New York, New York

‘One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.’ My son Charlie certainly wouldn’t disagree with the words of Tom Wolfe-by the end of our first day, he’d turned to me and said: ‘I could live here. In fact, I think I will.’ New York holds a mythical place in the minds of the rest of the world and it doesn’t disappoint. Towers of Babel, stretching heavenwards, dominate the architecture and, at every turn, there seems to be somewhere you’ve seen in a film, making it all strangely familiar. New York prides itself on being different and a place where anything can, and will, happen.

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Where I stayed

The Lowell Hotel (www.lowellhotel.com; 00 1 212 838 1400), located in a quiet, tree-lined street, is one of those perfect boutique hotels that has remained the secret retreat of the discerning American. Visitors are proud of their hotel. Just off Madison Avenue, it’s perfectly placed to explore the nearby museums-the main reason for our visit-and Central Park is only three minutes away; you enter at the zoo (www.centralparkzoo.com) made famous by the ‘Madagas-car’ films. If you have a good pair of walking shoes, most of Manhattan is within easy hiking distance. At the hotel, we indulged in breakfasts of shaming scale, skipping lunch to do more exploring. The eggs Benedict and white asparagus fuelled our forays, and then, in the evenings, we relaxed beside the wood-burning fireplace in our room before stepping out, once more, into the spangled cityscape.

The museums

The vast wealth of the American oligarchs of the 19th and 20th centuries led to many of these giants of capitalism buying much of the world’s finest art. The result is a cluster of museums that combine to hold one of the world’s greatest art collections. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (00 1 212 535 7710; www.metmuseum.com) has such large collections of ancient and modern art that a lifetime could be spent there. The nearby Guggenheim (00 1 212 423 3500; www.guggenheim.org), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, showcases contemporary art in its sensational spiral shell. However, it’s The Frick Collection that’s my favourite (00 1 212 288 0700; www.frick.org). There are just the right number of paintings to look at in one viewing, many of them by artists such as Corot, Rembrandt and Vermeer. Further south is MoMA (00 1 212 708 9400; www.moma.org), where the paintings by Matisse, Monet and Picasso are so familiar, you have to pinch yourself to believe that you’re seeing the originals.

What I ate

Charlie and I ate hot dogs from a street vendor (delicious) as well as the finest cuisine New York had to offer. Overall, London may have won for the range and quality of its food, but, at its best, New York can match it. Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental in Columbus Circle (00 1 212 805 8800; www.mandarinoriental.com/newyork), overlooking Central Park as the sun sets, is one of the truly amazing dining experiences. Other highlights were lunch at the Four Seasons (www.fourseasons.com/newyork; 00 1 212 758 5700) and dinner at Amaranth (www.amaranthrestaurant.com; 00 1 212 980 6700), a good-value Italian-and-French fusion restaurant near the hotel. Our visit to Chinatown was less successful we couldn’t imagine how the restaurant had passed its hygiene assessments. No matter-nobody ever said New York was perfect.

New Yorkers are barking mad

Central Park in spring is a marvel. Allow yourself to get lost along its paths, and you’ll discover ponds, statues and boating lakes. Joggers abound, but so do dogs. I’ve never seen so many different shapes and sizes in one place! Every day is like a dog show, with the different breeds being proudly promenaded by their owners.

The unexpected highlight

Undoubtedly, the High Line (www.thehighline.org; 00 1 212 500 6035). This wonderful public park is built on the historic elevated freight rail-line above the old Meatpacking District of the city, down on Manhattan’s West Side. A mile of disused railtrack has been redesigned and replanted as an aerial greenway, forming a ribbon of gardens above the bustling city. The views stretch as far as the Statue of Liberty to the south and up to the skyscrapers in the north.

The sensitive planting of mainly wildflowers beside the remnants of the old track is an uplifting pleasure. It’s also free to visit, unlike the museums, as is the Union Square Greenmarket (00 1 212 788 7476; www.grownyc.org/greenmarket-site/manhattan/union-square-greenmarket) near the Flatiron Building, one of New York’s earliest skyscrapers-we came away with lots of different bottles of golden maple syrup.

What I’d like to do next time

Bring my daughter, Anna-it would be a totally different experience. There would be no museums (except the Frick, which I’d insist on) and it would include a visit to the Statue of Liberty, which, on this visit, was being repaired after last year’s superstorm, plus a great deal of shopping. New York is unmatched for a serious shopper and I’d like to hope that even an expert like Anna would be overwhelmed.

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