Feeling Your Way Through The Finger Lakes Of New York by Terry Zinn

A road trip guarantees a real travel adventures. A week driving through the glacier-formed Finger Lakes of West Central New York State is barely enough time to explore all this sampling Americana has to offer. Flying in and out of Rochester gives you the opportunity to tour the Eastman House (www.eastmanhouse.org) with its photography research center, and the unique Strong National Museum of Play (www.strongmuseum.org).

On your way to your overnight in Canandaigua you’ll see the Erie Canal with a quick stop in Pittsford, and see how the canal is adapted today to leisure activities. Also en route through Mumford is the Genesse Country Village and Museum (www.gcv.org).

And what would a road trip be without getting slightly lost, or thinking you are lost? A correctly programmed GPS system in your car will become invaluable and a real comfort while traveling the many back roads of the expansive Finger Lakes. This was my first time with a talking map, and after we came to an “understanding” the device was an asset to the road trip adventure. Continuing on, you may want to drive the twisting, wooded roads of Letchworth State Park, which is listed as the Grand Canyon of the East, and does have some surprisingly nice scenic turnouts (www.letchworthpark.com).

Over night at the comfortable Bristol Harbor Resort in Canandaigua is highly recommended and a brief home base for touring the Canandaigua Lake area (www.bristolharbour.com). The town itself has quaint architecture, and a stop-off at the Finger Lakes visitor bureau at 25 Gorham street, can be helpful for last minute directions and touring advice. (www.visitfingerlakes.com) The office encourages visitors to contact them for information on the area and to learn which sights a first time visitor might like to see. It was invaluable to me, as I picked from their extensive catalog the areas I found interesting, and they were able to send a suggested itinerary.

Jump in your car and drive south on Rt 21 towards Naples. Let your intuition choose which of the road side offerings of gifts wines and foods to sample. There are so many it would be hard to see them all, but I enjoyed the small, but packed, Monica’s Pies (www.monicapies.com). A most original and indigenous treat are the grape pies, a sweet treat with a homemade goodness, which has won many awards.
Grapes in New York state of course are made into wines, and the Imagine Moore Winery (www.imaginemoorewinery.com) has a congenial wine tasting house right next to a vineyard. I found their wine good enough to buy and take home. Other notable wineries in this neck of the Finger Lakes is Arbor Hill Grapery (www.thegrapery.com) and the Widmer Wine Cellars (www.widmerwine.com). Being an art glass collector I was tempted to purchase at the local artist gallery, Artisan’s Gifts from the Finger Lakes (www.artizanns.com) with their well-priced local art, including paintings, pottery and a few pieces of art glass.

Back to Canandaigua’s New York Wine and Culinary Center (www.nywcc.com) I was privileged to sit in on an evening Wine and Pasta pairing demonstration. My dinner in Tuscany exhibition with Chef Lorenzo Boni gave me a new appreciation of Barilla Pasta and their sauces. Now I relive a little bit of my Finger Lakes experience every time I go to my local supermarket.

With some imagination, the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State historic park, gives you a glance at past opulence.(www.sonnenberg.org). Undergoing long-term renovation the mansion and gardens are in need of extensive care and funding. It’s sad to see the once lovely grounds and house crumbling before your eyes. At least its condition is recognized and small steps are taking place to preserve this historic New York estate. Be sure and take time to relax by strolling Canandaigua’s lakeshore drive and city pier with its historic boat houses. Also be aware that the Ontario County Courthouse is where Susan B. Anthony was convicted and fined one hundred dollars for voting.
High on my list of want-a-sees was the Corning Museum of glass in Corning New York (www.cmog.org). An enthusiastic and knowledgeable docent took me on a whirlwind tour down their educational history of glass exhibition, with stops to see glass blowing exhibitions in their hot glass shop and a chance to participate in a glass blowing experience. While I did the blowing the craftsperson spun the blow rod and formed the small pumpkin, which when cooled was mailed to me. This is a Finger Lakes road trip stop not to be missed. Of course I was overwhelmed by their glass gift shop, where I found several pieces from my favorite glass artists. I also found tempting glass in Corning’s Market Street Galleries. Also downtown is the Rockwell (no relation to the artist) Museum of Western Art which houses the best of the West in the East (www.rockwellmuseum.org).

You can have more hands-on glass blowing experience at Corning’s Hands-on Glass: Hot Glass Studio (www.handsonglass.com) where classes are available, as well as a small selection of glass for sale. Rodi Rovner and her team work hard to keep the tradition of glass on a personal level alive. My stay at Corning‘s Radisson hotel was convenient and professionally efficient.(www.radisson.com/corningny) If you want to be over fed and have a sensory dining experience, Spencer’s Restaurant should be your Corning dining choice. (www.spencerscorning.com) When you look closely you’ll see church pews accompanied by fireplaces and an inventive menu including eggplant fries!
Another famous Finger Lakes town is Watkins Glenn, know for its race track, where it is possible with an appointment, for you to drive your own car around the track. I chose to take a relaxing (and can be romantic) evening boat ride on Captain Bill’s Seneca lake dinner Cruise (www.senecaharborstation.com). An over night at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel (www.watkinsglenharborhotel.com) is a convenient and luxurious oasis with gorgeous views of Lake Seneca. Allow plenty of time if you wish to venture into the Watkins Glenn State Park, where waterfalls and nature combine. My time was brief as I was off to Hammonsport to be introduced to the Glenn Curtis’s Museum, centering on aviation, motorcycles and other firsts. The firsts continue with a tour of the Pleasant Valley Wine company established in 1867. Forty-Five minute guided tours are offered to explain the complicated process of wine, sherry, and champagne making in their expansive facility.
On my way up to Aurora I just had to make a very brief detour to Elmira to see Mark Twain’s family cemetery plot and to see the nearby little writing retreat, which is like a closed-in gazebo. What’s a road trip adventure without an impromptu detour? It’s this kind of flexibility that makes a road trip all worthwhile. Of course, it made me late for my lunch appointment at the Pumpkin Hill Bistro at 2051 Route 90 near Aurora. My delicious lunch was waiting for me,and promptly served amid a charming atmosphere of intimate dining (www.pumpkinhillbistro.com)

I was in a bit of a rush, as I had tickets for the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse in Auburn (www.merry-go-round.com). The professional theatre building was once a merry-go-round enclosure. Getting off the road, resting and being professionally entertained is a welcome counterpoint to a road tour. After the theatre there was a brief visit to Auburn’s Willard Memorial chapel with its interior decorated totally with Luis Comfort Tiffany religious stain glass windows and accents.
Then it was off to the Belhurst Chateau to enjoy the grounds and public rooms of this restored and expanded Geneva mansion (www.belhurst.com). An elegant dinner at Edgar’s, with view of the lake was a perfect ending to an adventurous touring agenda. The history of this wine related lodge is felt in every room. To emphasize this wine region, there is even a working wine spicket available to over night guests in the second floor lobby. Now that’s hospitality!
Driving out of Geneva on your way back to Rochester airport, you can tank up your thirst with award winning 100% fruit juices at Red Jacket Orchards (www.redjacketorchards.com). While I had a very full Finger Lakes itinerary there is much more to savor, and you may find other areas of interest when you request your Finger Lakes planning booklet. (www.fingerlakes.org) Summer and Autumn are perfect times to tour the lakes, hills and many attractions of this part of America, which I call a perfect sampling of Americana.