Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 3, 2009

The Finger Lakes: A Tonic for the Soul

Why you should visit The Finger Lakes

The travel and tourism industry, quite rightly I suppose, has become one in which competition is paramount. Some destinations of course are able to compete on a much broader scale than others. On the other hand, some destinations tend to be less well-known, low-key, and (a personal opinion here) more discreet in the ways in which they market themselves.

This is the essence of the Finger Lakes: quiet, relaxed, pastoral, and yet an area of the United States in which there is much of significance. It is a region in which quality of life, and not “lifestyle” (whatever that might be), matters.

This is a region of New York State that appeals to the hearts and minds of travellers who want to be stimulated, aesthetically especially, but also to be reminded of why the world’s largest democracy is still a preferred destination.

A refuge from the clamouring crowd

There are actually 11 Finger Lakes, 12 if you include Oneida Lake; where I come from, we would call it a “shirt-tail cousin.” Oneida Lake is rather shallow and just looks different. It happens in families.

Anyway, the 11 Finger Lakes are:

• Otisco • Skaneateles • Owasco • Cayuga • Seneca • Keuka • Canandaigua • Honeoye • Canadice • Hemlock • Coneses

Go ahead. Google them. See what you get.

The Finger Lakes are glacially-formed lakes, carved out of the land by one of those great lumbering but relentless glaciers from way back when. The lakes are long and thin, and graceful — like the fingers of a ballerina. If you choose to include Oneida Lake just northeast of Syracuse, it would be the thumb. And these are deep lakes! Each of them is more than 400 feet deep, which is deeper than the “great” Lake Ontario.

The area is a history lesson in itself and has many fascinating and socially important stories to tell; layer upon layer. The Finger Lakes area was essentially the first western frontier before the big push began to extend a new nation much further across the continent. The western half of the region was part of the “Phelps and Gorham Purchase” of 1790 — the largest land purchase in the world at the time and a highly significant event in the movement to settlement westward. This “pre-emptive” land deal between private individuals and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is also a very interesting historical case study in nation-building and, in particular, the impact it had on the lives and rights of indigenous people.

Landscape and culture

And because history and culture are shaped by landscape, the Finger Lakes was “a natural,” rich in agricultural and soft industrial potential, as well as a vigorous (and at the same time peaceful) natural beauty that encouraged a kind of collective introspection. The latter spawned an equally vigorous commitment to social progress. This is especially evident in the arts industry that the Finger Lakes has engendered.

But this bucolic destination is not a fool’s paradise; it is also an Eden for the mind. Although your senses will be fully engaged wherever you go — and you will experience a real lifestyle alternative — you will also find yourself immersed intellectually in the place. There is much environmental innocence and purity in the Finger Lakes region, but it is also an American travel destination in which self-determination and the struggle to achieve it are inherent in the landscape and the history that landscape nourished.

History and landscape

As you discover the Finger Lakes, you will also discover (or re-discover) such historical names, facts, and events as the following:

(a) As the names of the lakes suggest, the area is the traditional homeland of the Iroquois nation for whom the region was especially generous in it’s natural resources. Already an advanced civilization in the 17th century, they fell victim to European war parties and missionaries whose purpose was to convert and defeat them. However, the Great Peace Treaty of 1794 which was signed here between the United States of America and the tribes of Indians called the Six Nations, established Indian lands and brought peace.

(b) This is a region of significant geological importance and beauty. In Letchworth State Park, for example, you will find unique rock formations and winding deep valleys formed during the Devonian Period. Especially impressive are the “hanging valleys” which are tributaries that drop suddenly and steeply into the lakes.

(c) The Finger Lakes is one of the birthplaces of modern aviation. It is also one of the most important auto racing venues in the U.S. (Watkins Glen). The park itself is also a to-die-for hiker’s destination.

(d) In the region you will find one of the oldest, interconnected transportation systems of canals and locks in the U.S. (the Erie and Caygua-Seneca Waterway).

(e) This is an area rich in all the arts. Landscape, its resultant lifestyle, and an avant-garde way of thinking bred in the bone have a lot to do with that.

(f) Here you can explore a rich architectural travel destination in which, for example, you will find one of the finest and best preserved Victorian-era Queen Anne mansions and gardens in the U.S. (The 50-acre Sonnenberg Historic Home and Gardens).

(g) The Finger Lakes is home to the first wine industry in the United States. (We sometimes forget that westward migration was initiated and took hold not all that far — in today’s terms — from the eastern seaboard.)

