Finger Lakes region of New York state is known for producing wine – really good wine. But what if you are not a wine drinker? Then what?
Thankfully for non-wine drinkers, it is also known for towering rugged cliffs, sun-drenched rolling hills, and lush green valleys. Here is just a taste of what to do around New York’s wine region other than drink wine.
Become a Gaffer
Coring is home to one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of glass objects from the pre-Roman era to the present day, the Corning Museum of Glass was founded in 1951 and showcases the most extensive collection of glass art in the world. The museum is also home to one of the world’s major glass research centers. It is also the place to discover the technical side of how the advancements of glass affect our everyday life. The scientific research department of Corning museum is where pyrex was created in addition to leading research into optical fibre development, and specialized glass used for LCD televisions, smartphones and NASA space shuttles.
During my visit to the Corning Museum of Glass, I learned what was involved in becoming a gaffer – a master glassblower. I was able to choose from a variety of classes such as intricate jewelry pieces swirled with a rainbow of colors, cups, or vases dusted with glitter. I also sat in on a hot glass show watching the true professional artisans at work. It is impressive to watch how they manipulate molten glass from glowing red blobs to stunning and intricate art.
The Gaffer District is the quaint walkable historic city center of Corning. Its terracotta brick sidewalk is lined with more than 250 boutique stores, eclectic dining, and craft alehouses. The Gaffer District has a little something for everyone.
The District is Corning’s cultural hub where the other major attraction is located – the Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate. Founded by Bob and Hertha Rockwell JR (not Norman Rockwell), the museum contains an extraordinary collection of Western American painting and sculpture assembled over the past 40 years.
I explored Watkins Glen State Park, which is at the southern tip of Seneca Lake near the charming village of Watkins Glen. Moss heavy with moisture it cradles droplets of water lines the paved pathway. White-capped mushrooms dot the lush forest floor making me wonder if they were homes for fanciful woodland fairies.
“Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” – Hans Christian Andersen
The park boasts a 2-mile paved walking trail with 19 captivating waterfalls ranging from small quiet trickles to towering flows cascading and pounding over boulders polishing them to a soft smoothness. The trail is relatively easy to walk, but there are over 800 stair-steps spread along the meandering path so your glutes will get a workout.
For campers and RVer’s, Watkins Glen offers 305 campsites with restrooms, dumping stations, hot showers, in addition to gift shops, food concessions, grills and firewood for sale. The village of Watkins Glen also hosts a variety of restaurants, pubs, and wine tasting rooms to get a sampling of the local flavor.
This is not your average trail. The chocolate trail is a five-block self-guided trail delving into the rich indulgence of delectable delights from handcrafted silky-smooth martinis glasses drizzled with dark chocolate syrup to luxurious chocolate-scented handmade soap that will leave you with sweet dreams to chocolate cigars.
“Sometimes a girl’s gotta have some chocolate!” – Carrie Underwood
You can even make a romantic weekend of it with a special overnight package offered by the Radisson Hotel Corning. I would highly recommend the Pecan Ball (which is legendary!) and the Steuben Bar Chocolate Martini if you stay at the Radisson.
Discover Mark Twain
A short drive from Corning brought me to Elmira, once the summer home of Samuel Clemmens, AKA Mark Twain. I Visited Clemmen’s octagonal study built in 1874 by his sister-in-law Susan Crane, now located on the grounds of the Elmira College campus, where he wrote his timeless classics Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer under his pen name Mark Twain.
“There is no unhappiness like the misery of sighting land (and work) again after a cheerful, careless voyage.” – Mark Twain
During the months of July and August there is a charming 60-minute trolley tour that highlights Twain’s connections to the area and offers tidbits of information about his life that were quite interesting. A stop by Woodlawn Cemetery should also be on the list while discovering Mark Twain’s life. Visit his plot where he is buried with his wife and children. The site is marked by a twelve-foot tall headstone. It is common for people to leave “gifts” at the site – most of the time the tribute is a cigar which Twain smoked abundantly.
Interesting tidbit: twelve feet is two fathoms in nautical measurement which is also known as a “mark twain”.
Chemung Valley History Museum.
Chemung is an Algonquin word for “place of the big horn” because the Native Americans would find mammoth tusks along the Chemung River. The museum displays artifacts from the region’s storied past, famous inhabitants, as well as Elmira’s ties to military history when Elmira served as a training camp for Western New York and later as a prison war camp.
You can tour the original location of the prison camp with reconstructed barracks and an observation tower. The mission of the preservation of the camp is to protect the history of the Civil War and to properly and respectfully remember the legacy of both the Union soldiers who trained there as well as the Confederate soldiers who were imprisoned there.
I would recommend if you go to the training camp that you also make a trip to the Woodlawn National Cemetery. As you look at the rows and rows of white granite headstone markers, keep in mind that each one has a name because John Jones, an escaped slave who found freedom in Elmira, kept meticulous records of each Confederate soldier that died at the camp.
Finger Lakes Craft beverage and Cider trail
Finger Lakes is known for their wines and vines that cover the rolling hills. Finger Lakes is also becoming known for their skyrocketing craft ale scene. The Craft Beverage Trail covers 210 miles across the central part of New York and the Finger Lakes region highlighting more than 100 breweries, cideries, and pubs. I would recommend that you check out the beverage trail website before you go. It is a valuable list of all the pub and cidery locations, the lowdown on each of the craft makers, and has a handy “adventure pairing” of what is near the pub to do. Check it out, it is a great resource.
There is so much to do in Finger Lakes. It truly is not a destination to go for a singular experience. It is where you go to encounter culture, history, knowledge, and nature. It will satisfy the foodie, the wine connoisseur, and the lover-of-pints. It is a location that inadvertently leaves a lasting imprint on your heart and soul beckoning you to return.
Because no matter how much you see, there is always more to discover – from glorious fall colors to alluring culinary delights to charming historical architecture – Finger Lakes pulls at a traveler’s heartstrings. It is quite easy to see why it is herald as one of the best rural escape destinations in the US.
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