A Weekend Getaway in the Finger Lakes, NY
Article by Brent Robillard & Photography by Caroline Bergeron
From a satellite image the Finger Lakes of Northern New York appear like a series of lissom claw marks gouged into the earth south of Lake Ontario. Created by the retreating Laurentian Ice Shield, these eleven lakes, at ground level, play host to rolling farmland, plentiful vineyards, and breathtaking waterfalls—making it simple to pack a weekend getaway with top notch vistas, wine tastings, and more.
The only danger is trying to accomplish too much in two days.
The following is an itinerary for first time visitors who want to sample a little bit of everything the region has to offer—a little nature, a little culture, and a sampling of fine wine.
Ithaca, New York is ground zero for the Finger Lakes and a destination all its own. You may have heard the slogan, “Ithaca is Gorges,” referring to the city’s uncommon natural beauty amidst cliffs and canyons and cascading waterfalls; however, Ithaca is so much more than its location. Home to Cornell University, it has previously been voted best college town in the USA, and as such, offers up an eclectic mix of hipster grunge and high-brow ethos.
Start your journey here on Saturday morning. Check in at the incomparable William Henry Miller Inn—a Select Registry property only steps from downtown restaurants and shops—and then stroll through Ithaca Commons. This four-block pedestrian zone delivers unique shops and artist coops amidst diverse eateries. Some of our favourites are Ithaca Sheepskin (an artisanal furrier), Handwork (a local artists coop), The Vintage Industry (vintage clothing and collectibles), and Autumn Leaves (used books and café).
Next, take a short drive to the Cornell Botanic Gardens. The gardens occupy a full third of the university campus and offer an arboretum, a groundcover collection, multiple flower gardens, and the Nevin Welcome Center with interpretive exhibits and gift shop.
Afterward, pack a picnic lunch, or pick one up at The Piggery Deli to be enjoyed at Taughannock Falls State Park, only minutes up the road on Route 89. Views of the falls are stunning from the Overlook Viewing Platform but be sure to park down by Cayuga Lake and take the short hike in as well. During the late summer, large stretches of the Taughannock River are dry, exposing rock flats and impromptu Inuksuit sculptures gardens. The canyon walk along the South Rim Trail to the falls is just as spectacular as the final destination.
Back in Ithaca for supper, the choice is varied and virtuous. We suggest the Just A Taste, located on North Aurora Street on one edge of Ithaca Commons—only a short walk from the William Henry Miller Inn. The small Spanish bistro affords traditional tapas in a low-key atmosphere. Their courtyard in the back is European charm personified, with wrought-iron tables and chairs pressed close together under a pergola ceiling and lit tastefully by string lights.
Nightlife is plentiful in Ithaca for those not ready to turn in afterward. Check out The Watershed for a sampling, or The Dock for live music. Or simply return to the Inn with a bottle of local wine. The Cellar D’Or is a wonderful hole-in-the-wall bodega on the Commons with an extensive selection and knowledgeable staff to help you choose.
Start your day at Ithaca Falls. The quality of light in the morning is fantastic, and there are not many visitors this early on a Sunday. Not as dramatic as Taughannock, Ithaca Falls makes up for this in power. Its setting at the base of a gorge is so secluded that it is difficult to believe the falls exists within the city. It is also a popular spot for fly fishermen.
You say goodbye to Ithaca this morning and head south toward Corning. The town is home to the Corning Museum of Glass—a world class interactive museum with something for all ages. Expect to spend a few hours here, especially if you wish to take part in one of the studio events. For a fee, visitors can take part in a number of classes. We made pendants which were later shipped to our home address in Canada, once they had cooled, free of charge.
From Corning, head north again, and up the west coast of Seneca Lake. The Finger Lakes region is famous for its wine. Sunday afternoon should be dedicated to this pursuit. You could not possibly stop at all the vintners here—and still be able to drive—so just follow your nose. Lakewood Vineyards is a family-owned operation on the south end of the lake and makes a good first stop. Their wines are accessibly priced, and they make a Lemberger which is a fantastic Austrian grape. Lakewood also produces mead for a change of pace.
Glenora Wine Cellars is another good stop. Part way up the lake, you should arrive here in time for a late lunch. This is just perfect, as they have a restaurant (Veraisons) on site overlooking the vineyards and the lake. Try a bottle of their barrel-fermented Chardonnay.
After lunch, stop in at the unassuming Prejean and be sure to try the Gewurztraminer.
If you haven’t had enough, we recommend a final stop at Hermann J. Wiemer. The location and facilities are beautiful, but the wine is extraordinary. Try their Dry Riesling. Year after year it scores in the mid-nineties.
Your day comes to an end—and with it, your weekend--in Geneva at the north end of the lake. A city you may wish to explore on your next getaway to the Finger Lakes. But if you are in no hurry, and not short on cash, spend the extra night at Belhurst Castle. You won’t be disappointed.
Wine is not the only local produce in the Finger Lakes Region. Just after your stop at Lakewood Vineyards, only a few minutes’ drive down Chase Road in Rock Stream, there is a family owned creamery that produces a wide variety of cheese on site. They have a storefront just off the road on the farm itself, where you can sample the wares and purchase your favourites. Well worth the detour and goes well with wine!