While most people who take the Empire State Road Trip are already Northeast residents, we start out from the Palm Beaches, a mere 1,322 miles from our first destination, the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel in the small village of Celoron, NY. From there we'll continue on to the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel and finish at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, courtesy of the Harbor Hotel Group. This is our first real trip since the COVID pandemic locked us down, and we're super excited to be back on the road. Besides, long road trips are our thing, like this one from a few years ago when we traveled from FLORIDA TO CALIFORNIA and back.
Part of the trip will take us to one of our favorite places from trips past, the Finger Lakes, the third largest wine-producing region in the country. There is so much to do and see, it promises to be a full six days. So if you love beautiful scenery, good food, wine tastings and discovering new places, please ride along. We can make room!
On the trip to Chautauqua, we plan to spend two nights on the road. We'll be taking I-95 through Georgia and connect with I-26, where we'll spend the first night in Columbia, SC. From there, we'll continue north on I-77/79 to Morgantown, WV, where we'll spend the second night.
There are a lot of people on the road, probably happy like us to be mobile once again. We're finding COVID protocols different from place to place. While most of the time, the workers in the restaurants and gas stations wore masks, guests might or might not. We were surprised by our how many fast food dining rooms remain closed, with drive-through-only service.
Of course, there were the usual construction areas, traffic snarls and accidents, but overall, a smooth go. We even got to drive through a mountain: The East River Mountain Tunnel is "a 5,412-foot vehicular tunnel that carries Interstate 77 and U.S. Route 52 through East River Mountain between the communities of Bluefield, West Virginia, and Rocky Gap, Virginia." Pretty cool.
The Chautauqua Harbor Hotel
We arrive at the village of Celoron, NY under sunny, blue skies and somewhat to our surprise, very warm temperatures. I think we brought the Florida weather with us -- no need to unpack the gloves and sweaters. Established in the 1800s, the village used to house the region's premier amusement park, which is now the site of the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel. From 1894 to 1962, it was the location of the Celoron Amusement Park, called “the top amusement park of its day between New York and Chicago.” It featured four hotels, athletic events, top musical and vaudeville acts and a giant toboggan slide. Historic photos of the park can be seen in the hotel lobby.
The hotel sits on nine acres by beautiful Lake Chautauqua. The newest Harbor Hotel, it features 135 rooms and suites, many with balconies. On arrival, the cheerful desk clerk presented us with an insulated travel bag containing fresh fruit, snacks and water. It's a gift for anyone who specifically books the Empire State Road Trip by calling 607-535-3659 or on the website, https://www.harborhotelcollection.com/experiences/empire-state-road-trip.
Top of mind for all travelers these days are the COVID safeguards and protocols. While New York had recently relaxed restrictions, the hotel continued their modified procedures, such as:
— Daily housecleaning suspended for guests staying four days or less
— Nightly turn down service suspended
— Bell service on request
— Limits to the number of people using the pool or fitness room, and social distancing in the restaurant.
Hotel personnel wore masks at all times, but for guests who are fully vaccinated (we are), masks were optional.
With its beautiful lakeside location, and extensive banquet and meeting facilities, it’s the perfect choice for special events and weddings. In fact, there were no less than three weddings going on while we were there, no doubt all delayed due to the pandemic.
Our room was spacious, with wooden floors and all the upscale touches one would expect, including Pam’s favorite – a big, fluffy robe. She also appreciated the daily coffee and tea service, available on each floor starting at 6 am.
Once we settled in, it was time to tour and explore. The hotel features two pools – one indoor and one outdoor, as well as a fitness center. For dining, there’s the Lake Side Tap and Grille. No doubt the main attraction is the outdoor space, where you sip a drink in an Adirondack chair by one of the firepits, gather with friends at the Carousel Bar or claim a spot to view one of their spectacular lake sunsets.
One section of the lobby is devoted to a display from the National Comedy Center, located in nearby Jamestown (more on that soon). Established in 2018 to document the history of comedy, it has quickly been recognized as one of the nation’s top museums. We’ll be visiting there tomorrow, along with the museum devoted to Jamestown’s most famous resident, Lucille Ball. (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also hails from Jamestown.)
The Lucy Desi Museum in Jamestown
The area around Chautauqua has much to see and do, and one of the first things on our list is a visit to nearby Jamestown to see The Lucy Desi Museum and its companion museum, The National Comedy Center. With Lucille Ball's long career making people laugh, the two go hand-in-hand.
The legendary actress/comedienne was born in Jamestown Aug. 6, 1911 at 69 Stewart Avenue, the home of her grandparents. Her presence is felt throughout the city. There are murals commemorating her life and famous moments. At Lucille Ball Memorial Park, where the teen-age Lucy sold hot dogs, there's a statue in her honor, as well as her final resting place, Lake View Cemetery.
Located at 2 West Third Street, the Lucy Desi Museum captures the careers of this dynamic Hollywood power couple who helped shape the fledgling television industry.
