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A Weekend in the Finger Lakes

Updated 8/27/09

New York’s Finger Lakes region is perfect for fall foliage hedonists — it’s the ultimate autumn experience. The vineyards are tinted in shades of tangerine, saffron, and amethyst, the deep blue lakes are cradled between outrageously colorful hills, waterfalls pour down rocky crevices, and there are terrific restaurants and wonderful little inns.

It’s about 300 miles to the Finger Lakes region from New York City, but there are wonderful scenic byways to explore. The Palisades Parkway hugs the Hudson River, and scenic routes 17W, 13N, and 89N wend their way through farmlands and small towns. Enjoy.

Cayuga Lake

Stay: Aurora Inn is set on the shores of Cayuga Lake, and has been delighting guests since 1833. Rooms run from $225-$400, and procrastinators can make a reservation on the day of arrival and get 10% off the price of their room (one night only, Sunday-Thursday).

See: The village of Aurora is home to MacKenzie-Childs, maker of hand-decorated majolica tableware and home furnishings. The workshop is located on a 75-acre estate with a duck pond, Gothic-Revival Chicken Palace aviary, and a meadow where a herd of Scottish Highland cattle graze. Don’t miss Taughannock Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in the Northeast. Located near the town of Trumansburg, the 215-foot-high-waterfall drops through a rock amphitheater whose walls reach nearly 400 feet high.

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Drive:The Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway circles Cayuga Lake, loping 87-miles from the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in the north to Ithaca in the south. The byway links four state parks, a National Wildlife Refuge, 19 wineries, and numerous lakeside villages, shops, and restaurants.

Keuka Lake

Stay: At the northwest end of the lake you’ll find the luscious Esperanza Mansion, which has nine bedrooms named for varieties of grapes grown in the region and rates from $170-275. If you can manage a weekday escape, the inn offers a $249 overnight package with dinner for two and overnight accommodations. The Inn at Esperanza has 21 rooms and is a bit more casual with drive-to-your-door access (the only problem with historic inns is having to schlep your suitcases up the creaky historic stairs). Each room has a balcony or a patio with a fine view of Keuka Lake. Rates at the Inn run from $170-$190.

See: Wine aficionados will want to visit Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars. There are no tours, but you can enjoy tastings of award-winning wines in a beautiful setting. Those who like some excitement with their wine should check out the Bully Hill Vineyards, a wonderfully oddball place that specializes in fun wine tours and tastings.

Drive: Take Route 54A around Keuka Lake. The 20-mile drive is spectacular, with the lake on one side and brilliantly colored, tree-covered hills on the other. Pick up bits and pieces for a picnic at the Crooked Lake Mercantile.

Lake Seneca

Stay: Treat yourself to a couple of nights at Geneva on the Lake, a beautiful inn that offers every comfort your little heart might desire. Another excellent choice is the Ramada Inn Geneva Lakefront. While cute B&Bs seem to be the ticket for this kind of trip, the Ramada is right on the shore of Seneca Lake, has picture-perfect views, and a good lakefront dining room. Standard fall rates start at $120 per night.

See: Watkins Glen State Park (photo, right) is at the southern tip of Seneca Lake, an easy drive from Geneva or Keuka. One word of warning: Watkins Glen is not where you go to meditate alone in pristine nature; it’s a carefully manicured and very popular park. That said, it’s terrific. The Gorge Trail wends its way alongside the Glens Stream, over and under 19 waterfalls. You even get to frisk in the spray of Cavern Cascade. If the shuttle is running when you’re there (it usually is during peak seasons), leave your car at the bottom of the trail, take the shuttle up to the top of the Gorge, and walk downhill back to your car.

Drive: For your foliage fix, head over to Seneca Lake State Park and wander along the walking trails. Take Route 14 south to the Havana Glen Park, where an easy 1/4 mile walking trail alongside a creek brings you to a rocky glen at the base of beautiful Eagle Cliff Falls.

Getting There

It’s about 300 miles to the Finger Lakes region from New York City, and getting there is half the fun. From the GW Bridge in New York, take the Palisades Parkway, which hugs the Hudson River, to 87N. Pick up scenic route 17 outside of Harriman and stay on 17 until you near Binghamton. Then grab 81N to Cortland and start looking for route 13. Stay on 13 until you near Ithaca, and then take 89N into the Finger Lakes District.

Michelle Delio

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