What do American Girl Dolls and Aurora, New York have in common? The answer is Pleasant Rowland. The founder and original owner of the American Girl Company. Rowland donated $40 million to her alma mater, Wells College, to revitalize Aurora and thus help with college enrollment. The premise being, if you like an area you will want to go to college there. Aurora sits regally on Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lake Region. It is a mere few hours from the Capital Region. My husband and I have made many trips to the Finger Lakes but have never found our way to Aurora.
The town is gorgeous and the lake is continuously within your sight line as you stroll the lakeside streets. The region is also a wonderful link to New York State history and even Abraham Lincoln. The wine trail is full of boutique wineries and one that has a European grasp for making fantastic wine. We also found a company of international acclaim producing extraordinary handcrafted ceramics. Lastly, we discovered our new favorite Inn – one that we would happily return to on any given weekend regardless of the season.
I am not sure words could describe visiting MacKenzie-Childs; I think the pictures tell it all. Walking into the store or taking the tour of the neighboring MacKenzie –Childs house is like experiencing a sensory fantasy. My first impression was a Martha Stewart tour through a funky Alice in Wonderland dream. With ceramics, enamelware, furniture, lighting, rugs, and holiday products covering every square inch of the properties you really have to open your eyes and mind to their wonderful creations and how they are displayed.
Each and every piece is designed and produced by artisans, and some right before your eyes, as you wander the store premises. The artisans at MacKenzie-Childs are very talented and skilled and each piece is signed. The products are world-claimed and sold at high-end retailers across the globe. Stay tuned for the announcement regarding this year’s annual barn sale when MacKenzie-Childs offers discounts up to 80 percent off.
MacKenzie-Childs is located at 3260 State Route 90, Aurora; www.mackenziechilds.com
- The Cayuga Wine Trail
The Cayuga Wine Trail was the first ever wine trail in the United States and I dare say, one of the prettiest. With breathtaking views and 15 wineries, four distilleries, a cidery and even a meadery, this trail makes for a fun-filled way to spend a day.
At each stop (and we made many) we were able to talk with the vineyard staff and taste the pride of their work. While we loved Long Point Winery and King Ferry Winery, we had our longest conversation with Heart and Hands winemaker and vineyard owner Tom Higgins.
Heart and Hands Wine Company wine was recently noted by Wine Spectators’ Senior Editor James Moleworth as “being onto something.” Molesworth described Heart and Hands’ Reislings in glowing terms, yet the “fruit forward” and French Oak aged pinots are what caught my attention.
Their grapes are either grown on their rolling property or sourced locally. On each bottle, you will find the information on the vintage and the local sources. The concept is a cooperative concept utilizing local grape growers who don’t have their own vineyards. Every cluster of grapes is touched by hand (hence the name) and the picking and sorting is done entirely by volunteers. The hand-picking and sorting makes a huge difference in the quality of the product.
A devotee of the French wine making style, Tom and his wife Susan have brought a new and refreshing future to the Cayuga Wine Trail and the Finger Lakes Region, attracting the attention of wine experts and other wine growers.
Heart and Hands Wine Company is located at 4162 State Route 90 in neighboring Union Springs;www.heartandhandswine.com.
- The Seward House
Arriving at the Seward House only weeks after seeing the award-winning movie, “Lincoln”, piqued my interest in William H. Seward and that of my Lincoln-devotee husband. Seward, who once resided in Albany, was a former governor and US senator of New York. Most, however, will recognize his name as the Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. He was a determined opponent of the spread of slavery in the years leading up to the American Civil War.
The Seward House tour takes you through the long and well-lived lives of Seward and his family. He was a world traveler during a time when that in itself was an accomplishment. The art work, one of which is a magnificent Thomas Cole painting in the center of the drawing room, and other collectables are steeped in his life in government and his travels. On the second floor there are photos and lithos of world leaders during his tenure as Secretary of State. I learned that Hillary Clinton “dragged” Bill Clinton here after she first viewed them while vacationing in neighboring Skaneateles.
The guides will keep you both amused and fascinated with personal stories and anecdotes. You may even get them to spill the beans about Seward’s fiery relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln.
The Seward House is located at 33 South Street, Auburn, a short drive from Aurora at 33 South Street; 315.252.1283;www.sewardhouse.org.
- Aurora Inn and The Inns of Aurora
Nineteenth century Aurora was a much-traveled town as it served as a stop on the Erie Canal for boats carrying products to the local farmers. By the mid-1800s it became a favorite stop by travelers on land, railroad, and of course, by boat. It was then that Colonel E.B. Morgan (which is the namesake for the sister property where we enjoyed our stay) built the properties that are now the Inns.
Wells College, specifically its founder Henry Wells of the Wells Fargo stagecoach prominence, purchased the Inns and it has remained in their procession ever since, through some very hard times.
The Aurora Foundation, which is a partnership between the college and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, renovated the Aurora Inn and the E.B. Morgan House in 2001 and restored them to their vintage magnificence. In 2012, another historic property, Leffington House, joined the Inns of Aurora.
With a weekend of relaxation in the E.B. Morgan House, it is hard to think that there is another spot in the Finger Lakes region that can match the warmth of the innkeepers or the unparallel views of Cayuga Lake, not to mention the large yet cozy and comfortable rooms. We stayed in E.B.’s room that had a fireplace and long windows that did not miss one single inch of the lake view.
Each day after exploring the area, we sat down with the other guests and the Innkeeper and enjoyed cheese and wine and talked while enjoying the property and its stunning views.
The Aurora Dining Room situated in the Aurora Inn was recently nominated for the Finger Lakes Foodie Award honoring the best locavore restaurant menu. Not surprising because the culinary team at the Inn is top notch. They provide a menu each day that includes the best of the area’s food sources. Again, an elegant old-world setting with excellent service and views that continued to dazzle us throughout our stay.
Whether you are a history buff, a wine enthusiast, foodie or lover of Mac-Kenzie Childs products, there really is something for everyone to enjoy. The best, however, is to experience it all as we did and then happily wander back to one of the Inns of Aurora.
E.B. Morgan House is located at 431 Main Street, Aurora; www.innsofaurora.com.
– The Grateful Traveler