-on-Hudson to Hudson: 22 miles

Virginia wine country (280 miles round-trip from Washington)

East of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Piedmont region of Virginia still has the same rolling hills and fields that captivated Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe -- only now it lures the likes of locals John Grisham and Robert Duvall.

Country lanes wind through villages of trim clapboard structures and around pastures framed by white fences. Recently, progressive farms and serious wineries have blossomed, but life continues at a blissfully slow pace.

Lay of the Land: JFK and Jackie may have put Middleburg in the national spotlight when they chose it for their weekend escape from D.C., but it's long been loved by the horsey set for its polished, hunt-country style.

Dignified estates, where the paddocks and barns are as well kept as the houses, ring the compact, low-key downtown.

Tucked away from busy Route 211, tiny Washington (69 miles from Washington, D.C.) still occupies the same five-block by two-block grid laid out by the first president himself.

The neat-as-a-pin brick municipal buildings would seem out of a period movie if the town weren't so vibrant.

The Inn at Little Washington draws a well-heeled crowd that has helped turn the community into an impressive hotbed of culture, with two theaters and a clutch of excellent galleries. In the past two decades, the Main Street of Culpeper has gone from run-down Americana relic to lively commercial hub.

On the town's southern outskirts, Chuck Miller turns corn into Virginia Lightning, using an old family recipe and one of the state's only legal moonshine stills.

Moseying speed is best for sampling the area's small burgs.

On a stroll through Madison, on rural Route 231, you'll find an old wooden church converted into a quilt shop, a diner where high school teams gather postgame to wolf down fried cheesecake, and front porches meant for lingering.

Charlottesville may be best known as home to the University of Virginia, but much of the action revolves around the pedestrian mall, where a free-speech monument -- a massive slate wedge with chalk for passersby to scrawl their thoughts -- was just unveiled in front of City Hall.

Our founding fathers would be proud.

The Route: Washington, D.C., to Middleburg: 42 miles; Middleburg to Washington, Virginia: 43 miles; Washington, Virginia, to Charlottesville: 58 miles

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