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FINGER LAKES NEW YORK VACATION

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Located in central west New York State, the Finger Lakes region is south of Lake Ontario and north of Pennsylvania. From Buffalo, the New York Finger Lakes are just a two-hour drive east on the NYS Thruway I-90.

Middle Falls and Genesee River Gorge in Letchworth State Park
Middle Falls and Genesee River Gorge in Letchworth State Park
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

According to Iroquois legend, the Great Spirit created the Finger Lakes when he laid his hands upon the earth, leaving the lakes as silvery imprints of his fingers. Several of the 11 lakes still bear melodious Native American names.

The names describe the appearance, location and significance of the lakes: Conesus (Always Beautiful), Canadice (Long Lake), Honeoye (Finger Lying), Canandaigua (Chosen Place), Keuka (Canoe Landing), Seneca (Stoney Place), Cayuga (Boat Landing), Owasco (Floating Bridge), Skaneateles (Long Lake), Otisco (Waters Dried Away) and Onondaga (People of the Hills).

State park

Begin your trip in Livingston County, in Letchworth State Park. You can drive along the Genesee River, which cuts through 600-foot cliffs, roars over three waterfalls and winds through lush forests.

The 14,340-acre "Grand Canyon of the East" offers cabins, cottages, tent and trailer sites for camping, swimming, fishing and hiking trails. Bring a picnic or dine at the historic Glen Iris Inn.

Rochester

Rochester, "the Flower City," has the largest display of lilacs in the world. The mid-May Lilac Festival, in Highland Park, features concerts, a parade, arts and crafts and the crowning of the Lilac Queen.

Lilacs in Rochester, New York
Lilacs in Rochester, New York
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Rochester is also called "the Picture City" because George Eastman (1854-1932) put it on the map when he introduced the world to photography with his Kodak camera in 1888 and the Brownie camera in 1900.

George Eastman House

The George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film offers self-guided tours of the house, gardens and grounds. Collections feature 400,000 photographs from 9,000 photographers, the largest collection of camera technology in the world and a motion picture collection of silent films, Warner Brothers stills and a library of photographic literature. In the Discovery Room, kids can learn about photography with hands-on activities like making animation strips.

The Rochester Museum & Science Center draws families with interactive exhibits and the Strasenburgh Planetarium. Children (and adults!) love the Strong National Museum of Play, which houses the largest collection of dolls and toys in the world, as well as an indoor butterfly garden.

Other Rochester museums include the Susan B. Anthony House, home of the famous advocate of women's rights and the Genesee Country Village & Museum. Geva Theatre Center presents a varied repertoire of contemporary, classical and modern drama, while the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performs more than 140 concerts annually.

Shopping

Rochester offers something for every shopper. Stores range from the Eastview, Greece and Marketplace Malls to the colorful Rochester Public Market, with fresh produce and a flea market, the Craft Antique Co-op and Wegmans food market.

Located just 35 minutes from Rochester, between Rochester and Syracuse, off I-90, Waterloo Premium Outlets have more than 100 designer and brand name outlet stores, offering everyday savings of 25 to 65 per cent.

Wine aging in barrels at Bully Hill Vineyards in Hammondsport
Wine aging in barrels at Bully Hill Vineyards in Hammondsport
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Wine country

With more than 20,000 acres of vineyards and 100 wineries, New York wine country produces award-winning Riesling, Finger Lakes champagne, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc wines.

Heavily-laden vineyards line country roads, sloping gently towards the Finger Lakes. You can follow the scenic roads beside the major lakes, driving up one side and down the other, stopping at wineries along the way.

The best way to organize a wine tour is to visit the New York Wine & Culinary Center in Canandaigua and the Finger Lakes Wine Center, in Ithaca. Another Finger Lakes Wine Center is in Sonnenberg Gardens, near Canandaigua Lake. Besides wine tastings and information about New York wine, the centers provide maps and brochures for the Finger Lakes wine trails.

Cayuga Lake

Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is the oldest wine trail in New York State, with 16 wineries. Montezuma Winery produces fruit wines, mead (honey wines) and honey vodka. Swedish Hill Vineyard has picnic areas. Knapp Winery and Sheldrake Point Vineyard have restaurants. Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery has a cheese shop.

You can drive between wineries or book a wine tour with several companies that offer private and public group tours with guides. Limotouring (groups using limos to visit wineries) allows visitors to go wine tasting without worrying about drinking and driving.

Vineyards slope down to Keuka Lake.
Vineyards slope down to Keuka Lake.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Keuka Lake

The Keuka Lake Wine Trail brochure describes the 10 wineries in the region, including McGregor Vineyard, Dr. Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars, Stever Hill Vineyards and Keuka Spring Vineyards. Bully Hill Vineyards has a restaurant and a museum, besides tours and tastings.

