If planning to visit The Cloisters, a meander through Fort Tryon Park is a soothing preamble enhancing the man-made reverence with all that's natural. The park extends along a ridge overlooking the Hudson River, and while there are spectacular views when the valley isn't muddled in haze, the upscale haven that's been preserved within some of the park's boundaries surprises most.
These elevated lands, which were important lookout points during the Revolutionary War, were donated to the city in 1935 by John D. Rockefeller. After falling into decades of neglect, Fort Tryon Park has been centerpiece of cleanup efforts along Riverside Drive, spearheaded by Bette Midler. Forming the New York Restoration Project, a non-profit organization, ongoing proceeds are generated from the New Leaf Cafe, a prestigious eatery shrouded in gardens just off the park's main path.
The cause justifies splurge prices, and Midler's a regular when in town. Reservations are recommended, especially for Thursday's live jazz from 8 to 11pm. There's parking along backside of the restaurant with another overlook terrace that scans across the Height's central valley. The only public restrooms are located on ground level in the rear.
The park's main entry is off the circular turn-around at Corbin Plaza, where the M-4 bus and A-train 190th Street stops are. Just inside the gate, the path forks to the left, but most should continue on the straight path, which passes through the Heather Gardens. Flower beds aren't as manicured as found in Central Park, but varieties of flora guarantee that something's always blooming.
When approaching the stone wall, the walkway divides with path to the right heading towards the café. Continuing straight ahead is the most direct way to The Cloisters, but one of the park's greatest features awaits uphill to the left.
An expansive plaza is perfect for shedding any edge that comes from the city’s rat race. Rows of shaded benches extend across an area that never seems to draw much traffic. Silence and solitude are soothing during any stage of daylight, with hilltop breezes providing cool with the calm. Sunset vistas, across the Hudson, are best enjoyed when walls of trees have shed their leaves.
Off back of the plaza is an elevated walkway that leads to the circular lookout area of Fort Tryon. These days, views are limited with such dense vegetation. A series of stone bridges, archways, and entries at base of the fortress mingle fairytale with medieval, the perfect prelude for what waits in the museum. Beyond these points, all trails converge at a pair of stacked stone bridges, and the Cloisters is 5 minutes beyond along the overlook path.
The east side of the park, which descends length of ridge towards Broadway, has some remarkable secluded views, but paths and stone staircases are in desperate need of repair. There's an assortment of people exploring during daylight hours, but I don't recommend being anywhere in the park after dark.