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Just outside the city, Westchester County offers history, arts

ure, visiting the Big Apple is exciting. Sometimes, a bit too exciting.

If you get stressed out just planning a New York City trip, pencil in a little time for a visit to nearby Westchester County to get away from the crowds. Located about 30 minutes outside the city, Westchester offers a lesson in history, art and culture, all without feeling too remote.

Whether you're driving in from New York City or flying directly to the area, Westchester County is easily accessible. A tour of the county's historical sites is the perfect introduction to this bucolic area, dubbed the "gateway to the Hudson River Valley."

Not your run-of-the-mill manors

The best place to start is in the Village of Sleepy Hollow. That's where Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate, stands. Home to four generations of this legendary family, Kykuit is a six-story stone house that has been maintained for more than 100 years by the National Trust. Tours - which include rooms, art galleries and even the family's automobile collection - tell the story of the Rockefellers and their contributions to the arts, business, government and philanthropy.

The tour begins at the visitor center at Philipsburg Manor, where visitors board a shuttle to the estate.

After touring Kykuit, take the shuttle back to Philipsburg Manor for another historical tour. Philipsburg Manor is a former 17th-and 18th-century milling and trading complex that was owned by the Philipse family and operated by slaves. The Philipses were the largest slaveholding family in the North. Today, you can visit the grounds and learn about Philipsburg Manor's history through costumed interpreters. They visually depict what life was like for the 23 enslaved men, women and children who worked and lived on this land.

Where a legend was born

No trip to Westchester County would be complete without a visit to where the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" was written. Famed author Washington Irving penned that classic and other short stories at his sprawling Sunnyside residence in nearby Tarrytown. A guide in formal dress tells how Irving designed Sunnyside and its grounds. The estate reflects the author's romantic view of art, nature and history.

For those who are interested in 19th-century architecture, be sure to visit the adjacent estate of Lyndhurst. The stately home, once the home of railroad tycoon Jay Gould, features a Gothic revival style.

A hands-on tour

If you really want to get away from it all, look no further than Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. This tranquil community is home to the Van Cortlandt Manor, where a walk by the Croton River puts your mind at ease. The Van Cortlandts were a prominent New York family in the years just after the American Revolution.

The Van Cortlandt Manor's tours are a bit different from those at the Kykuit and the Philipsburg Manor. Here, costumed guides help visitors try their own at open-hearth cooking, blacksmelting and brick-making. Stop in at The Ferry House, a rural tavern built before 1750, to see where weary travelers on Albany Post Road would find food, drink, lodging and comfort.

Museums paint a

pretty historical picture

Westchester County prides itself not only preservation, but also its dedication to museums and performing arts centers.

At the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in Katonah, N.Y., you'll find the intriguing House Museum. Housed in a Mediterranean villa-style residence that was the former summer home to the Caramoor's founders, the museum boasts the couple's collection of decorative arts from Europe and China. The Caramoor also stages New York's largest outdoor summer music festival.

While in Katonah, visit the town's art museum. The Katonah Museum of Art has a vast collection of art from all periods. Travel over to Purchase, N.Y., to see the works of Georgia O'Keefe and others in the Neuberger Museum of Art. African art, Dada and Surrealist works are also on display here. The Performing Arts Center in Purchase offers theater, dance, jazz and classical music performances all year long.

Hustle and bustle?

As they say in New York, "fugheddaboudit!"

More info

•Westchester County Office of Tourism

www.westchestertourism.com

•Historic Hudson Valley

www.hudsonvalley.org

Did you know?

n Westchester County shares its southern boundary with New York City. It's flanked on the west by the Hudson River and Long Island, N.Y. and on the east side by Fairfield County, Conn.

•Kykuit is also home to former Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller's exceptional collection of 20th-century sculpture. Artists represented include Pablo Picasso, Louise Nevelson, David Smith and others.

•The Van Cortlandts were one of New York's most prominent families. They influenced many pressing political issues of the time, including Federalist and Anti-Federalist debates over the drafting of the Constitution.

•In 1880, Jay Gould - railroad magnate, Wall Street tycoon and prototypical robber baron - purchased the estate that he would rename Lyndhurst.

Source: Historic Hudson Valley, Westchester County Office of Tourism