The brochure also provides information on bed & breakfasts, hotels, inns, restaurants, vacation rentals, camping and Keuka Lake attractions. Of special interest are the food and wine events. World Tour of Wine offers food and wine pairings in March and April. Barbeque at the Wineries is an annual June festival. At the September Harvest Tour of Food and Wine, you can match Keuka wines with regional dishes.

Canandaigua

Canandaigua is known for its Victorian mansion and flower-filled Sonnenberg Gardens. The Canandaigua Wine Trail showcases six wineries and the New York Wine & Culinary Center.

Visitors enjoy wine tastings, as well as wine-making tours, at wineries like Widmer Wine Cellars in Naples. The tour includes a visit to Manischewitz Winery, the largest producer of kosher wines in the world. Don't leave Naples without sampling grape pie, a delicious local food specialty.

Grape vines and Seneca Lake
Grape vines and Seneca Lake
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Seneca Lake

Seneca Lake Wine Trail is the largest wine trail, with 37 wineries, around the largest Finger Lake. Glenora Wine Cellars is Seneca Lake's oldest winery. Rock Stream Vineyards is the only Grappa brandy distiller. Besides tastings, several Seneca Lake wineries have restaurants, including Belhurst Winery, Fox Run Vineyards, Castel Grisch Winery and Wagner Vineyards.

Chocolate & Wine Weekend, in February, Spring Wine & Cheese Weekend, in April, and A Riesling to Visit Passport, between May and August, are popular Seneca Lake Wine Trail events.

Watkins Glen

Every July, 75 wineries gather at Watkins Glen International to offer tastings of New York wine. Music, cooking demonstrations, wine seminars, arts and crafts and a gourmet food court draw visitors.

Gorge and waterfall in Watkins Glen State Park
Gorge and waterfall in Watkins Glen State Park
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll
Country road in Finger Lakes NY region
Country road in Finger Lakes NY region
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Watkins Glen, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake, is known not only for its Grand Prix Auto Races but also for its magnificent State Park and gorge that drops 700 feet in two miles. A hiking trail, carved into 200-foot cliffs, follows the river as it gushes over 19 waterfalls, fashioning grottos and rock formations. You can walk behind, above and through the spraying falls and over a bridge that spans the glen 165 feet above the water.

After a relaxing cruise on Seneca Lake, drive south to Elmira, the soaring capital of the US. Visit the National Soaring Museum or try a flight in a glider. Elmira was the home of Mark Twain. You can visit the study at the Elmira College campus where Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Ithaca

When you arrive in Ithaca, at the foot of Lake Cayuga, don't be surprised to see bumper stickers reading: "Ithaca is Gorges." Ithaca is gorgeous, surrounded by state parks, gorges and waterfalls.

The most impressive is Taughannock Falls, which is three stories higher than Niagara Falls. The highest falls east of the Rockies, it cascades for 215 feet into a rock amphitheater.

Taughannock Falls near Ithaca NY
Taughannock Falls near Ithaca NY
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Ithaca is also the home of Cornell University. Tour its campus, shop in Ithaca Farmers Market, attend a performance at Hangar Theater or just relax and enjoy the water sports and weekly sailboat regattas on Lake Cayuga.

Have an ice cream sundae at Purity Ice Cream, the oldest ice cream parlor in Ithaca. The first ice cream sundae was invented in Ithaca in 1892.

Syracuse

In the northeast Finger Lakes region, Syracuse is about 86 miles east of Rochester on Interstate 90. Syracuse is called "the Salt City," because salt attracted both Native Americans and the first settlers. For years, most of America's salt came from Syracuse.

The Salt Museum in Onondaga Lake Park features an 1856 salt factory. Sainte Marie among the Iroquois Museum is a 17th-century living history museum with demonstrations of cooking, carpentry, blacksmithing and gardening. Onondaga Lake Park is a favorite place for picnicking, cycling, canoeing and hiking.

Art museum

Syracuse has many other museums. Among them are the Everson Museum of Art, which displays American art and ceramics. The Erie Canal Museum explains the construction and operation of the Erie Canal. Kids love the International Mask and Puppet Museum.

During the summer, you can take boat cruises on the canal, attend free open-air concerts in the city parks and visit the New York State Fair, the longest-running state fair in America. Throughout the year, the 50,000-seat Carrier Dome stadium at Syracuse University hosts cultural and sporting events. The historic 3,000-seat Syracuse Area Landmark Theater also showcases plays, dances, concerts and films.

Visitors to Syracuse are only a short drive away from boating, fishing, windsurfing and waterskiing on the Finger Lakes. Resorts dot their shores and accommodations run the gamut from deluxe hotels to inexpensive campgrounds in the 22 Finger Lake state parks.

Getting to the Finger Lakes region is easy. It's leaving that's the hard part.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Finger Lakes Region: www.FingerLakes.org

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