finger lakes

Hidden Gems of Finger Lakes

Hidden Gems of Finger Lakes

Why this small-town destination should be on your holiday adventure list

Picture this: fresh, pristine snow. A town’s warm lights flickering in the fading daylight. Smoke rises from chimneys. A warm glow from the windows, tempting you inside.  

If there ever been a better definition of “small town glory” than two lovely settlements overlooking Finger Lakes in upstate New York, I have not heard of one. Canandaigua and Aurora, the two short stops on my very first ever US trip, are the perfect winter holiday destination: not too crowded and not desolate, offering luxurious amenities fit for the taste of even most upscale guests but also a relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of London.  

My first stop was Canandaigua. Nestled on the shores of (you guessed it) Canandaigua Lake, The Lake House is a truly charming retreat. We were one of the few guests at this time of year – a shame indeed as the facilities are truly second to none. Think rustic decor blending seamlessly with modern amenities, a delicious farm-to-table cuisine (the best steak I’ve ever had) and strikingly blue walls of comfy library that are not in fact blue at all (the exact colour is called Gentleman’s Gray).  

The room itself is as serene as they come. Milky white sheets, massive shower room, soft towels, rustic bedframe, fresh coffee every morning and natural light streaming in from large windows that overlook the shimmering lake outside.  

 We couldn’t exactly complain on the lack of entertainment – I even went skiing at the nearby Bristol Mountain Ski Resort. It too was my first time, and now feel enriched by the knowledge that I absolutely do not enjoy skiing. Bristol Mountain is fabulous though, with friendly and skilled instructors and amenities suitable for both season skiers and people who trip on flat ground (I’m proud to be a member of the latter group and I still have all my bones intact after the experience). Back on the hotel site, there is Willowbrook Spa featuring creekside saunas – a stunning backdrop indeed. It offers a range of luxurious treatments, from massages and facials to body wraps and scrubs but the sauna experience itself is wonderful, complete with a nourishing drink, flower water spray, a fragrant face mask and a bowl of ice outside to drive the temperature down (not exactly necessary as it was –3 outside). After the treatment, I chilled in the relaxation room, sipping on herbal tea, nibbling on candied sweets and taking in the serene atmosphere. 

A bit more east from Canandaigua lies Cayuga lake. Both are named after the native tribes (Seneca and Cayuga, respectively). The longest of Finger Lakes, Cayuga glimmers and shimmers in the winter sunlight, as we are being driven to a small village with a charming name Aurora.  

Aurora has a population of less than 700, yet it boasts a vast number of historic properties. In many ways, the village was literally brought to you by American Girl, a famous line of dolls of various ethnicities, faiths, and social classes from different time periods throughout history. Its founder, Pleasant Rowland is an alumna of the local Wells College and, having seen how destitute the village had become, decided to pour her millions into bringing it back to former glory. She purchased a fair few local mansions – inns, hence the name of the complex, Inns of Aurora – and reinvigorated them, whilst also adding in a brand-new spa and a chef’s table-style kitchen showroom. Each inn boasts a unique style: the most traditional Aurora Inn, is done in the Federalist style, over half-a-century younger Rowland House is Queen Anne, and E.B. Morgan House is Italianate.

We stayed at Rowland House. If there ever was a time to feel like a literal doll, it was there. Each room is different, with its own colour scheme and unique style. Mine featured king-sized bed with a uniquely patterned bedframe, scarlet chesterfield, a period desk and a large window overlooking Cayuga.  

The spa – called, rather appropriately, The Spa – is hands down the most relaxing place I have ever visited. The Inns of Aurora has a special position for a Director of Serenity, held by Laura Coburn who’s also an Infinite Light yoga teacher, a certified Ayurveda Health Counselor and a Reiki Master in the Dr. Mikao Usui lineage. This alone sounds impressive, and Laura’s mission is to introduce a complete, rejuvenating tranquillity throughout the inns, but particularly the spa. And so, there are outside and inside hot and cold pools, each with a different temperature; specially composed tiny bowls of sweet and savoury snacks; hanging chairs in a bright relaxation room where you can gaze out into the world of white; aromatic herbal teas to be enjoyed in between treatments. And of course, the treatments – I enjoyed a results-driven facial which was a dream: soft lighting, soothing music, and the gentle aroma of essential oils all combined to create a truly serene ambiance. 

If in search of wintertime ataraxy in all its small-town glory, upstate New York and Finger Lakes are your best bet. The transport is easy enough if you take a flight to the nearby Rochester, the hotels stunning and the nature amazing. There’s plenty to do even if you never leave the hotel but absolutely do so – if only to explore the many amazing vineyards nearby.