NEW YORK (Money Magazine) -
Iroquois legend credits the geography of New York's Finger Lakes to the Great Spirit, who's said to have left handprints while blessing the land. Of course, we now know that the 11 long, slender lakes, arranged nearly parallel to each other, are the etchings of ice age glaciers--but that doesn't diminish the area's ability to inspire awe.
The region encompasses 9,000 square miles of stunning natural beauty, including 25 state parks, a national forest, a national wildlife refuge, strings of river gorges and 1,063 waterfalls (among them Taughannock Falls, which have a higher vertical drop than Niagara). Everywhere land meets water, vacation activities are plentiful. Though swimming in the lakes is not for the timid--in summer, the water is in the mid- to high 70s--boating, water-skiing and fishing are musts.
There's more to enjoy here than the great outdoors. Cultural events, festivals, museums, galleries and good places to eat, drink and shop abound. Ithaca, a vibrant college town at the base of Cayuga Lake, has more than its share of museums, restaurants and cafes. Also worth a visit is the impressive Corning Museum of Glass, which just completed a $62 million expansion, and the adjoining factory, which you can tour.
The region's increasingly respected wineries, specializing in Riesling, should not be missed. Of the 70 dotting the hills between the lakes, Chateau LaFayette Reneau and Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, both on Seneca Lake, and Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport are worth special attention. This year, New York State designated the region for the annual I Love NY Spring Festival that runs from March 21 to June 21, during which the wineries will host special events.
For accommodations in the region, lakeside cabins are where it's at if you plan to spend a week or more. Prices vary greatly. We found a three-bedroom turn-of-the-century cottage with more than 100 feet of shoreline on Keuka Lake with modern amenities, porch and dock for $1,600 a week. Check www.fingerlakesgetaways.com for more listings. If a weeklong commitment is not your style, the B&Bs and inns scattered throughout the region range from $45 to $200 a night. Contact the Finger Lakes Association (800-530-7488) for info.
Photo courtesy of New York Wine & Grape Foundation