By the time we got to Woodstock in a Ferrari 488 Spider, I could guess what people were thinking: Wrong turn at the Hamptons, Mr. Hedge Fund?
But here’s the thing about a Ferrari: It’s so brazen and beautiful, improbable and Italian, that it defuses dirty looks. Even in Bernie-loving Woodstock, which sits perched (at times uneasily) between two generations of cool. First, Boomer rock fans and musicians-in-residence, from the late Levon Helm of The Band, to the departed David Bowie, a longtime homeowner. In their wake comes a diaspora of Brooklyn hipsters, fleeing $3,000-a-month rents to open refurbished motels, rustic boutiques or artisanal cocktailcocktail cabins.
The mountain redoubt of New York’s Catskills, two hours from Manhattan, is the perfect elixir for the city’s frenetic pace. It’s laced with waterfalls, swimming holes and some of the best hiking trails east of the Mississippi. Those include the bucket-list Devil’s Path, which requires three days for most hikers to cover just 25 miles, summiting six Catskills peaks over nearly 15,000 grueling feet of elevation change. And after roughing it in the wilderness, should you choose, you can get a great locally sourced meal and a bottle of wine; go shopping or take in a theater show.
A Ferrari doesn’t count as roughing it, especially with a 661-horsepower, twin-turbo V8 hustling us up and down steep mountainsides. We check into the Woodstock Inn on the Millstream, a favorite for its chill vibe and natural, cascading swimming hole that’s like a sauna plunge pool and sun deck in one. Innkeeper Karen Pignataro detoured here 21 years ago from the big city, answering a want ad, and never left. My girlfriend Kelly and I feel the same tug, dreaming about second homes and summer-long stays, before we drag ourselves back to the workaday world.
The Ferrari’s retractable hardtop adds 110 pounds to the coupe, but our open view of the Catskills, and gulps of piney mountain air, balance those scales. A previous vantage point from a medieval fortress in Italy, produced the same sensory epiphany: If you’re going to drop obscene money on a mid-engine Ferrari – $390,000 for this Spider, after a $114,000 options spree – you might as well go for the convertible. The Spider costs $27,000 more than the coupe, at $276,450 to start. But the view from inside and out, including those gorgeous, speedster-style headrest fairings, seems worth it. Of course, the 488 GTB coupe remains first choice for treks on track.
Yet Ferrari designed the Spider alongside the coupe, so any loss of speed, structural rigidity and handling is negligible. The only bummer is that there’s no looking-glass view of the redheaded V8, a metal decklid replacing the coupe’s transparent panel.
Top dropped in 14 seconds flat, we cruise north to Palenville. Lunch is at the Circle W, a can’t-miss general store with amazing sandwiches that opened its front porch in 1906. The Spider’s Blu Corsa paint (a $12,486 option) further boosts the Ferrari’s profile, a dazzling azure shade that blows the locals away like a Pink Floyd laser show. At every stop, the Ferrari makes friends faster than a Tinder addict.
As we tread the Circle W’s weathered floorboards, Mark Braunstein introduces himself. He’s the founder of the Woodstock Film Festival and the owner of two vintage Amphicars – that literal odd-duck, land-and-sea car whose past owners include President Lyndon B. Johnson. Within minutes, we’ve got an invite to an Amphicar cruise on the Hudson River in nearby Saugerties.
Winding west on Route 23A, with its climb to Kaaterskill Clove, we park at North-South Lake in the Catskill Forest Preserve.
A short walk leads us to the peak where the Catskill Mountain House once lorded over the valley. Before television and cheap flights to Miami, New York’s elite flocked to Catskills hotels to view falls, including Kaaterskill, the state’s tallest. (“Kill” is Dutch for “stream” or “creek”). The Ferrari climbs the mountain in minutes, but when the Mountain House opened in 1824, it took a five-hour stagecoach ride. That changed in the 1880’s, when the Otis Elevated Railway, a steam-powered funicular, began hauling 75 guests at a time up the Great Wall of Manitou. Author James Fenimore Cooper advised Europeans that, “if you want to see the sights of America, go to see Niagara Falls, Lake George and the Catskill Mountain House.”
