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A Taste of the Finger Lakes and 1000 Islands: the flavors of autumn 

Seneca Lake, Watkins Glen, NY
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Seneca Lake, named for the people who lived in the Finger Lakes region before Europeans settled there. Watkins Glen, NY

Fall foliage season is one of the best times for a road trip. New York’s Finger Lakes and Thousand Island areas offer some of the best color and flavors of autumn. 

The Finger Lakes

Named for its long and slender glacially-carved lakes, the Finger Lakes region is known for outdoor recreation. With more than 50 farm stands and over 100 wineries there, New York’s agricultural region is also a place to enjoy the bounty of its farms and vineyards.

Family-run dairy farms along the Finger Lakes Cheese Trail are some of the best places to enjoy traditional cheddars and cheese curds as well as specialties like Red Buddy, Morning Glory and probiotic kefir cheese.

New York is also the nation’s top producer of pumpkins and second only to Washington in apple production. A stop at an apple orchard is a must.

Reisinger’s Apple Country, Watkins Glen, NY.
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Reisinger’s Apple Country, Watkins Glen, NY.

Reisinger’s Apple Country, Watkins Glen, NY.
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Reisinger’s Apple Country, Watkins Glen, NY.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reisinger’s Apple Country is a popular family destination run by Rick and Karen Reisigner, their children, and grandchildren. Rick noted that even college students run to the measuring stick attached to an enormous  chair for their annual photo showing how much they have grown . There’s fresh apple cider and apple cider donuts on weekends along with the local honey, maple syrup, apple butter, jams and jellies. 

Finger Lakes Rieslings are renowned and other cool climate varieties like Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir flourish. Finger Lakes Wine Country, with its fertile soil and gentle winds, was named the Best Wine Region in the USA by USA Today 10 Best Readers Choice Awards 2018.

Lakewood Vineyards, Watkins Glen, NY
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Lakewood Vineyards, Watkins Glen, NY

The 80 acre Lakewood Vineyards is along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, the area’s largest trail. They began growing grapes for large wineries and Welch’s grape juice. The winery opened in 1989 and is now run by three generations of the Stamp family. Among their awards are Upstate NY’s Best Winery and 2017 NY Riesling Winery of the Year.

A guided tour of the wine making process and flight of wine samples is $8, $4 refundable with a wine purchase. The view is priceless. 

Watkins Glen: Gateway to the Finger Lakes

mural, Watkins Glen, NY
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Watkins Glen murals like this one of Bill Miller’s Bugatti 35A depict the history of the sport for which the village is known

Colorful murals of race cars and sidewalk plaques honoring winning contestants celebrate the sport for which Watkins Glen is known. For $30 you can “Drive The Glen!,” racing your own vehicle around the 3.4-mile Grand Prix circuit behind a paced vehicle.

The are cascading waters, pools, and rapids along the gorge at the Watkins Glen State Park, one of the best known of the Finger Lakes Parks.  A stream drops 400’ past 200’ cliffs, creating 19 waterfalls along the two-mile gorge path. The USA Today Readers’ Choice Poll rated it the #3 state park in the country.

The early European settlers found the area useless for farming and called it the “Great Gully.” The Watkins family bought it and in 1830 Samuel Watkins,for whom the village and gorge are named, built a flour mill at the entrance to the gorge. He harness the water from Glen Creek  into a flume and down to the lower gorge, where a water wheel provided the power to grind thousands of pounds of grain into flour in a day.

In 1863 Watkins Glen was a scenic international tourist attraction, a private resort with lodging and dining. The automobile made public lands accessible. People dressed in their finest to walk the winding paths that led to formal fountains and flower beds, and live music at the bandstand. The state of New York bought what is now Watkins Glen State Park in 1906.

The Civilian Conservation Corp arrived just in time for the Flood of the Century in 1935, when water raged after eleven inches of rain fell in 48 hours. The CCC worked the rest of the year to restore the damage and their stonework remains today.

view from suspension bridge, Watkins Glen State Park, Watkins Glen, New York
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view from suspension bridge, Watkins Glen State Park, Watkins Glen, New York

There’s a waterfall viewing area by the new Welcome Center for those who don’t want to walk the path’s 832 stone steps or lack the time. Drive up to the park’s picnic area and walk down the path to  enjoy the spectacular aerial view from the suspension bridge that spans the gorge.

Historic Montour Falls, the “Valley of Tumbling Waters, an area of hills, natural glens, and waterfalls, is about three miles away. Don’t miss Chequaga, or Shequaga, Falls at the “Glorious Historic T,” an area of notable architectural gems at the end of West Main Street.

