My Upstate New York road trip was fast coming to a close. Keuka Lake and Corning were in the rearview, and after a weekend in Rochester I gave my sister Margaret a big goodbye hug and pointed the car back towards Albany. But I had one more stop to make before I’d hit home.
In many ways, I saved the best for last. Of-the-moment Ithaca, after all, is the destination that kicked off this trip in the first place. I’m always thrilled when I see something about Upstate New York slide across my virtual desk, so I was intrigued when, months before, I’d received a press release about a new glamping initiative in Ithaca. I knew I had to go. And thus, my Upstate New York road trip was born.
Glamping, for the uninitiated, is exactly what it sounds like — glamorous camping. Firelight Camps opened in the summer of 2014 to much fanfare. This summer, they doubled their number of tents. Stepping into the lobby — a luxurious tent with carpeted floors and a host typing away on a laptop — it was easy to see why this fresh concept so resonates with travelers.
Bearded Bartender was my co-pilot on this adventure and we were giddy as we unzipped our tent to have a peek at our home for the next two days.
Talk about gorgeous! I loved our lush back deck, our elegant writing desk and our oh-so-comfy bed. A few things were noticeable — and thankfully — absent, like TVs, wifi codes, and electrical lights and outlets. Firelight Camps is all about unplugging and engaging with the place and the people — or pups — you’re with. My heart ached when I saw dogs are welcome, as at this point I’d yet to scoop my own up for the summer.
I’m no stranger to glamping — in previous travels I’d bedded down in a luxury tent at Tomorrowland festival in Belgium as well as at a coastal tent resort in Peru. But it was a thrill to give it a try so close to home.
While Firelight Camps doesn’t serve meals other than breakfast — yet — Ithaca’s famed dining scene is just a few miles away. Starting the day in the lobby tent is yet another exercise in local pride thanks to New York-sourced and organic artisanal treats.
And after busy days out we returned to that lobby tent once again for complimentary happy hour showcasing Finger Lake wines every evening from 5-6pm. Fellow vagabonds will feel right at home with their hosts — the Frischs, cofounders of Firelight Camps, recently returned to Ithaca from their last project, opening a boutique hostel in Nicaragua. I chatted to husband Robert about my own recent travels in Nicaragua while grabbing a few of wife Emma’s homemade s’more kits to roast over the campfire. Travel talk and gourmet treats — I was, quite literally, a happy camper.
I was looking forward to meeting other fellow s’more enthusiasts and glamping devotees at Firelight, though when we visited in May the campfire crowd was noticeably thin. I think in retrospect the few minor things that we didn’t love about Firelight — there were few other guests, the bathhouse and other elements were under construction and our hosts seemed a tad distracted by it — had to do with it being very early in the season.
What to do when we weren’t soaking up the sweetness of our tent? We spent our days wine tasting, hiking, driving through Ithaca and the ginormous Cornell campus, and relaxing in the onsite spa. Firelight Camps is on the grounds of Ithaca institution La Tourelle, and using the facilities of the August Moon Spa free of charge is one of several extra perks Firelight guests receive as a result.
Of course, I had to have a treatment — for research! — and loved every moment of my sixty minute Swedish massage experience, from the heated massage table to the waterfalls in the tranquil waiting room. Additional spa offering include a maple walnut sugar scrub using local maple and a wine trail body wrap taking advantage of the antioxidant properties of powdered regional grape seeds.
Speaking of wine, I couldn’t leave the Finger Lakes without checking out a few more vineyards — this time, on the Cayuga Wine Trail. First stop? Lucas Vineyards, a recommendation I’d picked up after asking for tips on Instagram. Lucs won us over with a fun tasting, whimsical bottle designs, and wine slushies. Yes, you read that right — wine slushies.
Next, we hit up Bellwether Cider, which had a kickin’ gift shop. While the ciders weren’t quite my favorite, it was refreshing to take a break from the vino. And there will be more opportunities or that soon, as a new cidery up the street was under construction when we drove by.
Our final stop was Americana Vineyards, where the insanely friendly sommeliers poured me yet another wine slushie (can we talk about this being the greatest hybrid to ever happen to the alcoholic beverage industry or what) and BB regretted agreeing to be the driver this day. Spitting out at a tasting is never fun — I don’t care how fancy they make those silver spitoons — and having a tipsy, slushie-swilling blonde in the passenger seat probably only rubs salt in the wound.
Thankfully there were plenty of places to wash down our wine back in Ithaca. Our tour of local favorites included Viva Taqueria, Collegetown Bagels, and Felicia’s Atomic Lounge, which I see has sadly shuttered since.
Our final adventure in Ithaca was the one that launched a thousand t-shirts — you know the ones. We had to see one of these gorges for ourselves, and thankfully we didn’t have to go far. Firelight Camps backs right onto the idyllically-named Buttermilk Falls State Park, and a path literally around the back of our tent led us right down into the heart of it. After scampering around Lake Treman and along Buttermilk Creek, we started the actually gorgeous half-mile Gorge Trail, and after admiring the falls from below returned back up via the three-quarter-mile Rim Trail, which was a little less impressive.
While we could have continued all the way back up to the campgrounds on our own steam, at this point we took advantage of La Tourelle’s pickup service and hitched a ride back to Firelight instead. You know, again — for research.
Ithaca really is gorges — and Firelight is too. Driving beautiful backroads on our return trip to Albany, I knew it wouldn’t be the last time I laid eyes on them.
What about you? Are you a camper, a glamper, or a hotel-room-please-and-thanks-er? I’ll see you in the comments!
Many thanks to Firelight Camps for hosting me in Ithaca. As always, you get my honest thoughts and opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.