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A Guide to Orange County Towns: Warwick and Sugar Loaf

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Mason and Samantha at Pennings Farm Petting Zoo in Warwick. - JOHN GARAY
  • John Garay
  • Mason and Samantha at Pennings Farm Petting Zoo in Warwick.

There's no time like summer to experience the enchantment of the Warwick Valley. The creativity and rich black dirt are in productive high gear; the fresh food's sizzling on the grill, the libations are flowing, and the music's throbbing. Warwick Village is full of welcomed wanderers, local and international.

Festivals are an art in themselves here. Culture has been a transformative force here for generations, both fueling and dominating commerce for decades, displayed in a spirit that blends reverence and fun. From July 12 through August 16, the Warwick Summer Arts Festival offers adventures for mood, mind, and spirit. The kickoff on July 12 is the 10 Minute Play Festival at the Warwick Performing Arts Center, offering readings of original screenplays, mini-plays and scenes. Saturday, July 14, is a day to Wonder Wander Warwick as the village explodes with visual and experiential artwork presentations. It's a walkable experience and will include hands-on opportunities to experiment with clay pressing, paper flower making, interpretive dancing, interactive large-scale painting, crocheting with plastic "yarn," and more. Bring the kids and create a family set of keepsake Wonder Wands to take home. (The weekend of July 7-8, the Warwick Merchant's Guild presents the Sidewalk Sale, with street vendors, in-store specials, and, for those feeling gluttonous, a pie-eating contest sponsored by Noble Pies.)

Visitors enjoying Vernon Byron’s Dusklit 2017 VR Installation. - CODY ROUNDS
  • Cody Rounds
  • Visitors enjoying Vernon Byron’s Dusklit 2017 VR Installation.

On July 18, it's time for the Poetry Slam and Jam to rock the Pennings Farm Beer Garden. On July 28, the action moves to Scheuermann Farms for a Sunset Concert on the Lawn that includes the culminating glory of the Warwick Dance Collective Summer Intensive. On August 2, you're invited to view the results of July's collaboration between local youth and topnotch local talent in the Front Porch Summer Arts Program & Exhibit.

On Saturday August 11, partake of the Dusklit Interactive Art Festival 2018, featuring 38 immersive experiences by 64 contemporary artists from across the United States and Canada. Curated by visual artists Olivia Baldwin and Cody Rounds, the festival offers elaborate sensory environments, sound installations, and a costume-lending tent. You, as festival-goer, are considered integral to the magic that will happen. (See a pattern here? Warwick doesn't just show you beauty produced by others. It draws you in and evokes the beauty you brought with you in your heart.) Dusklit happens at the Seligmann Homestead at the Citizens Foundation in the hamlet of Sugar Loaf (located in the town of Chester), the former home of world-renowned surrealist Kurt Seligmann. Dusklit features performance art, new media, music, dance, poetry, interdisciplinary collaborations, and roving projects. "Lots of new surprises this year," says curator Rounds. "We are really trying to push play and spontaneity this time around."

And on August 16, the festival finishes up with a retro-meets-cutting-edge flourish. It's $20 a carload ($10 a person) to get into the Warwick Valley Drive-In for a screening of locally produced short films. Keeping it fresh and local is the Warwick way.

From August 9 through 12, be on the lookout for the Hudson Valley Jazz Festival, happening at various indoor and outdoor venues. The New York Swing Exchange will kick things off with a free concert on the Warwick Village Green.

So those are some especially good times to visit the Warwick Valley, but there's really no bad time. Even on any old weekday afternoon, there's much that's fabulous to explore. Retail here is free-form, with shops that mirror the owner's passion and personality. Reinvented in the Wick, for example, specializes in refurbished and recycled treasures, and owner Terri offers workshops in case you'd like to learn how to do that yourself.  You'll find artisan jewelry, art glass, and singular decor at Iriniri; custom confections at the Candy Apple Shoppe; and gluten-free foods and wellness products at Down2Earth Market. Style Counsel specializes in making fine designer fashion a pleasure to purchase and wear. All of this and more is presented with an artful touch and a genuine Warwick welcome. And if antiques are your bliss, there are a day's worth of varied and eclectic shops. (Warwick is not without its esoteric side: The practical teachings of early 20th-century mystic George Gurdjieff live on at the Chardavogne Barn spiritual community. Spend a day learning about the Fourth Way on July 7)

Black-Dirt Bliss

You'll also want to devote an entire day to exploring Sugar Loaf Arts and Crafts Village, located in the town of Chester. Just as the name suggests, a fine group of makers have banded together here to create and display their wares. Fine jewelry, candles, soaps, handmade paper goods, herbs, magic supplies, wearable art of all sorts, furniture, fantasy swords, woodcarving, stained glass...should you be in need of a gift for someone you love dearly, yourself included, Sugar Loaf's sweetness will blow you away.

