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Taste Your Way Through the Finger Lakes

While planning your New York itinerary, the primary challenge will be deciding what to include.

Intriguing options can be found across the state. Western New York beckons with the historic, cultural enclave of Chautauqua Institution near Lake Erie and the always spectacular Niagara Falls State Park. The fabulous Finger Lakes region celebrates wine, local food and the arts. And this spring, the vibrant New York City opens the 9/11 Memorial Museum in Lower Manhattan.

One thing is certain: A visit to New York will conclude with satisfied travelers and resounding promises to return.

In the Finger Lakes, time seems to slow, and the connection that communities have with the land is evident. Agriculture is a way of life at the area’s numerous vineyards and farms. Add in historic spots, art and award-winning cuisine, and any group can spend days exploring the region.

New York Wine and Culinary Center


Situated on picturesque Canandaigua Lake in upstate New York, the $7.5 million New York Wine and Culinary Center is a wine and food enthusiast’s dream. The center houses a restaurant, a sampling room and a cooking school. The sampling room offers a variety of flights and a selection of wines, spirits and craft beers representing New York wineries and breweries. The state-of-the-art kitchen and demonstration area showcases culinary techniques with a full schedule of wine and cooking classes. Sessions range from several hours to four-day intensives.

“The center does a great job representing the entire state,” said A.J. Shear, spokesman for Finger Lakes Visitors Connection. “Dozens and dozens of local farmers contribute to the products represented here, as well as provide ingredients for the classes.”

Dining in the restaurant or al fresco on the outdoor deck that overlooks the lake allows for pairing of New York vintages with innovative cuisine. The New York Garden on the southern and western sides of the center contributes to the locally sourced seasonal menu.


Lake Canandaigua


Canandaigua proper is known for historical architecture. The town’s charming main street filled with boutiques, a tea store and an upscale antique mall make for a relaxing afternoon of shopping. For breakfast or lunch, groups will enjoy Simply Crepes’ innovative menu and its memorable oatmeal creme brulee. Crepe demonstrations and a Sunday buffet brunch might warrant a second visit.

Twenty minutes south of town, the Brahm family has been producing wine and bottling by hand for several generations at Arbor Hill Grapery and Winery. The tasting room features numerous products to sample. The Brahms’ daughter, Sherry, and her husband started Brew and Brats next door in a former horse barn. Flights of beer made by custom crafters are created from their original recipes. The popular Porter Beer, a coffee-chocolate concoction, favors the darkness of a Guinness.

At the lake’s southern tip in Naples, Inspire Moore Winery offers wine samples in a tasting bar reminiscent of the 1960s. Part of the local folklore, the restored winery has operated as a tavern, a stagecoach stop and a carriage house.


Cayuga Lake


On Cayuga Lake, between Canandaigua Lake and Seneca Lake, the charming town of Auburn is worth exploring. Museums include the home of William H. Seward, secretary of state during the Lincoln and Johnson presidencies. Tours are also available at the home of Harriet Tubman, where she lived the last 50 years of her life.

The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival, which premiered in 2012, showcases musical theater from on, off and beyond Broadway at three venues throughout the summer and early fall. At the Willard Memorial Chapel, a Sunday concert series entertains audiences. Built between 1892 and 1894, the interior was designed and handcrafted entirely by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company. It features Tiffany-designed mosaic flooring, stained glass and chandeliers.

The exquisitely restored Aurora Inn sits directly on Cayuga Lake. Award-winning American cuisine is served in its dining room and banquet room; both overlook the water and the ruins of a former gristmill. Original murals of local Wells College and the mill hang on the inn’s walls, as do murals painted in the 1950s. Pastries and breads are baked at Dorie’s Bakery, several doors down.

“Our menu incorporates many local products,” said Meryl Davis, director of marketing. “We gladly host educational dinners where the chef and winemaker come and talk about the meal.”



Several miles outside of Aurora on a former dairy farm, MacKenzie-Childs design center creates and displays furniture and ceramic products. Famous for its black-and-white pattern “Courtly Check,” its products were first sold at Neiman Marcus and are now available at 100 handpicked retailers. Besides its products, the beautiful patio and gardens showcase the company’s attention to detail and design.

In the restored, three-story farmhouse, each room is lavishly decorated. Furniture, tile, rugs, table settings, enamelware and more are designed on-property. Each piece of whimsical furniture is hand painted. Most artists were born and raised in the area, and all are trained on-site. The farmhouse decor changes with the seasons.

“For tours, we open up the house and have several guides answer questions as the groups go through on their own,” said Jerry Ryan, spokesperson for MacKenzie-Childs  “Visitors get decorating ideas as well as seeing our products in use.”

In the expansive gift shop, an artist demonstrates plate painting. There’s also a 15-minute continuous-loop film that goes behind the scenes and explains production, since that facility isn’t open to the public.


Corning Museum of Glass


Approximately two hours south of Aurora, dazzling turquoise, iridescent purples and purest yellows are just a smattering of the colors that are molded, formed and fired at the Corning Museum of Glass. Besides sheer beauty, the museum highlights the importance of glass in art, history and science. Those who craft and create will be equally thrilled at the variety of classes and workshops.

Venetian dragon-stem goblets, glass furniture and monumental works made for world’s fairs are just some of the museum’s 45,000 objects, half of which are on display. The story of glass began more than 35 centuries ago. Galleries show the world’s most comprehensive and celebrated collection from the Near East, Asia, Europe and America. There’s also a full-scale model of an ancient Egyptian glassmaking furnace.

Make Your Own Glass sessions involve glassworking, flameworking, fusing and sandblasting. Visitors create one-of-a-kind souvenirs. Classes take 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the project: Visitors can make a clock, pendants, a glass flower and more. The museum also offers one-day and weekend workshops, plus intensive courses.

Each day, the demonstration schedule caters to all interests. The Hot Glass Show features master glassmakers. Live, narrated demonstrations of glassworking use a 5,000-degree gas and oxygen-powered torch. The Glassbreaking Demo explores how glass breaks and why. An Optical Fiber Demo explains how thin threads of glass can carry enormous amounts of digital information.

No group will be able to pass up the GlassMarket. One of the largest museum gift shops in the nation, this feast for the eyes sells original works by more than 200 emerging and established artists. A mindboggling 15,000 items include jewelry, accessories, holiday ornaments and items for the home and kitchen that range from just a few dollars to thousands of dollars.

“Many of the master glassblowers do their apprenticeship here,” said Danielle Roman, director of sales and marketing for the Steuben County Conference and Visitors Bureau. “There’s always something hands-on or interactive any time of day.”

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.