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AP/Don Heupel
Grape vines stand on a hillside overlooking Keuka
Lake, one of the Finger Lakes.

Summer Getaway: Ithaca and the Finger Lakes

May 29, 2010
by Sarah Amandolare
In western New York state, a wealth of natural features and thriving cultural life offer visitors an unmatched mix of options. The Ithaca area boasts relaxing waterfalls and a bustling downtown scene, while wine trails lead oenophiles around clear blue Finger Lakes, dotted with sail boats and contented locals.

An Introduction to the Wine Trails

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The Finger Lakes region is known for its wineries. There are a few different trails to follow, says the Finger Lakes Wine Country Web site, which briefly outlines each trail: Cayuga Lake, the oldest wine trail in the country; Seneca Lake, featuring 36 wineries around “crystal blue waters”; and Keuka Lake, the most historic of the trio. To get a better idea of each trail’s character, use the site’s itinerary search tool, which allows you to select a region, activity (for example, restaurants, lodging and tours) and type of wine.

Each trail has its own distinct offerings, detailed on the official Web sites referenced below.

Cayuga Lake Wine Trail

This eastern-facing trail sees plenty of sun early in the morning, making for ripe grapes despite the rather cool climate of western New York. The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail also has a longer growing season than most of the region, averaging 165-170 days, according to the trail Web site. Of note along the trail is Swedish Hill, where the vidal blanc and riesling have been honored with numerous awards.

Seneca Lake Wine Trail

Along Seneca Lake, which extends from beautiful Watkins Glen to Geneva, the climate allows for a diverse selection of wines, such as chardonnay, cabernet franc and pinot noir, in addition to the celebrated riesling. There is much to do on the lake aside from tasting: try sailing, for example. The trail’s official Web site offers more information.

Keuka Lake Wine Trail

If you want to sip along a trail steeped in history, Keuka is a great option. The first stand-alone (also known as “bonded”) winery was set up here in 1860, initiating the growth of Vinifera vines, which led to a “renaissance in winemaking,” according to the official Keuka Lake Wine Trail Web site. There are only eight wineries along Keuka Lake, so take your time and savor the wine at each winery along the trail.

Outdoors in Ithaca

If you have yet to see a bumper sticker or t-shirt that says “Ithaca is Gorges,” prepare yourself for many once you arrive in this outdoors-minded area. Ithaca is characterized by waterfalls, hiking trails and dramatic gorges. These stunning natural features are best experienced in the spring and summer, when a hike in the heat can finish with a cooling dip.

The Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau Web site can help you plan your itinerary by mapping out the location of hiking and biking trails, parks and waterfalls, among dozens of other activity options. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation provides additional details on Ithaca’s outdoor playgrounds.

The Commons, Farmers Market and Arts

The New York Times focused on Ithaca in a 2008 article. Many residents were once students at Ithaca College, a liberal arts institution with an outstanding music program. Such locals are happy to finally be able to enjoy the region year-round. The Times reported that “film series, art shows and theater” are abundant in Ithaca, and the local farmers’ market “is like an East Coast version of Seattle’s Pike Place Market, where artists and musicians mix with sellers of prepared ethnic foods and organic produce.”

Ithaca Living

Even if you’re only in Ithaca for a short getaway, or just passing through between wine trail treks, you can experience a concentrated version of Ithaca’s sustainability-focused culture. EcoVillage is both a community and a nonprofit organization that offers educational programs in sustainable suburban living. Visitors can enroll in one-day workshops that feature tours of the village, lunch made with locally grown ingredients and a bit of work on an organic farm.
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