(h) Other agritourism opportunities that include family-oriented farm stays are available here.

(i) You can enjoy a Finger Lakes Golf Trail of premier golf facilities. Furthermore, you can customize your own golfing holiday in which for the non-golfing partner or spouse there is much to do close by. No golf widows or widowers here.

(j) There is a similar wine trail for oenophiles (There are almost 100 wineries in the Finger Lakes.)

(k) The Finger Lakes also has an antique hunter’s trail of 30 professional dealers and over 30 shops.

(l) You can also follow a gourmet trail in the Finger Lakes.

(m) Mark Twain chose to retire here. (“Travel has no longer any charm for me. I have seen all the foreign countries I want to except heaven & hell & I have only a vague curiosity about one of those.”)

(n) The important railroad centres established here were also the principal means and ways to the West.

(o) The Seneca Falls Convention took place here; the first women’s rights convention held in the United States. It is the birthplace of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the U.S., a great leap forward that also encompassed other social reform movements. And of course, no visit to the area would be complete without paying homage to Susan B. Anthony who lived here, fought for women’s rights here and is now recognized as a world pioneer in the women’s movement.

(p) The Finger Lakes was home to Frederick Douglass. An adviser to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, he fought for constitutional amendments that guaranteed voting rights and other civil liberties for African-Americans. He was a powerful voice for human rights and is celebrated for his contributions to the struggle against racial injustice.

(q) The area was the birthplace of the Mormon Church and contains many related historic sites.

(r) The Finger Lakes has many premier educational institutions such as Cornell University, which by the way has one of the top-rated travel and hospitality programs in the country.

(s) This is the location where a young country began to shift from an economy based on independently-owned farms to a much more diversified manufacturing-based society. This is known as The Market Revolution.”

(t) One of the first movements known as “Great Awakenings” occurred here; when dynamic social change challenged established religious views which were seen as being unable to answer the burning questions of contemporary life. One important side effect was the development of reform societies including the abolitionist movement in which Frederick Douglass was involved.

A lateral destination

Meaningful travel is a process not an event. When you travel in the Finger Lakes, you do not always proceed in a linear fashion from A to B to C and so forth. Instead, you will find that in this relatively small and compact area, you will tend to meander, pause, experience, and reflect. This is a multi-layered destination. A “draft” itinerary however is always a good idea. We wouldn’t want you wandering aimlessly. Just be prepared to go with the flow.

The Art of Glass: Images From the Corning Museum of Glass

To view images of the amazing collection of the museum click here.

Two For the Road: Roy Lowey and Bob Fisher’s Finger Lakes Heritage and Natural Resources Road Tours

With my Talking Travel colleague Roy Lowey, I arrived in the Finger Lakes. We then went our separate ways.

Now don’t worry; there were no harsh words, no falling out. It’s just that to even begin to “cover” this diverse and “layered” destination, we felt it best to spread ourselves as thinly as possible — so to speak — and just get out there and do it. Well, that strategic plan proved effective except that the more we “got into it,” the more there was to discover, and the more we wanted to explore. Our respective families were lucky we came home at all.

That being said, here is where each of us went and what we did. Put the two itineraries together (the planning is a really fun part of travelling) and you have a good week or more of Finger Lakes Fun. And, believe us when we tell you that you will want to stay longer. So bid your friends and family goodbye and get thee to the Finger Lakes — but leave a forwarding email address.

Where Bob Went

DAY ONE

The village of Victor. Lunch at Mickey Finn’s Restaurant, 14 Railroad Avenue

Ganondagan State Historic Site

(This important site celebrates one of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy and is a very interesting lesson in their democratic practices and principles. Peter Jemison is a direct descendent of Mary Jemison and a spokesperson for the Seneca Nation.)

The Granger Homestead and Carriage Museum, 295 North Main St., Canandaigua

Historic Downtown Canandaigua and its Lakefront. Visit Naples and return on County Rd #12 for Monica’s Pies and Arbor Hill Winery; Rt. 64 by Bristol Mountain and Historic Bloomfield; Historic Routes 5 & 20 back to Canandaigua.

Check into the Canandaigua Inn on the Lake, 770 South Main St., Canandaigua

Dinner at Casa de Pasta, Bemis St., Canandaigua

DAY TWO

Breakfast at Polimeni’s Restaurant, 26 Lakeshore Dr., Canandaigua

Tour Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park

Depart for Hammondsport.

