When I first moved to upstate New York 25 years ago, I chose a small, rural town primarily because it was affordable for a new homeowner. Once I’d saved up more money, I thought, I’d move somewhere nicer – across the border in the Berkshires, maybe. But over the decades, I’ve found my location couldn’t be more ideal. I can get to many of my favorite places in a few hours of mostly scenic driving. One of them is the Finger Lakes region, a fantastic destination any time of the year, especially when I stay at Inns of Aurora.
Located nearly midway between the eleven lakes, the Inns of Aurora is the perfect jumping-off point for a Finger Lakes getaway. I spent 2 days at the Inns in February, and although my stay was compensated, I plan to return as soon as possible. It is so good.
Exploring Seneca and Auburn Falls
I left the house early in the morning and arrived a few hours later at the first of my stops: Seneca Falls, to visit the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Wesleyan Chapel, where the inaugural women’s rights convention was held. in 1848.
Next, head to Auburn and the Howland Stone Store Museum, the former shop of abolitionist Slocum Howland. I particularly enjoyed the “cabinet of curiosities” upstairs, with items collected from around the world by Slocum’s daughter, Emily Howland, and her niece, Isabel Howland, both abolitionists and women’s rights advocates. Opendore, Isabel’s home and now a museum, is several doors down.
Pro tip: Aurora is approximately a 3 hour drive from Albany International Airport, one hour from Syracuse Hancock International Airport and 30 minutes from Ithaca Tompkins International Airport. You will need to rent a car to enjoy all the sites.
Aurora Inns Tour
A few miles away, on a rural road winding through wide swaths of old farmland, I turned onto Main Street in Aurora. The village is compact and picturesque, and looks like the set from a Gilded Age movie. In pre-industrial times, it was a popular stop on Lake Cayuga, the longest of the Finger Lakes, which is connected to the Erie Canal.
The central part of the village contains 50 structures on the National Register of Historic Places. Eleven of them make up the Inns of Aurora, a 20-year project of Pleasant Rowland, a former student of Wells College in the village and founder of the American Girl doll empire. His $150 million investment in the station was the driving force behind the city’s rebirth.
Aurora Hostels has five individual boutique hotels with shared amenities and guest experiences. Weekend manager Dale Whittaker showed me around the Aurora Inn, a beautiful Federal-style brick mansion built in 1833. Highlights included the 1800s Aurora painted panels in the dining room ground floor and the picturesque ruin of a hammam. electric flour mill in the back yard.
Rowland House is a waterfront “cottage” built in 1903 and decorated in a nautical theme, mostly navy blue and white with pops of juicy red. It also has a private boathouse topped with a covered patio, as well as a charming Greek temple garden folly. The bedrooms here have a coastal breeze feel. Until you get to the Whimsy Deluxe room upstairs. A local artist was commissioned to hand-paint the walls in a plaid pattern – a signature of homewares designer and Pleasant Rowland favorite MacKenzie-Childs. The effect is like falling down the rabbit hole and into a tea party in Wonderland.
Although all five hostels are beautiful and decorated with Rowland’s unique and quirky sensibility, these two were my favorites. Like all hotels, they feature globally sourced furniture and accents, antiques, and original artwork — by the likes of David Hockney, Helen Frankenthaler, and Chuck Close. Despite their pedigree, they always feel at home, at ease. “Agreeable wants people to live in the spaces, not like they’re in a hotel,” Whittaker told me.
I dropped my bags into my Premier Lake View Queen room at the Aurora Inn, where light flooded through the two long windows overlooking the lake. From the antique-style botanical wallpaper, to the vintage furnishings, to the gas fireplace, and the sleek modern bathroom, this is exactly the kind of room I wish I could stay in whenever I travel.
Unique customer experiences
I changed into outerwear for the first of my guest experiences. Aurora’s hostels offer a wide range, some year-round, such as yoga, archery lessons, cooking classes and evenings around a fire pit. Others are seasonal, like summer kayaking, paddle boarding, and private guided fishing trips. I chose a sunset hike along the resort’s new trail system.
Matt and Mike, two friendly outdoor enthusiasts, were my guides. We strolled through the trees along the 3.5 mile gently sloping trail system, chatting about local wildlife, from deer and red foxes to snow geese including the spring migration along the flyway. of the Atlantic is a spectacle in itself.
