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Fort Tryon Park

New York state of... calm

If you want to escape the bright lights in the city that never sleeps, there are plenty of places to chill out and breathe easy, says Jane Knight

The buzz of the Big Apple thrills visitors like no other city, but it can be so full-on there inevitably comes a time when you will need to take a breath and step back from all the excitement. And amid all the bustle it is possible… here are some of the best pockets of calm hidden away across New York.
The Met Cloisters, Washington Heights
Sit in these sun-dappled cloisters after strolling through silent chapels and you could easily think you were in a medieval monastery in Europe.

The Met Cloisters in Washington Heights

This branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dedicated to art and architecture from the Middle Ages, was purpose-built to incorporate everything from a French Cistercian chapter house to a 12th Century Spanish chapel. Be sure to see the impressive Unicorn Tapestries, but also less heralded treasures such as the only complete deck of illuminated playing cards from the 15th Century.

It takes some effort to get here, taking the A train way uptown, then trudging up the hill in Fort Tryon Park, but it's worth it.

Closed Wednesdays.
Morgan Library and Museum, Midtown
Not far from the hubbub of Grand Central Station lies this fantastic little enclave developed by banker J.P. Morgan (1837-1913) to house his collection of books. You'll find the rarest manuscripts in a vault in his study, lined with red silk damask walls and an intricate wooden ceiling. Through the marble rotunda lies the library, with secret spiral staircases behind tiers of books. If that's not peaceful enough, a modern extension designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, houses a cafe where students play classical music on Sundays between 1pm and 3pm.

Open daily except Mondays. Free on Tuesdays and Sundays, 3pm-5pm, and Fridays, 5pm-7pm
The Frick Collection, Upper East Side
Have Old Masters to yourself in this former home of industry titan Henry Clay Frick, just off Central Park. Admire Vermeers and Rembrandts, van Dycks and Constables in the setting of a grand private home, with wood-panelled walls, marquetry cabinets and ornaments (check out the 18th Century vase shaped like a ship). The Living Hall is almost exactly as it was when Frick lived here in the early 1900s, with Holbeins of Sir Thomas Moore and Thomas Cromwell either side of the fireplace.

The best bit, though, is the grand Roman atrium, filled with columns, plants and trickling water.

Open Thursday to Sunday, no children under ten.

Chinese Scholar's Garden, Snug Harbor

Chinese Scholar's Garden, Snug Harbor, Staten Island
Nothing beats a Chinese Scholar's Garden for peace - they flourished in the Ming Dynasty as places to escape the stresses of worldly concerns. The one at Snug Harbor Cultural Center And Botanical Garden, a former retreat for 'aged, decrepit and worn-out sailors', includes eight pavilions, a bamboo forest path, waterfalls and a koi-filled pond.

Also explore the Secret Garden, with a castle and maze, an elegant Tuscan Garden and a Healing Garden dedicated to the 267 Staten Islanders who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks.

Snug Harbor entry is free apart from the Chinese Scholar's Garden, open Wednesday to Sunday. Head there on the free Staten Island Ferry, with views of the Statue of Liberty
Hammock Grove, Governors Island
Hang out in the 50 red hammocks on Governors Island and contemplate the New York skyline. Or hire a Surrey (a covered four-wheel cycle) to tour the former military base that has been converted into a park and cultural area. It is a great picnic spot away from the madness of Manhattan - there are food trucks as well as festivals and exhibitions.

Open daily. Take the ferry from the Battery Maritime Building.
Boating lake, Central Park
Yes, it sounds touristy to go rowing in Central Park, but the boating lake here isn't your typical one. For starters, it covers 20 acres so it's easy to find a patch to yourself among the pavilions and coves.

Boating in Central Park

The lake is adjacent to Strawberry Fields, a quiet zone where no musical instruments, sports or skateboarders are allowed. Be wary of peak summer, though, as there's no shelter from the overhead sun.

It's open April 1 to the end of October.
Where to stay

Nu Hotel, Brooklyn
Think a hammock in your room is gimmicky? It's not if you've been pounding the streets and want a cool place to hang out.

The Nu Hotel's spacious Urban Suites also come with a large sunken bed, while the regular rooms are generally bigger than those in Manhattan. Staff are super-friendly and there is a gym.
Library Hotel, Midtown
This quiet hotel on Madison Avenue is organised on the lines of a library classification system, with floors such as literature or technology, while the 60 rooms are further subdivisions of those themes, each incorporating relevant books and artwork.

The Writer's Den and Poetry Garden, on the 14th-floor roof terrace, hosts Bookmarks Lounge in the evening, offering literary-themed cocktails such as the F Scotch Fitzgerald or Tequila Mockingbird. It's open to non-residents after 4pm.
Equinox Hotel, Hudson Yards
For a good night's kip in the city that never sleeps, check out Equinox Hotel in the new Hudson Yards development. Rooms have uber-thick walls, no air-conditioning noise and no pesky red standby light on the TV.

There's even bodywash in the shower designed for winding down, and a televised sleep ritual.

Equinox is famous for its gyms, and fitness classes are included in the room rate. Alternatively, just step outside and walk the High Line, the elevated former railway track that has been converted into a 1½-mile-long park.

The High Line in the Meatpacking District

Where to eat and drink

RH, Meatpacking district
You might be forgiven for thinking you'd walked into a hotel lobby at this swish furniture showroom near the end of the High Line - there's even a concierge desk - but up on the fifth floor is its Rooftop Restaurant with views of downtown Manhattan.

Try the burger and you'll see why it's the most popular dish.
La Mercerie Cafe, Soho
Also in a furniture showroom and under the radar of most tourists, La Mercerie, just off Canal Street, is a fantasy of a French cafe selling croissants, crepes and coffee as well as more substantial fare.

Along with your menu, you'll find a card detailing the price of the tableware - but with one particularly lovely black glass lamp costing a cool £2,695, it might be better to stick with the beef bourguignon which is more reasonable.
McNally Jackson, Nolita
This independent bookshop is a great place to head, not just for its books (and regular literary events) but also for its small cafe.

With its book-page wallpaper and ceiling lights crafted using hardbacks, relax as you sip a coffee or tea and tuck into a bagel or soup.

Better still, it's just down the road from the Basilica of Saint Patrick's Old Cathedral, which offers tours of its catacombs by candlelight.

First published in the Mail on Sunday -  April 2022

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