Stretching over 30 miles of pristine beaches, wineries, and farmland, enveloped between Peconic Bay and Long Island Sound, the North Fork is a quieter and more agricultural version of the South Fork, otherwise known as the Hamptons.
Leaving New York City and driving east for 75 miles will bring you to two forks in the road. To go South is to arrive in the showy playground of the rich and famous with multimillion-dollar Atlantic ocean frontage properties; to veer north is to meet her more down-to-earth sister.
For years the Hamptons was the destination to visit. It has old money history, with Jackie Onasis spending her summers in Easthampton and Truman Capote, Pulitzer prize winner and author of the classic ‘In Cold Blood”, a resident of the town of Sagaponack. Celebrity chef Ina ‘Barefoot Contessa’ Garten films from her iconic shingle-style farmhouse and grounds. Adding to its sheen are lauded events such as the Hamptons’ Classic Horse Show, miles of wild Atlantic beaches dotted with dunes and prestigious golf and country clubs.
However, the Hamptons’ bucolic neighbouring peninsula has been creeping out of her shadow for years, especially since the pandemic. Previously seen as the underdog, the North Fork is becoming beloved for reasons of her own and not just because the price of real estate is significantly lower. Known as Long Island’s wine country, the North Fork holds 60 vineyards, breweries, and distilleries using locally grown ingredients.
The Pick: Croteaux Vineyards
Spoilt for choice, Croteaux just about pips some other contenders to the post based on the quaint and cosy tasting room that opens up to a beautiful pebbled courtyard garden surrounded by historic barns.
Croteaux specialises in rose- both sparkling and still. If you can’t choose from a menu overflowing with options, then ‘The Flight’ is your best bet. The still or sparkling version gives a taste of three popular choices.
The Instagram-friendly boho charm makes Croteaux very popular with hen parties- or bachelorette parties as they are called in the States. On this visit, one elegantly wasted bride-to-be was spotted gently tipping backwards into a bush after one too many flights!
Seasonal offerings of scallops and oysters are so prolific on the North Fork that they are sold by the bucketload along quiet roads also peppered with farmers’ stalls overflowing with corn on the cob, strawberries and lavender plants.
The Pick: Schmitts Country Fresh
The Schmitt family have grown produce on long island for over 150 years. Their offerings change season to season, so you can expect local fruits and vegetables alongside fresh flowers from 01 May while autumn introduces apples, cider and pumpkins.
Beaches on the North Fork are exquisite. The main beaches are the Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay; they are quieter and calmer than the wild Atlantic beaches in the Hamptons. Inlets of smaller bodies of water meander, both north from the bay and South from the sound, creating small, almost private beaches.
The Pick: Wade’s Beach (Shelter Island)
Shelter Island occupies a unique, almost delicate position, less than half a mile from North Fork and roughly the same distance from the Hamptons.
Wade’s Beach, which is excellent for families, has plenty of picnic tables, lifeguards, and a bathroom. The adjacent Dickerson Creek, behind Wade’s Beach, is a paradise for clamming (digging for clams) at low tide.
If you are looking for something more glamorous, head back up to the northside; at only half a mile long is Crescent Beach. Praised for its warm, calm waters, powdery sand, and 1950s striped umbrellas, famous hotelier Andres Balazs built the Sunset Beach Hotel here. Frequently name-checked on Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website ‘Goop’, this is a place for the young and the beautiful.
One of the oldest running restaurants in New York and the United States is located on the North Fork. This is reason enough to make Claudios the pick, though it has much more going for it than just this fact.
The Pick: Claudios
Claudios, in the picturesque town of Greenport, opened in 1884. This spot was even open and operating during Prohibition. During that period, the ground floor was a fine dining restaurant but upstairs was a lively bar. Bootleggers brought their wares to Claudio’s by boat and snuck them in through trap doors on the floor behind the bar.
The Victorian bar that was installed in 1886 has not been updated. Sipping a martini on one of the high-backed bar stools is a joy.
Each meal is locally produced and delicious, but the New England clam chowder and lobster roll are standouts.
North Fork is best experienced on a bike or by car. You can fly to JFK or Newark with Aer Lingus and reach the North Fork in approximately 2.5 hours by car or on the infamous Jitney bus.