There’s much to take in, including entire recreated sets from their New York apartment and the Hollywood hotel room. Exhibits capture Lucy's wardrobes from TV and film, as well as the couple's home movies. And don’t miss the Vitameatavegamin Photo Op. No matter if you’ve seen it a hundred times, and we probably have, Desi and Lucy created some of TV’s most memorable moments.
We also visited Lucy's childhood home in Celoron, now located at the renamed 59 Lucy Lane. It's a private residence, but you can snap a photo from the street. On the 70th anniversary of the "I Love Lucy" premiere, the world still does indeed love Lucy.
The National Comedy Center
Just down the street from the Lucy Desi Museum is the National Comedy Center, widely acclaimed as one of the best museums in the country. But its director of marketing and communications, Gary Hahn, is quick to point out it's much more than a museum in the traditional sense.
Opened in August, 2018, it captures the history, breadth and depth of comedy in over 50 interactive exhibits. Visitors are immersed into a personalized experience based on answers you provide as you enter. You can even create your own avatar, all of which is captured on a special RFID ban you carry with you.
Even with "Laugh Safe" practices in place to meet COVID protocols, you can enjoy everything the museum has to offer, and that's a lot. Join us as Hahn takes us on a personal tour of the exhibit areas.
They recommend that you allocate around three hours to see what the Comedy Center has to offer. That's a laugh -- no pun intended. You could easily spend all day.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Graycliff
It's Sunday morning and our second day at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel. We begin the day by driving some 60 miles to visit one of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's homes, Graycliff, in the small town of Derby near Buffalo.
This "Jewel on the Lake" was built between 1926-1931 for Isabelle Martin, wife of Buffalo businessman Darwin Martin. Wright also designed their home in the city, and Graycliff was their summer estate. One of the home's distinctive features are the rows of windows front and back, providing a transparent view of the lake and plenty of light, tailored to suit Mrs. Martin's poor eyesight. It also is one of the only times Wright designed the gardens.
Like many Wright-designed homes, it compliments the natural surroundings, using rock brought by ox cart from the shores of the lake. After the Martins died, ownership passed to a religious order, and many years later, was restored to its original specifications by the Graycliff Conservatory, which offers guided tours.
It's a beautiful day, so join us as we learn about this house and the people who owned it.
Photos by North Palm Beach Life
Suncliff and Liberty Vineyards
By the time we finished our tour of Graycliff, it was time for lunch. Checking the map, we spotted a likely place less than a mile away along Lake Erie: Suncliff on the Lake. Formerly an historic mansion built in 1914, and later owned by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, it now serves as a learning and leisure retreat that includes a restaurant.
We chose to sit outdoors, where we could enjoy a view of the lake as well as the adjacent gardens. The weather was bright blue and sunny, so after lunch, we walked the grounds and stopped to relax on a bench. Through the years, how many people had sat on these same benches, watching the boats go by on Lake Erie? But time to move on.
The area between Erie, PA and Buffalo, NY is known as the Lake Erie Wine Country. Across that 53-mile span there are 20 wineries, too many to visit in a few hours. So we chose one close-by in Sheridan, NY, Liberty Vineyards, on US 20. While we waited for a tasting, we met the owners who, by coincidence, were also named Pam and Gary. But of course he spelled it the right way.
We learned Gary's great-grandfather planted a Concord vineyard here in the 1860s, and grapes from those vines are still being harvested today, over 150 years and six generations later. They opened the winery in 2008, and now produce a diverse selection of award-winning wines. Gary also explained how the weather and geology of the region interact to give their wine its unique properties.
Back in the car, our next stop is the famed Chautauqua Institution, on the shore of Lake Chautauqua, founded in 1874. Established to promote lifelong learning and self-improvement, every summer it offers extensive programs that span arts, education, religion, culture and recreation that draw visitors from around the world. Driving along its narrow streets, it’s like a visit to a college campus. Don’t miss seeing the Athenaeum Hotel with its grand porch. If we only had more time to have a drink and enjoy the view.
Our two days in Chautauqua have flown by. While we packed a lot in, it's time to pack something else -- our bags. Tomorrow morning we strike out for our next destination on this Empire State Road Trip: Watkins Glen and the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel. Stay tuned!
Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel
Leaving Chautauqua, our drive will take us to the next stop on our Empire State Road Trip -- Watkins Glen, home to the famous Watkins Glen International motor races and right in the middle of the Finger Lakes Wine Region.
It's about 160 miles, most of it on I-86 East. Along the way we'll skirt Alleghany State Park. It's an easy-rolling ride, past green hills and lush landscapes. Pam takes advantage of the time by doing one of her "reports from the road" podcasts (available HERE).
The Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel sits on the southern edge of Seneca Lake, the largest and deepest of the 11 finger lakes, so-called because they were formed millions of years ago by glaciers that left "claw marks" on the landscape. It opened in 2008, and features 104 deluxe guest rooms and suites on four floors. It duplicates the resort look and feel of its sister properties with its upscale New England vibe.
There's a state-of-the art fitness center, an indoor heated pool and Jacuzzi, the Blue Pointe Grille Restaurant for dining, the Cold Water bar and a large patio where you can sit around a fire pit and admire the sunset or enjoy the harbor views. It also boasts 6,000 square feet of ballroom space for conferences, weddings and special events. Our second-floor room has a wonderful harbor view.