Visit the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum. This museum is dedicated to its namesake, Glenn H. Curtiss, the “Father of Naval Aviation.” His exploits on early motorcycles, dirigibles, and airplanes thrilled the world. View historical aircraft, engines and an unequalled collection of Curtiss antique motorcycles.

(The Seaplane Homecoming on Keuka Lake in Hammondsport was a specially scheduled event. Check The Finger Lakes website to see when the event is scheduled next. This exciting event featured the flight of a reproduction 1911 A-1, the Navy’s first aircraft. Visiting seaplanes of many types were at the Hammondsport lakefront on Keuka Lake.)

Visit Pleasant Valley Wine Company, Hammondsport.

The first bonded winery in the U.S., it was established in 1860. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the winery retains the original integrity of an old-world winery with caves carved deep into the valley’s hillside.

Dinner at Snug Harbor Restaurant, a quiet dinner on the shores of Keuka Lake.

(Established in 1890, this historic restaurant is ideally located for viewing beautiful scenery — a feast for the eyes, especially when there is a full moon over the lake — as well as a feast for the palate.)

Check into the Halcyon Place Bed and Breakfast.

This Historic Greek Revival house offers peace, tranquility, and gracious hospitality to the discerning traveler. Situated among open fields with a beautiful vista of the surrounding hills, this landmark home is a truly relaxing oasis located about 20 minutes southeast of Keuka Lake in Campbell.

DAY THREE

Depart for the drive to Corning.

Corning Museum of Glass.

Discover the art, history and science of glass at this world-famous museum. Explore the inventions and technology that changed the way we make, use, and even think about glass. Watch dynamic, live glass-blowing demonstrations and see skilled craftspeople transform molten glass into beautiful pieces of art as well as Steuben gaffers creating world-famous Steuben crystal. You can even make your own glass souvenir.

Lunch at the Glass Market Café inside the Corning Museum of Glass.

Depart Corning and drive to Mount Morris. Visit Letchworth State Park and the William Pryor Letchworth Museum. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth is one of the region’s crown jewels and spans 14,000 acres along the Genesee River with stunning scenery, deep gorges, and dramatic overlooks. It is rich in history with a restored Seneca Indian Council House, grave of Mary Jemison (“White Woman of the Genesee”), Genesee Valley Canal, and more. The museum shows a love and respect for the North American Indian and safe preservation of everything relating to the aboriginal occupation of western New York and history of the Genesee Valley.

DAY FOUR

Monroe County/Rochester

Breakfast on Park Avenue Jine’s Restaurant. (Park Avenue is one of the city’s most popular streets for shopping, dining, or just people-watching.)

Visit ARTISANworks, where art comes to life in the studio, on the walls, and in your hands. Explore seemingly endless corridors displaying the works of talented artists and craftspeople. Also explore the Elizabeth Collection, an impressive, world-class gallery of paintings, photography, three-dimensional and kinetic art. You can also watch resident artists at work and even chat with them about their current masterpieces.

Experience ArtWALK, a permanent, urban art trail connecting arts centers, shops, cafés, and public spaces located within the Neighborhood of the Arts. ArtWalk is an interactive, outdoor museum where you will find fun works of art everywhere you look: from large sculptures and light poles with mosaic tiles to fanciful places to sit and decorated pavement under your feet.

Tour the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. George Eastman’s mansion home is a National Historic Landmark and the gardens another delight. The museum holds galleries of photographic art and fascinating exhibits of cameras and other photography-related items.

Tour Wegmans Food Market (Pittsford Plaza store) This “grocery store” is one of Rochester’s top tourist attractions; and when you get there, you’ll easily see why.” 3195 Monroe Avenue, Rochester

Tour one of the best children’s museums in America — Strong Museum and National Toy Hall of Fame, One Manhattan Square, Rochester

Dinner at a location of your choice. See http://www.visitrochester.com for ideas.

Where Roy Went

DAY ONE

Steuben County

Check into a cabin at Hickory Hill Family Camping Resort and tour the Finger Lakes Wellness Center & Health Spa. This camping resort offers RV sites, cabins, deluxe cottages, and brand new lodges. In addition, Finger Lakes Wellness Center & Health Spa offers a complete list of spa services for the ultimate in “roughing it…with style!”

Then stretch your legs after a long day’s ride with a hike along the Finger Lakes Trail. Check out what is available from Summit to Stream Adventures.

Enjoy a relaxing “Wine on the Water Cruise” on Keuka Lake with several stops along the way as local guide Dave Durkee tells you about the great hunting, fishing and hiking in the area.

