“America’s Coolest Small Town” is quite a title to claim for oneself, but luckily Hammondsport didn’t have to do it — the readers of Budget Travel magazine did it for them. Hammondsport was the first stop on my Upstate New York road trip, and I already felt like I’d traveled into the brushstrokes of a Normal Rockwell painting.
I’d arrived in the dark of night the prior evening, which meant I was wide-eyed for my stroll through town to the Keuka Artisan Bakery.
My older sister Margaret had driven down from Rochester, and switched between catching up — we hadn’t seen each other since Father’s Day in Philadelphia a year ago! — and pointing out all the small town cuteness we could find. From the handwritten sign for yoga upstairs from the bakery to several of the seven hundred and thirty one citizens of the town swinging in their rocking chairs, we were smitten.
Hammondsport’s greatest gift is its location on the Southern tip of Keuka Lake, one of New York’s five Finger Lakes. A lake we were about to get up close and personal with.
From the kayak launch, I could spot the room I’d spent the night in at the Keuka Lakeside Inn. Talk about views. And talk about value. Rooms at the inn start at $100, while kayaks from a local shop in town run $30 for the day and $75 for the week, with free drop-off within five miles of Hammondsport.
We went for just a brief excursion and spotted white herons, basking turtles, and catfish the size of my cocker spaniel. My sister laughed at me as I juggled GoPro, dSLR and iPhone, and I laughed at me as I managed to get lost on a one-lane lake. It was the perfect way to kick off our trip.
Post paddle, we switched gears to one of the regions other highlights: wine tasting. While I’ve written about wine tours and trails everywhere from Santorini to Big Island, before this trip I never would have called myself a wine lover.
On the Keuka Lake Wine Trail, I realized that that’s because I was drinking the wrong wine.
The Finger Lakes, it turns out, specializes in my favorite variety of wines — sweet whites! (Cue eyeroll and groan from the serious dry red drinkers. I hear you.) With award winning Rieslings running the show, I found myself seriously falling for specific wines for the first time ever; leaving the region with a case full and hunting them down in specialty wine shops ever since. I shall henceforth remember this as the summer I learned which wines I actually love. It was transformative.
We were to visit three out of the eight wineries on Keuka Lake, starting with Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars. This was the most traditional winery we’d visit, and boasted the most beautiful views. I brought home a bottle of their award-winning semi-dry Rieslings. While I could have lingered on their deck all day, there was more wine to taste. A tough job, but we were up for it.
Our car ride was peppered with requests to pull over for photos. Not bad looking, eh? Well, those Upstate New York-loving readers of Budget Travel agree yet again, calling it “the world’s most beautiful wine region.” Take that, Napa!
Our next stop was Bully Hill, which I quickly christened the Ben & Jerry’s of the wine world. Founded on the philosophy of “wine with laughter,” Bully’s seemed like a great spot to pause for lunch. Despite the unexpected late spring chill we happily sat on the deck and soaked up the atmosphere of the eclectic vineyard while we ate.
At Bully Hill I discovered my new favorite wine in the whole wide world — Ravat 51, the perfect summer white with hints of all my favorite fruits. And one of the most beautiful labels I’ve ever seen to boot! I quickly went through my stash and am now accepting cases of it in lieu of payment. (Just kidding, advertisers, just kidding. Unless you’ll spring for international shipping.)
Our third and final stop for the day was Heron Hill. While I didn’t end up taking any of their wine with me, I drooled over the graphic design of their bottles and brochures, and we were unanimous in agreeing that it was the most gorgeous tasting room of the bunch.
Keuka Lake charmed me senseless — by the time we were driving away I was texting my New York girlfriends trying to drum up excitement for a wine tasting weekend, and calling my parents asking how we’d never been to the Finger Lakes for a family vacation before.
The rest of this trip had a tough act to follow. And that’s not just the Ravat talking.
Have you ever been to the Finger Lakes? What’s your favorite wine-cation getaway?
Many thanks to Steuben County Conference & Visitor’s Bureau for hosting me in Keuka Lake. As always, you get my honest thoughts and opinions regardless of who is footing the bill. And big hugs and kisses to my big sis Margaret for being my travel buddy!