Want to get outdoors? Here, too, this valley's abundantly blessed. The nine-mile-long, spring-fed Greenwood Lake is Orange County's largest body of fresh water, welcoming swimmers, boaters, fisherfolk, water skiers, and jet skiers. There's a public beach and an array of marinas to get you set to go. Wickham Lake offers still more water fun. (Wickham Woodlands Park is one of the best reuses of a one-time prison site that you'll find anywhere).

Having fun is thirsty work, and the Warwick Valley offers an array of best-in-class options for thirst-quenching. Breweries abound, making good use of delicious ingredients grown from the black dirt. (The Dirt's Brew Hop held in June featured five local breweries—Pine Island Brewing, Glenmere Brewing Company, Long Lot Farm Brewery, Westtown Brew Work,and Equilibrium Brewery.) Wine is equally fine: The Applewood Winery and Distillery will happily turn you on to the reasons that Hudson Valley wines, liquors, and hard cider have made such a stir in the craft beverage world, as will the Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery. Both places offer tastings, cafes, and live music events.

Escolar served with baby bok choy, tempura-fried garlic scapes, wasabi, sesame, and soy, pickled ginger. The garlic scapes are from The Kitchen Garden, the four-acre organic garden co-owned by Chef and Dominique Herman, the produce source for The Grange. - GREG RHEIN
  • Greg Rhein
  • Escolar served with baby bok choy, tempura-fried garlic scapes, wasabi, sesame, and soy, pickled ginger. The garlic scapes are from The Kitchen Garden, the four-acre organic garden co-owned by Chef and Dominique Herman, the produce source for The Grange.

You'll be hungry, too, and as you might expect, food is yet another love language fluently spoken in these parts. Farm-to-table, fresh, savory fare is on the menu at the Grange, a chef-owned-and-operated outpost where James Haurey applies his creative chops to the finest local goodies in a frequently changing, always-inspired menu that's accented with bimonthly art exhibits, movie nights (Chew-n-View), and live piano music on Mondays. At Noble Pies, Leslie Noble and Tom Herman are celebrating 10 years and 100,000 pies worth of fine artisanal baking this month. Combine your fondness for local suds with the deliciousness of local ingredients prepared New American-style at a beer dinner at Eddie's Roadhouse, a laidback gastropub. And those are just three examples: Your choices include classic and New American, fine Italian and pizza, Thai, Greek and Latin options, and more. Vegetarian and vegan-friendly places abound. Want to experience a creamery, a an Irish pub, a European-style chateau, or just a darn fine taco? The Warwick Valley can fix you right up.

The Warwick Valley's location, just an hour from Manhattan, has helped nurture the development of world-class culture in all sorts of flavors. Its exceptional beauty has bred ferocious loyalty that's protected it well against being overtaken by sprawl, and the result—three villages and nine hamlets strung around with farms—is like nowhere else on Earth. This, after all, is the place where a little local harvest festival begun nearly 30 years ago morphed into Applefest. Come down the second Sunday in October for 250-plus artful vendors, exquisite street eats, kids' carnival, pie baking contest, music, and art.

At least 50 nonprofits participate in this epic block party, exhibiting and educating and benefitting along with the Chamber of Commerce. If you'd like one fact that most illustrates Warwick Valley character, that might well be the one: It's a warm, vital tapestry, equal parts art and heart.

A final illustration: Pine Island's 10th Annual Black Dirt Feast on August 7 is sold out, but you can still get on the waiting list—it's a $125-a-plate collaboration featuring nine fine eateries and a quartet of libations providers all set to classical and jazz. And the proceeds go to food pantries and give scholarships. In this valley, that's just how it goes.

A Hudson Valley Jazz Festival performance on the Railroad Green in Warwick.
  • A Hudson Valley Jazz Festival performance on the Railroad Green in Warwick.

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