Fabulous Finger Lakes and great college town of Ithaca in upstate New York

1-IMG_3456FINGER LAKES OF NEW YORK – We have wineries. And we have lakes.

But I think it’s fair to say Ontario doesn’t have anything to quite match the total Finger Lakes package in upstate New York.

Only an hour or so east of Buffalo, which means maybe three hours from downtown Toronto, you’ll find gorgeous lakes surrounded by hills covered with pretty vineyards ahttp://jimbyerstravel.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpnd thick forests. Not to mention tremendously attractive small towns and stately white homes.

The town of Geneva is one of those solid if not hugely beautiful towns. Probably it’s seen better days. But the surrounding area is terrific, especially as you drive along Seneca Lake.

1-IMG_3431I stopped briefly at Geneva on the Lake. It’s a stately inn on a small ridge above the lake, with formal gardens and a couple Roman-looking statues that make it look very much like a number of places I’ve seen on the original Lake Geneva in Switzerland. There’s a pretty patio out back, which would be a sensational spot for breakfast with its’ eastern exposure.

I only tried one winery, Red Newt, over on the east side of the lake. I found it pretty bland, to be honest, and not even half as good as places I visited in Niagara last week. I probably should’ve tried more, so I won’t tar all the wineries here with the same brush.

While I wasn’t enamoured with the wine, it’s a very pretty spot on the eastern side of the lake, high on a hill overlooking the water and a series of vineyards and nice homes and farms. No doubt it would be sensational for a summer sunset.

They make a pretty good grilled cheese and meat loaf sandwich and serve a nice side salad with kale and good, spicy tomato soup.

1-IMG_3492Nearby is the very approachable, friendly and highly attractive town of Ithaca, famous for both Cornell University (former home of Ken Dryden) and Ithaca College. Cornell is a drop dead gorgeous campus on a hill east of downtown, with tons of stately brick and stone buildings cascading down the slopes.

The downtown is terrific, with cool brewpubs, restaurants and nice shops in carefully crafted, older buildings of solid brick. They’re redoing the main street, the no-cars-allowed Ithaca Common. But don’t let that deter you from a visit this summer as the shops are great and open and there are several spots with nice patios. There’s great beer and very reasonable prices (and good cardamom chicken) at the Bandwagon Brew Pub, too.

There are lots of hotels to choose from. The tourism folks put me up at the Argos Inn. It’s a smack-dab fabulous property; an old home that’s been given a huge facelift. The rooms are slightly quirky and amazingly fun. My suite had a sunroom area off to one side with a couple chairs and a small sofa. The room had huge ceilings and fun light fixtures and a beautifully carved wooden bench at the end of the bed, near another pair of chairs.

The bathroom was the main attraction, with a large shower featuring an exposed brick wall and stunning grey stone on the other walls. The water pressure was great, and I must say I spent an extra few minutes in there just soaking up the ambience. Easily the best shower of the year so far! And I didn’t even need the heated bathroom floor.

1-IMG_3475The main floor has a pretty room on the east side that’s filled with morning light. They use some nights for movies that are projected onto a white wall, complete with free popcorn.

On the other side of the house is a wonderful sitting area with a bookcase bursting with books and an old piano that I heard a couple people play. The furniture is old-style comfortable and they’ve got a ton of local art on the walls.

The bar was utterly sensational; one of those places with gleaming chrome and cool chairs and an atmosphere that makes you feel younger and hipper than you really are.

I had a killer drink, again my favourite of the year so far, with silver tequila, apple-fennel shrub, lemon, sugar celery bitters and a float of smoky Laphroiag Scotch. It sounds a bit odd but the combination of flavours is exquisite.

1-IMG_3478There’s free Wi-Fi and a nice breakfast with good coffee and granola and juice. And it’s only a block to some of the town’s best restaurants.

I was told they haven’t even advertised but that all 10 rooms are already booked for Cornell’s graduation. In 2017!!!

The building also is LEED certified and has been meticulously restored by local craftsmen. I was told the house was briefly the headquarters for Duncan Hines, the famous cake maker.

It’s super trendy and fun and, I’m told, completely unlike any other property in town.

I love American college towns for their liberal atmosphere and wide-ranging food and drink options, and this one’s about as good as they get.

I’m told you can find bumper stickers that say “Ithaca: centrally isolated” or “Ithaca: 10 square miles surrounded by reality.”

Fun stuff.

1-IMG_3523A half hour or so north of town, on the shores of pretty Cayuga Lake, is the pretty town of Aurora. There’s a small complex of college buildings on a small hill, and the road is lined with stately homes and pretty shops including the Aurora Inn and a couple of boutiques.

It’s the sort of town that makes you want to find a local real estate guide and plunk down a deposit on a place that would offer gentle water, pretty restaurants and wonderful sunsets.

And the driving in and around the area is terrific; full of great views and country inns and dipsy-doodle curves and rises and proud farms and tons of history.

Highly recommended. And close to home!


{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Jim Lally 28 December 2014, 4:44 pm

    Enjoyed your trip through the Finger Lakes article, but you missed one of the best Five Start (TripAdvisor) family attractions. It is much, much more than aeroplanes.The Glenn Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport. It is a cultural collection of the Finger Lakes. Alexander Graham Bell, andhis Canadian Aeronautical Engineering Association got Curtiss
    involved in flight. A Curtiss aeroplane was first to fly in Canada.
    Next time, stop by, you will be pleasantly surprised and will enjoy it.
    Jim Lally

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