“ A small town is a place where there’s no chance to go where you shouldn’t.” — Burt Bacharach
That may well be, but on my sojourn through the Finger Lake and 1000 Islands Regions of New York, there were plenty of places to go exactly where I should – and what a rewarding experience that turned out to be! From the towns of Watkins Glen to Clayton, and the many communities in between, I discovered some pretty nifty arts and crafts, delicious seasonal beverages (think hard cider!), and antique treasures like the flower-filled glass globe that I found hidden under a pile of old posters. And, I was lucky to be right there at a most propitious time – autumn – when the breathtaking landscape of this region is transformed into a spectacle of color…farms and wineries bursting with the bounty of harvest.
Veni, Vidi, Vineyards
First stop: Watkins Glen, best described as that place where Mother Nature meets Main Street. We visited the lovely Harbor Hotel on Seneca Lake, recipient of USA Today’s ”Ten Best Waterfront Hotels” award and AAA’s Four Diamond recognition. Situated amidst vineyard-covered hillsides and peaceful hiking trails, the property sits smack-dab in the heart of the area’s renowned wine region. The town of Watkins Glen has been recognized by the New York Times as a “Best Place to Visit,” and Budget Travel called the Finger Lakes one of the “World’s Most Beautiful Wine Regions.” Replete with rich cultural experiences, this area boasts some important museums – the Corning Museum of Glass, the Rockwell Museum, and the Arnot Art Museum, to name a few.
Delightful was my tour of Reisinger’s Apple Country, a family-owned orchard offering 20 varieties of apples for your picking pleasure and fine educational tours. Did you know that a medium apple is 80 calories or that apples are a member of the rose family? Now I do! Then, something I’d been looking forward to – a tour and tasting at Lakewood Vineyards. Three generations of the Stamp family have worked together to produce wines exceptional enough to be awarded “The Wine Family of the Year” by Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine. I had an intimate guided tour of their wine-making process, the finale being a wine tasting with a large selection of superb local cheeses as accompaniment. My day ended back at the hotel with a dinner at the Blue Pointe Grill with tasty corn chowder and Chicken Milanese.
Boats, Castles and French Toast
Next visit, the quaint town of Clayton and the Four Diamond 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. The town, built on a peninsula, was settled in 1822 and is unique for its intact, cohesive collection of nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings. Clayton may be small, hovering at around 2,000 inhabitants but its offerings are large. There’s an opera house, the Antique Boat Museum, The Boldt Castle, and much more.
Let me tell you about the spectacular Antique Boat Museum. It is the premier freshwater nautical museum in North America with over 300 unique, beautifully-preserved vessels and thousands of artifacts. What fun it was to board La Duchesse, a two-storey Gilded Age houseboat! On board I discovered every creature comfort imaginable, including a dining room with brass fireplace and Limoges china, a stateroom finished in the finest mahogany, and bathrooms with claw-foot tubs and gold-rimmed sinks. As sun streamed into the cozy library, I began imagining what it must have been like to curl up here with a good book, the mighty St. Lawrence flowing outside my window.
Crossing over the 1000 Islands Bridge, a grand apparition lay before my eyes: Boldt Castle, a turn-of-the-century edifice rivaling those in Europe. Construction began in 1900 at the bidding of hotel magnate George C. Boldt as a tribute to his beloved wife Louise. Designed as their summer home, alas it was not to be as Mrs. Boldt passed away suddenly just months before the completion of the castle, an occasion as tragic as when the wife of the emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal for his wife Mumtaz Mahal who died in childbirth. I let my imagination run wild when I saw the elegant Reception Room with its potted palms and towering, floor-to-ceiling windows. Hmmm… I’m being greeted and asked to wait a moment till the Lord of the Manor arrives! Well, I can dream, can’t I? The story goes that Mr. Boldt was so inconsolable at Louise’s death that he left the property and never returned.
A fitting end to my visit was my dinner that evening at the hotel. Known as the famous Shore Dinner, this was a repast so special, I think I’ll remember it always. Created and inspired by local fishing guides, this traditional meal has been an integral part of fishing the river since 1872. Here’s some of what it consists of: the catch of the day, bread, potatoes, fatback, corn on the cob, greens and Thousand Islands dressing. The first course was a fatback sandwich. Yes, a sandwich made of just fried fatback and onions! I was tempted to pass on this curious starter but glad I didn’t. The sandwich was so delicious I asked for seconds. Next came fried fish, potatoes, corn and the piece de resistance, French Toast. Get this: the deliciously battered bread is fried in the reused fatback grease. Voila! French Toast like you’ve never had before – swoon-worthy! I’d like to mention that the event was accompanied by wines from Coyote Moon Vineyards, making this one very happy experience, to be sure.
If You Go:
Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel
1000 Islands Harbor Hotel
Antique Boat Museum
Coyote Moon Vineyards
Reisinger’s Apple Country
Barbara Barton Sloane, Yonkers Tribune Travel Editor, is constantly globe-hopping to share her unique experiences, from the exotic to the sublime, with our readers. She keeps us informed, as well, on the capricious and engaging fashion and beauty scene.