A trip northward from Manhattan to the Catskill Mountains can nearly give you vertigo, and it's not the height of the mountains that does it. The journey is dramatic because in a two-hour drive you're transported from cacophonous, hurried city streets to bucolic, unspoiled countryside. Approached from the air, the region provokes even more wonder: The Hudson Valley and the farmland surrounding the mountains are relatively flat and featureless, then, all of a sudden, the Catskills loom, dark and undulating, with mist-filled valleys and awe-inspiring peaks.
The Catskills have long been a peaceful, affordable destination for vacationing New Yorkers. However, to the world at large, the area has been most often associated with the punch-line-worthy 1960s borscht belt where comedians like Shecky Green and Jackie Mason got their start.
Today, though, a Catskills renaissance is afoot, bringing with it a wave of urban entrepreneurship - everything from transcendent four-star dining to Dead Sea mud scrubs. Hotels such as the Nevele Grande and Swan Lake Resort have undergone million-dollar facelifts to include modern-day amenities like conference centers and sushi bars. And rumor has it that ground will soon be broken on Time Warner exec Alan Gerry's $40 million performing arts complex in historic Woodstock. Even old Route 17 has now been designated Interstate 86.