Shequaga Falls, Montours Falls, NY
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Shequaga Falls, Montours Falls, NY

A sketch of the thundering waterfall by Louis Philippe, the future King of France, is in the Louvre. Visit at night to see the falls when illuminated.

The Thousand Islands and Clayton

St. 1000 Islands, St. Lawrence River, New York
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St. 1000 Islands, St. Lawrence River, New York

The Thousand Islands are in the St. Lawrence River along a United States and Canada border that zig-zags around the islands. It is a place to spot pleasure boats and commercial ships traveling between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.

Antique Boat Museum, Clayton, New York
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Antique Boat Museum, Clayton, New York

Visit Clayton’s Antique Boat Museum to learn more about the St. Lawrence River’s activity and history. With more than 300 unique preserved boats and thousands of artifacts, it is the nation’s top freshwater nautical collection. Combination tickets are available for a tour of George Boldt’s former 106’ 1903 houseboat La Duchesse or a 45 minute ride aboard a 30’ triple cockpit Hacker Craft.

mural depicting early forms of transportation for vacationers, Clayton, New York
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mural depicting early forms of transportation for vacationers, Clayton, New York

George Pullman, inventor of the Pullman sleeping car, brought attention to the area when he invited President Grant and General Sherman  to visit. It soon grew as a resort area for Gilded Age magnates.

Today’s visitors might come to Clayton for a performance at the four-story brick Clayton Opera House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, or for an event at Frick Park. There is a Riverwalk that leads to the village shops, galleries, and wineries.  Enjoy some of Coyote Moon’s award-winning wine with  some cheddar or curds from 1000 Islands River Rat Cheese.

Frick Park, Clayton, New York
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Frick Park, Clayton, New York

Hotelier George Boldt made a fortune as owner of the Belleview-Stratford in Philadelphia and manager of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. No expense was spared in building his six-story 120 room castle styled after those on the Rhine. He even reshaped the island and renamed it Heart Island.

Boldt Castle, 1000 Islands, New York
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Boldt Castle, 1000 Islands, New York

It was intended to be a Valentine’s Day gift for his wife, Louise. The couple purchased the finest Italian marble, tapestries, chandeliers, paintings, sculptures and furniture in Europe. Then Louise, 42, died unexpectedly.

The heartbroken Boldt abandoned the unfinished castle. It was eventually acquired and restored by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority. To get there, take a tour boat or the ferry from the 64’ high Yacht House on Wellesley Island, which as accessible by a bridge.

Boldt Yacht House, 1000 Islands, NY
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Boldt Yacht House, Wellesley Island, NY

Take the 45 minute guided tour of Singer Castle, built by Commodore Frederick Gilbert Bourne, fifth president of the sewing machine company.  He spent $500,000 on his 28 room four story island hunting lodge with turrets, dungeons, secret passageways, boathouses and a two-story icehouse for entertaining. The Bourne family lived there until the 1960s.

Singer Castle, 1000 Islands, New York
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Singer Castle, 1000 Islands, New York

Accommodations

1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, Clayton, New York
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1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, Clayton, New York

To get the most from your experience book waterfront hotels like the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel on Seneca Lake and the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel on the shores of the St. Lawrence River. The scenic drive between them runs along part of the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, designated one of America’s Byways by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It was also named one of the Top 9 Great American Drives by Budget Travel.

The Great Lakes Seaway Trail, New York
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The Great Lakes Seaway Trail, New York

The Harbor Hotels’ off-season rates drop dramatically. They are an outstanding value for luxurious waterfront properties with concierge service, sumptuous bedding, chocolate-on-the-pillow nightly turndown service, and an award-winning restaurant. Both are top choices for weddings and other special events.

1000 Islands Harbor Hotel from dock, Clayton, New York
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1000 Islands Harbor Hotel from dock, Clayton, New York

The Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel was named America’s Best Waterfront Hotel in the 2016 USA Today Reader’s Choice Awards. The 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, which overlooks the archipelago, was awarded a Best Scenic View award in 2018. Trip Advisor gave both properties a Certificate of Excellence in 2018. AAA awarded their 4 Diamond designation to both.

Chilean Sea Bass with Thai noodles, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, NY
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Chilean Sea Bass with Thai rice noodles, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, NY

flourless chocolate cake, 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, Clayton, NY
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flourless chocolate cake, 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, Clayton, NY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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