As the sun began to set we stopped at a fire pit at the top of the trail for hot chocolate and s’mores. The first streaks of pink and apricot were beginning to trace their fingers in the sky. Although cloud cover partially obscured the spectacular sunsets the lake is known for, it was still enchanting. I sank back into my camp chair, breathing in the cool air and the warm smells of hot chocolate and wood smoke.
After a shower – much needed to get rid of Campfire Water, and deliciously scented by enduring brand William Roam bath products – I changed into fresh clothes and went down to 1833 Kitchen & Bar. At 7pm on a Wednesday, only a few tables were occupied. I sipped a cocktail of gin, brut, blood orange, and Peychaud’s Bitters, and looked at the dinner menu, only to settle for several entrees for dinner.
The Boston seafood chowder, with haddock, shrimp and scallops, was flavorful and creamy, with just the right balance of tender fish, celery, potato and onion. In contrast, the golden beet salad, nestled on a bed of arugula, was tangy with brandied cherries, smoked blue cheese and walnuts.
The burrata – served with grilled crostini, olive tapenade and tomatoes – was the easiest on paper. But what it lacked in flash more than made up for in flavor. The tomatoes, roasted and marinated in balsamic vinegar, were so good that I later went up to my room and gloated on the phone with my husband, who hadn’t wanted to take time off work to join me. That’s called tough love, my friends.
Back in my room, I turned on the gas fireplace and lay back against the linen-covered Frette pillows. As I watched the moon rise outside my window, I fell into a quiet, dreamless sleep.
Exploring Finger Lakes history and a new spa
In the morning I was ready for an early start. Breakfast at the hotel restaurant is served late – 9 am – so I settled for the mini spread at the end of my floor: homemade granola bars, yogurt and an orange.
Then I went to explore other historic sites, including Seward House, the former home of abolitionists William Henry Seward, Secretary of State under Lincoln, and Frances Seward. I also stopped for a visit to Harriet Tubman House and AME Zion Church, which provides worship space for the same congregation to which Tubman belonged. Later, I stood in front of her grave in Fort Hill Cemetery, gazing at the flowers and other gifts left around her headstone, and marveling at how little of her amazing history I had learned in school.
Later that day I returned to Aurora. I stopped at the Village Market, the inn’s small grocery store and shop, to pick up some goodies: jars of cherry preserves, bittersweet tangy fudge sauce and salted bourbon caramel, and a small crate of sea salts. flavored.
Then I went to the spa. Located on a hill overlooking Cayuga Lake, this white-winged, black-roofed resort resembles an upscale farmhouse. The 15,000 square foot wellness center offers massage and body treatments, energy work, skin care, and more.
I had booked a facial and arrived about 40 minutes early to take advantage of the brand new facilities including hydrotherapy circuits and dry and steam saunas. Only one problem: I didn’t think to bring a bathing suit. With a sigh, I slipped on a fluffy bathrobe and ventured upstairs to an airy room meant for quiet contemplation. I made myself a cup of chamomile tea and sat on a swing bed, watching through the wall of windows as hawks flew over the fields in search of an evening snack.
Dinner and delicacies
The facial was relaxing and I left the spa in a mood that matched my glowing skin. A few miles up the lake in Union Springs, I stopped for dinner at Salt of the Earth. At a table in the back corner, I chatted with an exceptionally friendly twenty-something waiter and enjoyed a farm-to-table dinner: a simple salad with savory local greens and scallops. pan-fried served over grated carrots and rice. And, of course, a glass of Finger Lakes rosé.
For dessert, I ordered salted caramel ice cream from local maker Little Cow. When the plate landed in front of me, I thought there was no way I could finish such a generous portion. But once I tasted the velvety frozen treat, with its crunchy praline layer and drizzle of brown sugar caramel on top, I couldn’t stop. Will I need to implement a week-long austerity plan once I get home? Yeah. But it was worth it.
Back in my room, where the soft light from the fireplace danced along the ceiling, I thought back to all I had seen and experienced. From the stunning scenery and rich history of the area to the food and wine, the Finger Lakes were highly regarded. Aurora Inns had proven to be the perfect base from which to explore it all, a peaceful retreat close to the action but far enough away to feel like a secret sanctuary.