The calm cool waters, lush greenery, warm, friendly faces, ever flowing wine and fruity ciders make the destination worth the 5 hour drive from the Mainline.
The many quaint towns without being overly rustic, are punctuated with creameries, vineyards and vast expanses of open land that allow you to take in your beautiful surroundings while overlooking the stunning lakes – lakes you can dive right into, during the balmy summer months and boat along in the fall to take it all in from a spectacular vantage point. Take me there right now!
Here, you can unwind and relax, while being “one” with nature yet still be minutes away from your favorite vineyard or restaurant. Of the many lakes that make up the finger lakes, Seneca Lake is the biggest and my personal favorite. The charming bed and breakfasts and intimate vineyards make this area the perfect spot for a weekend getaway.
If you are anything like me and love to start your day with an exhilarating hike, coupled with scenic waterfalls, then you have come to the right place. There are several surrounding state parks offering multiple trails, some easy, some more exhilarating let’s just say, that will leave you rejuvenated and ready to start your day.
Waterfalls and gorges, packed with trails and lush greenery make Watkins Glen State Park the perfect spot to observe fall in full bloom.
The Taughannock Falls State Park, 35 mins from Ithaca is home to the iconic namesake waterfall that plunges 215 feet past rocky cliffs that tower nearly 400 feet above the gorge – taller than Niagara falls! The summer concerts here are fabulous but the fall foliage transforms the area into something out of a fairy tale. Be sure to check the weather before you go; high rainfall can cause the waterfall mist to extend hundreds of feet making for incredible photos.
When you start another fresh morning with the humbling view of Seneca Lake, what can be more positive than a yoga session in a historical vineyard overlooking the pristine waters, away from the bustling town minutes away. Namaste.
Another tip would be to stop by the Finger Lakes Cider House after you hike, for a flight of your favorite ciders, paired with fresh farm to table food. Not to mention the rustically chic interior, incredible views, and a small corner filled with games for all to enjoy.
Whether you start your day with a coffee on the deck overlooking the lake, yoga in a vineyard or a heart pounding morning of activity, eventually it’s time to eat!
As I ventured to the Fingerlakes for the first time recently, while doing research for a new trip, I didn’t know what to expect in regard to the culinary scene. I am allergic to gluten, and lactose intolerant, so eating out can be a pain. To my surprise, the food throughout Seneca Lake is fresh, delicious, and many of the items come directly from the local farms making catering to food allergies the norm. Although there are many many wonderful little spots to eat there was a little spot right on the main road on the way to Watkins Glen that unless you were looking for it, you would probably drive right past. The name alone gets me every time; The Elf in the Oak is perfect for a quick bite to eat. They serve a delicious breakfast and have their own homemade ice cream to boot. For any of those health conscious readers out there, they feature dairy free and vegan ice cream daily, and I can attest that it is absolutely delicious!
I didn’t have the ice cream for breakfast but I could have!
Still on the road to Watkins Glen is another fave, The Stonecat Cafe. They have curated a stunning menu comprising local and seasonal picks from the region’s rich agricultural resources and wine pairings to give guests a taste of the local flavors. In fact, they list all the farms where the food is sourced right at the bottom of their menu. If you can, enjoy your dinner on the relaxing outdoor patio and you must try their famous pulled pork!
Dinner options abound throughout the region from high end culinary art to rustic, South Philly nonna with a twist and everything in between. One of my favorite experiences is at the esteemed FLX table. It truly is the ultimate dinner party. With no barrier between the guest and the kitchen, you’ll be grateful for burning some calories at the start of the day. The finest example of culinary excellence, FLX Table is known for its flavors, quality, experience and award-winning chefs. Hard to believe but if the food doesn’t do it, the charming hosts will surely win your hearts!
I highly suggest taking advantage of the harvest season during the Fall which allows you to pick, sample and buy the freshest produce of the region that’s grown on the rolling hills you see speckled with rich red, orange and gold colors. Grape stomping is an experience, and no, not like what you saw Lucy and Ethel do but just as much fun. Fall is the perfect season to participate in the activity. There are several family-owned vineyards that make this experience all the more memorable with their award winning Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, and many other interesting varietals. Yes there are no doubt outstanding wines produced in France, Italy, and Napa Valley, but from firsthand experience, the wines I discovered in the Finger Lakes region are holding their own. Definitely not jug wine country any longer!
I didn’t realize how amazing the Rieslings and the cider of the region were going to be. Family-owned businesses that have been handed down for several generations work towards maintaining the tradition of delivering the finest products. On a recent trip, I unearthed some unique vineyards to share some award-winning wines with my clients. Imagine eating centuries old Viennese recipes right in the middle of a hidden vineyard, producing outstanding wines mostly sold to buyers in Europe. The stories shared, wine tasted, and food consumed were truly memorable.
If you have children along with you, there are plenty of opportunities to go picking apples, berries, pumpkins and a plethora of other fruits and vegetables. If you are heading there in October, be sure to pick your favorite pumpkin and carve your best Jack-o-lantern right there with your family.
OK Main Liners here’s your chance to sharpen your equestrian talents and not just from the stands of the Devon Horse Show!
Delve deep into your hidden cowgirl or cowboy and spend a day at a ranch, learning everything you thought you knew about horses. If you are a bit more adventurous, why not spend the evening in a newly refurbished log cabin amidst the fall foliage. If you are lucky enough to join me on my next trip, you’ll get to experience a full BBQ complete with horse shoes and a bit of training on how to lasso a bull. Don’t worry there’s no REAL bulls for this lesson!
One last guilty pleasure that I think everyone should indulge in is experiencing the spa at the Belhurst Castle. From signature body treatments and luxurious facials, to state-of-the-art hair and nail care -they offer the ultimate gratification that will make sure you go back home renewed, rejuvenated and relaxed into a zen-like existence and of course, help with that saddle sore self after all the riding and lassoing!
They also offer several accommodation options overlooking the lake, vineyards and the stunning fall foliage.
It’s hard to say goodbye with so many wonderful experiences at your fingertips. The simplicity of the people, the gorgeous setting and hard-to-forget food make it all the more difficult to bid adieu.
For anyone looking to explore the Finger Lakes further with me, I have discovered a farm that will allow us to make your own cheeses, a chocolatier eager to share her chocolate making secrets, and the possibility to make your own jams, and ice creams. While, this is just a sample of what a Chloe Johnston experience looks like, my favorite part is working with the locals to uncover the hidden potential of a destination.
Chloe Johnston, Chloe Johnston Experiences