The Great Gatsby's great escape
New York State's Long Island provided inspiration for F Scott Fitzgerald – and it's been doing the same for visitors ever since.
Wednesday 15 May 2013
What's the attraction?
One of the most hotly anticipated films of the year, Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, is released on Friday. Long Island's Gold Coast and its enclaves of Cow and Great Neck provided the inspiration for East and West Egg – the mansions where much of F Scott Fitzgerald's depiction of the Roaring Twenties are played out.
But this 122-mile long and 20 mile-wide island that trails east of Manhattan has plenty to offer beyond the Gatsby-era mansions. There are windswept beaches, fashionable seaside resorts and quiet, rolling countryside. For more information see iloveny.com, discover longisland.com and discoveramerica.com.
Long Island is a popular weekend retreat for Manhattanites who want to escape the city. If you are visiting New York, it's also possible to spend a day on one of Long Island's many beaches – get there on The Long Island Railroad (001 212 878 7000; mta.info) from Penn Station, which serves Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island from about $21 (£14) return.
Jones Beach (nyparks.com) is one of the most popular – a six-mile strand with good facilities and lifeguards during the summer season. It is also home to the Jones Beach Theatre (001 866 558 8468; jonesbeach.com), a concert venue that sits right in front of the harbour. Highlights for this summer include Fleetwood Mac's 30th anniversary Rumours concert.
Stay in Gatsby style
When it was built for financier Otto Hermann Kahn, the 127-room, French chateau-style Oheka Castle (00 631 659 1400; oheka.com) was the second largest private residence in the United States after the Vanderbilt's Biltmore House in North Carolina. Kahn was also an owner of the Metropolitan Opera, and his parties in the 1920s were legendarily lavish.
The Castle also featured in Orson Welles's Citizen Kane in 1941. Several years ago it was rescued and renovated by its current owners and is now a 32-room hotel and venue. Doubles start at $550 (£367) or, if you can check in to one of its two quietly elegant Gatsby Suites for $660 (£440), including breakfast.
Modern-day Daisies are probably more likely to be found living it up in The Hamptons, the string of picturesque towns and villages of greying cedar wood shingled houses and wide beaches on Long Island's south eastern extremity. Although you might still see Coldplay's Chris Martin catching the waves, Montauk is the most unshowy of The Hamptons' seaside communities. One of the newest places to stay is The Montauk Beach House (001 631 668 2112; thembh.com), a hotel and beach club that hosts a number of special events including a Saturday Poolside Frolic, which was presided over by the likes of DJs Mark Ronson last season. Doubles start at $332 (£221) including breakfast.
Who Said That?
"The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God...and he must be about His Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented...Jay Gatsby...and to this conception he was faithful to the end" F Scott Fitzgerald
"Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes – a fresh, green breast of the new world" The Great Gatsby
"That's all a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool" Daisy Buchanan
"The wild unrest, the snowy, curling caps – the inbound urge and urge of waves, Seeking the shores forever" Walt Whitman, "On Montauk Point"
All that glitters – a Gatsby tour
There are still plenty of landmarks and attractions that offer a flavour of the grandeur of the Gold Coast in its heyday – the 30-mile stretch of Long Island's north coast that became a favourite weekend destination for old money and Wall Street street types in the 1920s.
Once there were about 1,200 mansions, although only 200 survive, and there is still debate about which one was the inspiration for Gatsby's house. The sprawling Sands Point Sands Point Preserve (001 516 571 7900; sand spointpreserve.org) is home to two mansions, Falaise, inspired by a Normandy manor house and the castle-like Hempstead as well as miles of trails and beach walks. The Muttontown Preserve (001 516 571 8500; nassaucountyny.gov) is a large nature reserve where the Chelsea mansion was built in 1924 – the scene of some of the Gold Coast's most glamorous parties.
The verdant surroundings of Planting Fields State Historic Park (001 516 922 9200; planting fields.org) is home to more than 400 acres of woodland, formal gardens, paths, greenhouses and the elaborate Tudor revival mansion, Coe Hall. Another imposing estate is Old Westbury Gardens (001 516 333 0048; oldwestburygardens.org), built in English country house style.
Finally, the recently opened Planetarium and Vanderbilt Museum (001 631 854 5579; vanderbiltmuseum.org) at the Spanish revival-style mansion Eagle's Nest, was the former home of William K Vanderbilt. For more information see historiclongisland.com.
One of New York's hippest neighbourhoods is on Long Island. Williamsburg, in north western Brooklyn. One of its newest hotels is The Wythe (001 718 460 8000; wythehotel.com), which is housed in a turn-of-the- century warehouse with fabulous views of the Manhattan skyline. Doubles start from $335 (£223), room only. Don't miss The Brooklyn Flea (brooklynflea.com), a market held every Sunday between now and Thanksgiving at the East River State Park with more than 100 stalls. Between 11am and 6pm on Saturdays the park also plays host to Smorgasburg (smorgasburg.com), a food market filled with vendors from all over New York and beyond.
If The Hamptons sounds too high-maintenance, Shelter Island offers a low-key alternative. Tucked between the north and south forks of Long Island and reached by a ferry from Greenport, it's a peaceful spot. One third of it is protected as the Mashomack Preserve, with its myriad bird species, woodland, fields and creeks as well as 12 miles of coastline. Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3870; virginholidays.co.uk) offers a seven-night fly-drive from Heathrow to JFK on Long Island from £499 per person, departing in June. Stay at the stylish Maison Blanche (001 631 749 1633; maisonblanche hotel.com) close to the island's pretty Crescent Beach. Doubles start at $205 (£137), room only.
Raise a glass
Long Island's North Fork is one of its most unspoilt and least-visited areas, consisting of a pretty patchwork of villages, coastline and vineyards, with a strong agricultural tradition running throughout. Winemaking has taken off there in the past two decades and many of the region's 40 or so wineries are well worth a visit.
Around Mattituck some of the top small-scale wine producers include Macari (001 631 298 0100; macariwines.com), Paumanok (001 631 722 8800; paunamok.com) and Shinn Estates (001 631 804 0367; shinnestatevine yards.com). All of them have tasting rooms and tours for visitors – and most also have outdoor picnic areas.
"When you visit Coe Hall at Planting Fields Arboretum, take a peek inside the room to the left when you come in the entrance. The stained-glass windows were purchased from the family estate of Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn" Kristen Matejka, director of marketing, Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau (discoverlongisland.com).
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