Carmel is kind of a hick town, and we like that it way. You won’t find a Whole Foods, upscale boutiques, fancy coffee shops or cool indie music joints. But you also won’t find the semi-suburban sprawl, the snotty attitudes, the high property taxes or the rampant consumerism that has managed to creep its way into much of the Hudson Valley. There’s a little downtown area on Gleneida Avenue, not far from the county courthouse. A smattering of eateries, a tiny Chinese reflexology parlor, a yoga studio (The YogaScape) and a few other enterprising businesses supplement a few larger shopping plazas with delis, bars and grocery stores. However, the real heart of Carmel is found outdoors, down winding country roads, brimming with rural treasures. Carmel consists of three hamlets: Carmel, Mahopac and Mahopac Falls. Located in Putnam County about 60 miles from New York City, we have a hearty contingent of firemen, police officers, nurses, teachers and doctors who gladly brave the long commute in exchange for the land and house they can afford. There is also a significant little community of writers, artists and filmmakers who tired of the hustle and self-conscious hipness of city life. For those craving the country, but still wanting access to their editors, friends and the cultural institutions only New York City offers, Carmel is the perfect location. After my husband and I moved to Carmel from Brooklyn three years ago, we started hearing diners exchanging turkey jerky-making tips and chatter about chicken feed. This was a nice change from the ubiquitous and mundane snippets of gossip derived from art and food blogs or hastily-muttered stock tips from neighboring tables while eating out in NYC. Hunting, raising animals, ice-fishing, composting and organic gardening are simply ways of life in Carmel, rather than “lifestyles.” I am still both daunted and excited by the spirit of Carmel. People here don’t feel a primal need to pretend to take part in the country’s cultural conversation if they genuinely don’t give a hoot. They don’t bring designer purses to the grocery store, and they certainly never would consider spending $20 on a cocktail. Going out to get your nails done ($19.95 for a manicure, pedicure and mini-backrub at Glamour Nail & Spa on Route 52) or your hair cut (starting at $16 at Matriks Beauty Salon, right next to Glamour on Route 52) is a community enterprise; expect questions from the staff and fellow clients about your marital status, children, job, your house’s property value, where you got your shoes and how much you paid for them, and how in God’s name you got that bruise on your shin, because, quite frankly, it looks terrible! They’re not nosy, they’re just genuinely curious, and they want to help. Many go to religious services and stay for donuts afterwards, and when people go out to eat, they are there to chow down and hang out, not have a cutting edge culinary and aesthetic experience — the results of which they document every five seconds on Instagram. Recreation is conducted in the great outdoors, with gusto, and generally as a family unit.
You will find genuinely good — and definitely affordable — classic Italian, American and, perhaps surprisingly, Thai fare. Smalley Inn (locally referred to as “Smalley’s Inn”), at 57 Gleneida Ave., has been around since 1852 and is allegedly haunted by a variety of specters, including Elizabeth Smalley, the murdered toddler of the original owner, James. But don’t let the ghosts (who seem to be quite friendly) rain on your parade. The ambiance is priceless, so grab a beer on tap or a glass of wine to whet your whistle before heading down the road to Thai Golden. BYOB to accompany this glorious, authentic Thai feast — and a view of Lake Gilead across the street. Their Pad Thai is fantastic, and my current favorite dishes are the mango salad with a spicy lime dressing, and the Tamarind Duck. If you’re craving real Italian food (okay, real Italian-American food), Carmel has several options. Between Gappy’s Pizza (get their thin-crust Margherita), the Arthur Avenue Deli (eggplant parm!) and Valentina’s Restaurant (any of their pastas), you’ll have enough cream, cheese, carbs and deep-fried deliciousness to keep area cardiologists in the black for decades to come.
Wholesome family fun is the name of the game in Carmel. The town’s lakes — especially the 168-acre Lake Gleineida and the 118-acre Lake Gilead — are part of New York City’s water system. They are carefully monitored by the Department of Environmental Protection, offering pristine vistas, clear water and are teeming with big, juicy trout ripe for the catching.The Putnam County Trailway is the town’s favorite bike path, but it is also chock-a-block with strolling moms and dads and dog walkers, 365 days a year. Parks in general abound: the Putnam County Veterans Memorial Park is 200 acres with a swimming and ice skating lake and hiking trails; the 32-acre Sycamore Park offers four tennis courts, a nice playground, picnicking, a handball court and a modest beach. Chamber Park on Lake Mahopac has a fountain, gazebo and playground. Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park is the godfather of all area parks. At 14,086 acres covering areas of both Putnam and Dutchess counties, it boasts hiking trails, beaches, picnicking, boating, birding, fishing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and camping grounds. The 90-foot Mount Ninham Fire Tower sits atop the 1200-food Nimham, making it the most elevated extant fire tower in New York State and one of the tallest spots in the county. The all-encompassing view of the region enables visitors to see from New York City to the Berkshires to the Catskills. It’s especially scenic in the fall, when ripples of red, orange and crimson unfold under your feet.
The tower is a favorite spot for locals and tourists alike and while you will likely run into a few people, it’s rarely packed (the same goes for the rest of the great outdoors in Carmel as well — it’s so spread out and there are so many options to choose from, no site is ever mobbed).To get a feel for the town, the best time to visit is when you can take full advantage of the rural gems just around the bend of that country road. Pick your favorite season, wait for a sunny day, pack your skis, your guns (Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park is probably the most popular site for hunting in Carmel), your swimsuit, your fishing rod or your hiking boots (and an appetite) and come visit us in the country. We’ll be here.