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Long Island: A Tale of Two Forks

Panoramic View Resort.

By Shari Hartford

First the geography. Long Island is shaped like a fish. The southern tail, or South Fork, is where you will find the Hamptons and Montauk Point. The northern tail, or North Fork, is home to Greenport and Orient Point. Generally speaking, the North Fork is the agricultural center of Long Island, with numerous farms and vineyards, and the South Fork is where the best of the wine and food are consumed.

In recent years a crop of condominiums, sold to investors and then rented as vacation destinations, have sprung up on the South Fork. Older motels have been gutted and renovated and their waterfront locations have made them ideal alternatives to traditional accommodations. Until recently the North Fork has lagged behind in this concept.

This fall I seized the opportunity to stay at two such sites —  one on the South Fork and one on the North Fork — and compared the experience.

On the South Fork, just west of Montauk Point and east of Amagansett, is the aptly named Panoramic View Resort. Built 38 years ago as an efficiency motel, the Panoramic offered guests comfortable, yet simple, oceanfront rooms. The draw was the beach and the motel existed happily for years charging premium rates for the summer months, with nary a vacancy on the books. Recently, however, the Panoramic jumped on the condo bandwagon (or in this case, the co-op bandwagon) and began a major conversion. The developers have created 20 multi-million dollar units carved from the previous motel site, renovated the pool, added 24-hour concierge service and emerged as a resort. This is a work in progress — eventually the motel will narrow down to just 11 rooms.

After a tour of the co-ops (none of the sold units are yet for rent, but stand by) — and a grand sales pitch — I settled in for the night in one of the existing motel rooms. The motel, too, is a work in progress. The rooms, and furnishing, have been given a fresh coat of paint, new beds have been installed, but the kitchenette and bathroom still harkens back to a much earlier time. Shabby chic comes to mind. But forget the old-style television and take a look out the terrace door at the ocean that is up close and very personal. That’s why you’re here! Even in winter (yes, they are open all year round) you can bundle up and stroll along the beach. This is not an ideal site for small children and seniors. The multi-level property has a steep incline and stairs down to the beach. But if you’re up to it, it’s perfect for experiencing the Hamptons scene without actually staying in the Hamptons. Check in, drive west to East Hampton or east to Montauk, take in a movie, have a great meal and then head on back and let the sound of waves lull you to sleep. Perfection!

The North Fork presents an entirely different experience. As you head east, you pass farm after farm and vineyard after vineyard. Long Island, originally a fishing and agriculture center, has long become a victim of urban sprawl, but this oasis has remained true to its roots. These farms have been in families for generations and grow some of the best fruits and vegetables on the east coast. Long Island sweet corn anyone? Yum! It’s hard to believe that the first Long Island winery opened as recently as 1973. Today, almost all of the wineries, and there are at least 30, provide tours and tastings. Think Napa and Sonoma on Long Island Sound. And, at every corner there are farm stands selling fresh-from-the-ground produce. The North Fork is definitely more LL Bean than the south fork’s Manolo Blahnik, but it’s a great getaway. My recent quick weekend included a relaxed stay at the new Cliffside Resort Condominiums.

Cliffside.

Located just west of Orient Point, in the hamlet of Greenport, Cliffside is a 68-unit complex of two-bedroom, two-bath rental-property condos right on Long Island Sound. Add in a heated pool, a small private beach and clubhouse and you have a perfect get-away-from-it all getaway. Our condo was spotlessly clean and simply furnished. The individual owners chose the décor and some are more lavish and have different amenities than others.

The views of the sound from the two terraces were so relaxing. Cliffside is a great place for families –there’s a wide expanse of lawn and a down-home atmosphere. My only complaint is the lack of daily housekeeping services available — hey, I’m on vacation and don’t want to make my own bed! While the surrounding area certainly has many restaurant choices, it’s not the sophisticated and high-priced Hamptons. Rather, there’s fresh-off-the-boat seafood served up by locals. And I kinda liked the fact that in the fall the town rolls up the sidewalks at 9 p.m. During the day, rather than shop (our usual activity of choice on the South Fork) we toured a winery, visited a goat cheese farm (note to self: bring a cooler next trip) and stopped at farm stand after farm stand. My souvenir was a head of cauliflower almost the size of my New York City apartment kitchen. The fresh air, pumpkins and corn mazes were the ideal way to end the season.

For more information and seasonal rates, visit the Panoramic and Cliffside.


SHARI HARTFORD is the former managing editor for Diversion magazine, where she wrote about travel in the northeast and cruising. She is currently a freelance writer and editor based in her hometown of New York City.

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