One other note: Their in-house Wi-Fi deserves special mention. Both here and in Chautauqua, it worked flawlessly, and fast, both a big plus for Internet-age journalists.
Also kudos to the staff: Uniformly friendly and pleasant without being intrusive. Just like Chautauqua, their services have been modified for COVID, including luggage help on request and less frequent housekeeping.
With our bags unpacked, it's time to go exploring. Stay with us!
All Photos: North Palm Beach Life
Boat Ride on Seneca Lake
There's lots to see and do around the hotel, including the waterfront and the quaint shops along historic Franklin Street. A short walk by the pier and we're at Captain Bill’s Harbor Station Restaurant, sporting 16-foot ceilings, a mahogany bar and original hardwood floors that are remnants of a train station constructed in 1876. It's popular with the locals and tourists alike.
While we enjoy fish and chips, and watching the boats come and go, we learned “Captain Bill” (a.k.a. William Simiele) also runs tour boats on the lake. What better way to start our visit than an excursion on the lake, so we bought tickets for an hour-long, sightseeing trip on the Stroller IV, a 50-foot mahogany vessel. They also operate the 270-passenger Seneca Legacy for those seeking a dinner cruise.
On the ride, we heard about the working salt mines on the lake and the geology that shaped the region. The huge salt deposits underground are the result of a prehistoric ocean that evaporated millions of years ago. The mines have been in use since the early 1800s, and at one time, supplied the needs of most of the country via the Erie Canal.
We also got an impressive view of Hector Falls, which cascades over 150 feet on the lake’s east side. While you can get a close-up, partial view of the falls as you drive Route 414, you can only see the full height of the falls from the water. At over 600 feet, the lake itself is one of the deepest in the country,
There’s another famous boat that calls Seneca home — the historic schooner True Love. Commissioned in 1925, you might know her from the 1956 movie, “High Society,” where Bing Crosby serenaded Grace Kelly onboard.
After the boat, we took a stroll down Franklin Street, the main thoroughfare in the village and a short walk from the hotel, where you’ll find restaurants, pubs, wine tastings and shopping.
Later, we had dinner at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel's Blue Pointe Grill. The menu is identical to what we had at Chautauqua Harbor, which offers a selection of appetizers, salads and entrees, along with daily specials. We found the salmon excellent, and enjoyed the pasta dishes as well. Service was uniformly good at both locations.
It had been another full day, and tomorrow we plan to hit the winery trail. After all, it’s the top wine-producing region in New York, and someone’s got to do it, right?
Photos/Video by North Palm Beach Life
Winery Hopping in the Finger Lakes
On our second day in Watkins Glen, we follow the signs to the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. There are over 50 wineries that ring Seneca Lake, which stretches to a length of 38 miles, the largest of the Finger Lakes. This region is well-suited for wine production. The loam soils provide good drainage while the depth of the lake acts like a heater in the winter, keeping the vines on the hills surrounding it warmer.
With our limited time, we pick four to visit along State Route 414, which skirts the lake. Along the way, we go through the town of Hector, and get a closer view of Hector Falls, a portion of which is right off the roadway (see our previous POST).
Our first stop is Lamoreaux Landing, with its 119 acres of vineyards. Like most of the wineries, masks are required to enter, and must be worn except during tastings. Some wineries require reservations in advance, so we chose ones that take walk-ins. Family-owned through three generations, "Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc make up the majority of our vineyards, and we also grow Gewürztraminer, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grüner Veltliner, and Muscat Ottonel."
Pam and i are far from wine experts. We go with what we like. For Pam, it's bolder reds; for me, I prefer sweet. So we get a nice cross-section of what each winery has to offer. One thing they all had in common: Great views and picturesque locations, with plenty of tables beside the rows of grapes leading down to the lake.
Our next stop is Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery, a fifth-generation, family-owned operation that also includes a craft brewing company and an adjacent restaurant, the Ginny Lee Cafe. They produce 30 award-winning wines, so you'll likely find something for every taste. It's also interesting here that you can view the production area and see the bottling in action.
From here we go down the road to Chateau LaFayette Reneau, which has been producing wine from their 110-acre vineyards for over 35 years, collecting their share of gold medals and awards in the process. Tastings are housed in a restored, 100-year-old barn. We take a seat on their patio overlooking the vineyards and lake to sample their products. The Finger Lakes have all the charm of Napa without the pretense.
Our last stop swings us to the west side of Seneca Lake -- Lakewood Vineyards. This winery's history goes back to 1951, when "the Stamp family moved to Lakewood Farm, a run-down peach and apple orchard on the west side of Seneca Lake. The next spring, they started planting grapes." It was 1988 when they pressed their first vintage, and three generations later, they are going strong. We liked the informal, friendly atmosphere, where dogs owned by the staff roam free and enjoy being petted during the tastings.
By now it's afternoon, and we have to make time for another "must-see" on our list: Watkins Glen State Park. So we take our wine and head back to Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel to regroup. Stay with us!
Video/Photos by North Palm Beach Life