New York (up)state of mind

The Finger Lakes and 1000 Islands regions of New York are delightful in any season.

The sentiments of that quote may well be, but on my sojourn through the Finger Lakes and 1000 Islands regions of New York there were plenty of places to go exactly where I should — and what a rewarding experience they turned out to be in any season. From Watkins Glen to Clayton, and the many communities in between, I discovered some pretty nifty arts and crafts, delicious seasonal beverages (think hard cider), and antique treasures like the flower-filled glass globe that I found hidden under a pile of old posters. 

My first stop was Watkins Glen, best described as that place where Mother Nature meets Main Street. We visited the lovely Harbor Hotel on Seneca Lake, recipient of USA Today’s “Ten Best
Waterfront Hotels” award and AAA’s Four Diamond recognition. Situated amid vineyard-covered hillsides and peaceful hiking trails, the property is smack dab in the heart of the area’s renowned wine
region. The town has been recognized by The New York Times as a “Best Place to Visit,” and Budget
Travel called the Finger Lakes one of the “World’s Most Beautiful Wine Regions.” Replete with rich cultural experiences, this area boasts some important museums — the Corning Museum of Glass, The Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate and the Arnot Art Museum, to name a few.

Equally delightful was my tour of Reisinger’s Apple Country, a family-owned orchard offering 20 varieties of apples for your picking pleasure and fine educational tours. Did you know that a
medium apple is 80 calories or that apples are members of the rose family? Now I do. Then, something I’d been looking forward to — a tour and tasting at Lakewood Vineyards. Three generations of the Stamp family have worked together to produce wines exceptional enough to be awarded “The Wine Family of the Year” by Vineyard & Winery Management magazine. I had an intimate guided tour of their wine-making process, the finale being a wine tasting with a large selection of superb local cheeses as accompaniment. My day ended back at the hotel with a dinner at the Blue Pointe Grill with tasty corn chowder and Chicken Milanese.

Next up was the quaint town of Clayton and the AAA four diamond-rated 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. This village, built on a peninsula, was settled in 1822 and is unique for its intact, cohesive collection of 19th- and early-20th century buildings. Clayton may be small, hovering at around 2,000 inhabitants, but its offerings are large. There’s an opera house, the Antique Boat Museum, Boldt Castle and the Boldt Yacht House and much more.

Let me tell you about the spectacular Antique Boat Museum. It is the premier freshwater nautical museum in North America with more than 300 unique, beautifully preserved vessels and thousands of artifacts. What fun it was to board La Duchesse, a two-story Gilded Age houseboat. Onboard I discovered every creature comfort imaginable, including a dining room with brass fireplace and Limoges china, a stateroom finished in the finest mahogany and bathrooms with clawfoot tubs and gold-rimmed sinks. As sun streamed into the cozy library, I began imagining what it must have been like to curl up here with a good book, the grand St. Lawrence flowing outside my window.

Crossing over the 1000 Islands Bridge, a grand apparition lay before my eyes — Boldt Castle, a turn-of-the-century edifice rivaling those in Europe. Construction began in 1900 at the bidding of hotel magnate George C. Boldt as a tribute to his beloved wife, Louise. Designed as their summer home, alas it was not to be as she passed away suddenly just months before the completion of the castle. The story goes that he was so inconsolable at her death that he left the property and never returned.

So it remains for others to savor. I let my imagination run wild when I saw the elegant reception room with its potted palms and towering, floor-to-ceiling windows. Hmmm:  I’m being greeted and asked to wait a moment till the lord of the manor is ready to greet me. Well, I can dream, can’t I? 

Dinner back at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel marked a fitting end to my visit.  Known as the famous shore dinner, this was a repast so special, I think I’ll remember it always. Created and inspired by local fishing guides, this traditional meal has been an integral part of fishing the river since 1872. Here’s some of what it consists of — the catch of the day, bread, potatoes, fatback, corn on the cob, greens and Thousand Island dressing. The first course was a fatback sandwich. Yes, a sandwich made of just fried fatback and onions. I was tempted to pass on this curious starter but glad I didn’t.  The sandwich was so delicious I asked for seconds. Next came fried fish, potatoes and corn and the pièce de résistance, French toast. Get this:  The deliciously battered bread is fried in the reused fatback grease. Voilà.

French toast like you’ve never had before — swoon-worthy. I’d like to mention that the event was accompanied by wines from Coyote Moon Vineyards, making this one happy experience, to be sure.

A special and significant event takes place every winter at the hotel. Todd Buchko, general manager, explains that “Twenty thousand pounds of ice are meticulously carved into spectacular ice sculptures, martini luges and drink bars. After enjoying the chilling experience on the patio, head inside to warm up with hors d’oeuvres, chili and chowder.” Perhaps the best thing about this happening is that a portion of the proceeds is donated to New York State Police assisting armed forces members at Fort Drum who are wounded or ill. Because of the hotel’s proximity to Fort Drum, Todd says, “Being local is what we wanted.” The “Fire & Ice” charity event takes place again Feb. 2-9 — a worthy, wonderful cause, not to be missed.

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