World-Class Wines and Small-Town American Charm
The Iroquois attributed these long, skinny, and relatively narrow finger-like lakes to the Great Spirit, who laid his hands in blessing on this particularly beautiful area of upstate New York. Unless the Great Spirit had eleven fingers, though, it’s more likely that an advancing glacier carved them out eons ago. Most are deep – Cayuga and Seneca, the two largest, are 400 and 632 feet deep respectively and about 37 miles long – and picturesquely framed by steeply sloping banks.
The parallel lakes cover an area no more than 100 miles across in a bucolic area where farm stands still work on the honor system, and the sleepy Main Streets of 19th-century towns like Geneva, Skaneateles, and Hammondsport invite strolling and antique-hunting. Sightseeing boats crisscross the lakes, and you’re welcome to jump aboard the 48-foot postal boat that services Lake Skaneateles, one of the last water routes for mail delivery in the country.
With soil and topography that mimic the best of the German wine-growing districts, the Finger Lakes’ “boutique” vineyards – the earliest dating to the 1860s and today numbering over seventy – have edged their way to prominence on a national if not yet international level, and their white wines, especially their Rieslings and Chardonnays, are recognized as some of the country’s best.
For the finest experiences, try the pioneering Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, located in Hammondsport overlooking Lake Keuka (considered by many to be the prettiest of the lakes), and Dundee’s Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard.
Seneca Lake is the location of Geneva on the Lake, a 1910 hotel inspired by a rural Roman villa that had captivated the owner. A parterre garden leads to the lakeside pool, which is a godsend when the lake’s waters are too cold for a dip.
At ice-blue Lake Skaneateles – the highest of the Finger Lakes and among the cleanest in the country – the Mirbeau Inn and Spa is a francophile’s dream of mud wraps and Vichy-water scrubs, with an exceptional restaurant and lily ponds straight out of a Monet painting. Newly opened but resembling a 200-year-old country estate, it is intimate and manages to feel right at home in a region that otherwise exudes small-town American charm.