As weather warms, you might be itching to get out of city limits and somewhere where honking is replaced by the gurgling of a river or, simply, the silence of a sparkling lake. So set your GPS for the Finger Lakes, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo just this week called a state tourism “treasure.” Whether you want a light hike or a great waterside wine, a few hours’ drive will deliver you into a weekend in the sun. Their warm weather is just beginning, so book your trip during their super-quick summer season.
For a quick hike you can wedge in between wine tastings, head to Grimes Glen in Naples, N.Y., where you hear water gurgling as you step outside the car. This is perfect for a packed itinerary -- squeeze it in and get as close as time allows to a beautiful waterfall. Prepare to get shoes muddy or even wet – you may pick your way along large rocks in the creek. Relax after at the famed Monica's Pies, where locals insist you must try a grape pie.
Take in the scenery by horseback in the 22-acre land around Painted Bar Stables in Burdett, N.Y., where the owner will select among dozens of horses for you, whether beginner or a practiced rider. The stable offers rides from 45 minutes to overnight, rain or shine, and by moonlight. Right now is the perfect time to swing by -- a few horses are expecting foals, and you might glimpse a wobbling baby horse
Watkins Glen, N.Y., is a great town to use your walking shoes. Explore the quaint downtown and then head to the nearby Watkins Glen State Park to hike.
Watkins Glen State Park is a must-see in this area, boasting 19 waterfalls along trails that wind along the natural wonders and overlook a magnificent gorge. A stream in the glen descends 400 feet, passing 200-foot cliffs that park officials promise will leave you spellbound.
After the hike, stop by the Seneca Lake General Store downtown, which sells breakfast sandwiches in the morning, pastries and candy out of barrels. Nearby, the Village Variety Bookstore is a taste of the past: they have everything from old records to yellowed John Grisham novels and current DVDs, and the owners might share with you what is happening in the Jimmy Stewart movie they're watching by the cash register.
Belhurst Castle in Geneva, N.Y., is a property fit for a king -- or you, feeling like a queen or king as you sip wine in a chair on the back terrace. Like many wineries dotting Route 14, it overlooks serene Seneca Lake, the deepest of the Finger Lakes and which seems to change color with the clouds. Despite the lavish surroundings, wine tastings are only 50 cents a try, and the Castle is also one of the few wineries open later than 5 p.m. in case you arrive late in the day.
If you are more of a liquor fan, stop by Finger Lakes Distilling on the opposite side of the lake in Burdett, N.Y. The modern, window-paned building has views of the lake from the tasting room. The owners are often nearby for a tasting recommendation, like the rich, aged McKenzie bourbon whiskey or the maple jack liqueur.
To drink with locals, order a beer at Two Goats Brewing in Hector, N.Y. This brewery’s wraparound porch has nearly 360-degree views of the water. Inside, the pointed wooden roof is covered with dollar bills -- customers compete to see who can send one sailing with a tack. Brews will only set you back a couple bucks, ranging from cream ales to what one bartender called an IPA "on steroids." If you’re hungry, you have one option – they only sell roast beef sandwiches, with a verbal warning about the hot sauce.
After a long day outdoors, reward yourself with dinner.
In the Finger Lakes, farm-to-table isn’t a trend – it’s what has made sense for years already. Spots like Leaf Kitchen in Geneva, N.Y., get everything, and they mean everything, from local sources. You can taste it in the freshness of the pasta (from Flour City Pasta in nearby Pittsford, N.Y.) and the cilantro in the black bean dip. The manager is an East Harlem native, and she and her fiancée (the chef, who makes everything himself) have created a homey atmosphere, literally: the restaurant’s in a refurbished home.
For waterside dining, you can’t beat Seneca Harbor Station in Watkins Glen, N.Y., right alongside Seneca Lake. Tables are covered with white linen napkins, but the casual atmosphere leaves you comfortable enough to dig into your pulled pork sandwich. Another option? Meal cruises that leave out of the station.
For a local fine dining experience, try Stonecat, crafted out of a former farm market. Entrees feature pasture-raised chicken with chipotle-cider barbeque sauce, and local wines are suggested for each. Live music filters out of the different dining rooms, and on a recent weekend celebrating their spring reopening, the place was packed.
Where to stay
If you have your eye on wineries, the Ramada Geneva Lakefront in Geneva, N.Y., is just a quick drive from a string of wineries that flanks the west side of the lake. The hotel is right on the water, and many rooms showcase the views.
For a rich bed-and-breakfast experience, reserve at The Idlwilde Inn in Watkins Glen, N.Y., a gorgeous Victorian mansion. This bed-and-breakfast sits on a hill above Seneca Lake, and you can take in the impressive view from the wraparound porch. The owners retained as much of the original home as possible, and their loving restoration shows, literally, in staircase photos.
If you go
Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival
Begins May 29
Showcases musical theater throughout the summer, beginning with “Singin’ In The Rain”
Finger Lakes Wine Festival
July 12 to 14
Boasts the largest showing of state wines with more than 90 wineries