Dinner at The Waterfront (docking the boat and walking in). Address: 12664 West Lake Road, Hammondsport, NY, 14840; Phone: 607.868.3455

DAY TWO

Breakfast at Perkins Restaurant in Horseheads for breakfast.

Leave Horseheads and travel to Owego/Apalachin.

(Roy watched the Susquehanna River paddlers as they arrived at Hickories Park for the “Third Annual River Paddle” event. Up to 120 kayaks and canoeists were paddling the river from Apalachin to Owego.)

Stop at the Links at Hiawatha Landing Golf Course for a tour and drive some golf balls. This course is reminiscent of the legendary circuits of Great Britain and the authentic links style layout is evident in its rolling hills, wind-swept sand bunkers, and ornamental grasses. You can also have a light lunch at the golf course, if desired.

Experience a “Hiawatha Island Tour” led by the Waterman Conservation & Education Center, and hike Hiawatha Island — the largest island (110 acres) in the Susquehanna River.

(Roy spent quality time with David Woodburn and Ray Walker, avid river fishermen, fishing on the Susquehanna River. Walleye, small mouth bass and tiger muskies up to 40 pounds have made this area their home, and catfish are also bountiful. With bait and tackle shops conveniently located throughout Tioga County, the fishing here attracts visitors from around the world.)

Enjoy dinner at the Cellar Restaurant, located on Riverow in the heart of the Marketplace District of Owego. Dining areas can be intimate or opened up to accommodate as many as 75 people with delicious meals prepared by the chef/owner. The outdoor patio at the Cellar offers a close-up view of the river’s edge as well as the nature that surrounds it.

Stop by the Tioga Trails Café to hear the “Susquehanna River Band” for a few minutes.

Then check into the Owego Treadway Inn on the banks of the Susquehanna River. The Treadway Inn’s landmark of a lighthouse shows the way to the only remaining Treadway Inn in existence!

DAY THREE

Tioga County

Sleep in late and then enjoy the infamous Grand Sunday Brunch Buffet at the Owego Treadway Inn!

Head to Frontier Days at Crocker Creek Buffalo Farm in Endicott. Ride a wagon through a herd of live buffalo. See how the Native Americans, Mountain Man, and the 49ers lived as they depended on the buffalo for survival. Black powder shooting demos, a Wild West show, etc. Even try a bison burger if you’d like.

Travel to Watkins Glen State Park. Experience the most famous state park in the Finger Lakes region, with a well-deserved reputation for leaving visitors spellbound. Within two miles, the glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs and generating 19 waterfalls along its course.

Visit Seneca Harbor Park to see the boats on Seneca Lake, walk the pier and break wall, and check out the Seneca Lake cruises: Captain Bill’s and the Malabar X schooner.

Check into Seneca Springs Resort, a freshly renovated farmhouse dating from the 1800s. Relax on the veranda on old-fashioned, comfortable rocking chairs and genuine wicker furniture. Comfortable, old-fashioned rooms will lull you to sleep while the remodeled and luxurious, private bathrooms will keep you pampered in a modern way!

State Route 414, Hector.

Dinner at the Wildflower Café / Crooked Rooster Brew Pub. Enjoy the French-styled cuisine of the Café or the Tex-Mex of the brew pub… and, of course, taste the locally brewed beer. 223 301 N. Franklin St., Watkins Glen

DAY FOUR

Hike the Finger Lakes National Forest, the only national forest in New York State, and a wonder of nature offering hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain bike riding, horse trails, camping fishing, hunting, berry picking and bird watching within the 16,176 acres it encompasses.

5218 State Rt. 414, Hector.

Travel to Cortland County and Syracuse.

Lunch at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Enjoy the best ribs north of Memphis at the Dinosaur. Rub elbows with bikers and businessmen at this “Genuine Honky Tonk Rib Joint.” Follow your nose…it’s a real Syracuse landmark.

Relax and explore Armory Square in Downtown Syracuse, the city’s chic quarter, with plenty of great restaurants, taverns and boutiques.

Websites for Planning your Finger Lakes Tour

Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance

Visit Finger Lakes (Ontario County)

Friends of the Finger Lakes/

Chemung County

Visit Rochester

Finger Lakes West (Livingston County)

Monroe County

Onondaga County

Steuben County

Schuyler County

Visit Syracuse (Onondaga County)

Tioga County

Tompkins County

Yates County

Wayne County

Cayuga County

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