A fierce nearby competitor, the Kaaterskill Hotel, rented 800 rooms at its peak. The place burned down in 1924, but only after hosting Oscar Wilde, and three U.S. presidents. The sense of a lost place and ticking time is palpable, like the ghost of a supercar from another era — a Cord 810, say, the Thirties pride of Auburn, Indiana, now mostly forgotten. Today, many visitors have no clue that these grand hotels ever existed. The state burned the abandoned Mountain House hotel down in 1963, its bones now buried deep and grown over with meadow.
Standing at the summit, we take in valley views that surpass even the Ferrari in breathtaking effect – including a 60-mile stretch of Hudson River on a clear day – that inspired Thomas Cole and other painters of the Hudson River School, America’s first major homegrown art movement.
Next up, the double-drop, double-dare Kaaterskill Falls. Stubborn hikers still climb a treacherous, fenced-off trail to the top of the 230-foot falls; despite roundly ignored warning signs and regular tragedies. Just last Tuesday, a park ranger tells us, a New Jersey teenager slipped and fell to his death from the falls.
Heading back to Woodstock, we find a safer sport, child's play in fact: Shrieking launch-control starts that catapult the Ferrari to 60 mph in three seconds flat. V8 thunder-and-lightning echo through the forest, loud enough to wake Rip Van Winkle from his Catskills slumber. A three-position rear window adjusts the soundtrack, blocking breeze or boosting exhaust sound when the top is raised. Top down, the slurping and lisping of the twin turbochargers are nearly drowned out by guttural blasts of exhaust: Advantage, Spider. But awakened to this strange new world of Ferrari turbos, I’m still getting used to a lower redline: The white center-mounted tach demarcates 8,000 rpm – down from 9,000 in the departed 458 Italia. Yet the Ferrari actually hits its rev limiter at 7,500, and so unexpectedly that I keep whanging into it, especially in the lower gears of its seven paddle-shifted speeds.
Not long after, the Catskill’s notoriously fickle weather rears its steely head, forcing us to batten the hatches. Roads darken with rain, yet the Ferrari still dominates in agreeable, half-yawning fashion, like it’s rolling dice in a game of Yahtzee. If the Spider could handle a 40-mph curve at, say, 80 mph in the dry, figure about 75 mph in the wet. 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires might slip under a touch too much throttle, or some untoward lateral loading – but only for milliseconds, before its F1-derived systems either dial things back or grant unfettered power.
We set a compass to Bearsville to hunt dinner. It's the former home of Bearsville Studios and Bearsville Records, founded by the late Albert Grossman, the legendary manager whose charges included Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin. There’s a big barn of a music theater, and the stalwart Bear Café, for streamside dining on the Sawkill Creek. Fresh burrata and figs, a double Berkshire pork chop, an ever-changing menu: You can’t miss it in this small town, so don’t.
The rain finally stalls, but powering the Spider’s roof open proves a bad move, as the folding panel dumps its sheet of water onto Kelly's purse and the parcel shelf behind the seats. Looking to squeeze every drop out of the weekend as well, we make a fast run to Phoenicia, a charming hamlet cloaked in high, velvet green peaks. Destination, Sweet Sue’s, Phoenicia's 32-year breakfast institution. I once tried to take Kelly here, but the joint was shuttered, in crushing Walley World style. It reopened this year, but another disappointment seems imminent:
“Sorry, we close at 1, and we’re just not taking any more names,” the harried, blond-curled hostess says, surveying a thick pad of names and a restless crowd milling on the homey porch. All weekend, we’ve resisted playing the entitled couple, even as we joked over assumptions people must have of us: Look, it’s that Wall Street asshole again, with his gold-digging girlfriend. I break the news to Kelly and prepare to slink away. Instead, my co-pilot reminds me of our mission, how we’ve come in this car, this special car, to spread the word on the Catskills. Geez, honey, why didn’t I think of that? We’re starving, dammit, and it’s time to play the Ferrari card. I stride back inside and mention how I’m writing an auto travel story. I sheepishly point to the outrageous supercar parked out front, and mention how my girlfriend has been dying to eat at Sweet Sue’s. The pitch, or more likely the Ferrari, melts the hostess’ skeptical gaze. “I’ll squeeze you in,” she whispers.
Soon after, we’re digging into killer chorizo hash and Sue’s peerless pancakes, from grainy buckwheat to coconut-and-pineapple. The Ferrari has nourished our souls. Who knew it could do the same for our stomachs?