Business figures reflect the Catskills' renewal: In Greene County, for instance, overall tourism spending was up 90 percent between the years 1991 and 2001. Even so, the region is still largely defined by its down-to-earth, unpretentious attitude. And it's exactly that lack of ostentation and crowds that make the Catskills a natural haven for the segment of the population who could vacation anywhere they choose. Like Hollywood golden boy Brad Pitt, who caused a buzz when he paid a visit recently. And actor Robert De Niro and model Gisele Bündchen, who have purchased homes in the area in the last few years.

Though the recent influx of new business has helped to lift the area's profile, happily there is no danger of the Catskills becoming overdeveloped; the Environmental Protection Agency ensures it. The mountains have remained unspoiled, in large part, because they are home to New York City's reservoirs. Which means doing business in the watershed requires following strict ecological rules and regulations. To control human encroachment, and possible contamination of the watershed, the Big Apple buys up as many wild acres as possible - land that will be undeveloped in perpetuity.

Indeed, part of the beauty of the Catskills is that nature still exists. Which makes places like Phoenicia, a typical Catskills village with a glorious backdrop of mountains, a perfect getaway for outdoor aficionados of any stripe. It's only two and a half hours from Manhattan, and just 10 minutes (or closer) to downhill and cross-country skiing, kayaking, hiking, mountain
biking, rock climbing, tubing, and fly-fishing. Though most people associate the latter with raging Montana rivers, fly-fishing was actually invented in the Catskills, and groups like Ed's Fly-Fishing & Guide Services will take you out and teach you the basics.