Cayuga Lake is a great girlfriend getaway, by travel writers

By Candyce H. Stapen

We knew we had booked the right girlfriend getaway as soon as we pulled into the driveway of Rowland House in Aurora, New York. At 10,000 square feet and with 10 rooms, the Queen Anne-style home was both impressive and inviting. Cayuga Lake shimmered in the background, and 120-year-old ginkgo trees crowned the lawn, their leaves the color of spun gold in the fall.

My friend, Barbara, and I felt like we had fallen into an enchanted storybook setting. Aurora, with a year-round population of less than 300, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Strolling through the village, we admired the large 19th century houses. Later we learned the remarkable story of the village’s picture beauty.

We chose the Finger Lakes for our water, wine, wood, and walking vacation, based on the shores of Cayuga Lake. One of Aurora’s five hostels, Rowland House fulfilled our desire for a small property with big hotel services. A sister inn housed a restaurant and spa within a five-minute drive. Vineyards, hiking trails and waterfalls criss-cross the region. Although we didn’t book early enough to receive a massage, we walked along the spa’s cattail pond and past soybean fields lined with white, yellow and purple wildflowers, which are part of the vast Aurora landscape.

Another draw was Cayuga Lake, the longest of the Finger Lakes at over 38 miles. We learned about Aurora’s legendary inhabitants on a boat ride with Captain Matt Bianconi, whose family has lived here for generations. Local entrepreneurs Edwin Barber Morgan and his brother, Henry, made their fortune shipping agricultural and other products via Lake Cayuga to the nearby Erie Canal, which opened in 1825. From the 363-mile waterway that stretches from Buffalo to New York, boats have reached the Great Lakes. and went down the Hudson River to New York. Trade exploded.

In 1832, the Morgans met and befriended Henry Wells, who later moved to Aurora. He became president of the Cayuga Lake Railroad and commanded the lake’s first passenger steamers. To house merchants, E. B. Morgan opened Aurora House, which later became the Aurora Inn, in 1833. Aurora Inn and Morgan’s grand 1858 Italian-style mansion are two of the Inns of Aurora properties. Morgan was also an original investor in The New York Times.

Wells founded American Express and co-founded Wells Fargo to enable merchants to transport gold and silver securely between California and the East Coast. He also established Wells Seminary in 1868, renamed Wells College in 1870, with EB Morgan and other benefactors to educate women. The graduating class still ride stagecoaches across town to celebrate.

As a student at Wells, Pleasant Rowland fell in love with Aurora. She created the American Girl series of books and dolls, which she later sold to Mattel for $700 million. Beginning in 2001, she invested more than $150 million in the village, burying power lines, opening inns and a market, and lavishing the same attention to detail that propelled the success of American Girl to the regeneration of the village. .

Driving past rolling fields and hillside vineyards to restaurants and attractions was a feast for the eyes. On the outdoor terrace of the Elderberry Pond restaurant, a local gem serving its organic fruits and vegetables, we dined on excellent duck and crab cakes while listening to the breeze rustle the maple leaves. In the fall, they turn a magnificent burnt orange.

More than 100 wineries take root in the Finger Lakes. Of the 14 Cayuga Lake spots, we visited two on the way to Union Springs. As part of the hillside of Quarry Ridge, we savored a dry rose and a view of the lake from the covered porch of the cellar. Next door, Heart & Hands Wine Co. has a small indoor tasting room and a table in a garden where we tasted rich pinot noir, riesling and chardonnay while learning about the wines and the microclimate of the lake that keeps the vineyards alive. in winter.

Lured by the chance to see the tallest free-falling waterfall in the northeast, we hiked the gorge trail from Taughannock Falls State Park to Ulysses, about 80 miles from Aurora. As promised, the waterfall dropped 215 feet down a vertical rock face. However, the recent drought has reduced the waterfall to a disappointing trickle that is hard to see. Nonetheless, we enjoyed walking between the 400ft high cliffs.

Each afternoon we returned to sit lakeside on Adirondack chairs, enjoying complimentary wine and cheese and taking in the view of the water. Since the vast majority of the shoreline is private property, the lake seems pristine. Instead of crowds and many ships, we only heard the occasional boat. We cherished the soothing lake view and the calm.


Rowland House is one of five Inns of Aurora:

Tour Cayuga in the Finger Lakes:

Bianconi Tours, boat cruises on Lake Cayuga:

Elderberry Pond Restaurant: 315-252-6025 (Their website is currently under construction. In the meantime, they have a Facebook page.)

Quarry Ridge Winery:

Heart and hands wine:

Taughannock Falls State Park:

Rowland House in Aurora, New York was created by Pleasant Rowland, who also created American Girl dolls and books. Photo courtesy of Aurora Inns.

    Some rooms at Rowland House in Aurora, New York overlook Cayuga Lake.  Photo courtesy of Aurora Inns.

Some rooms at Rowland House in Aurora, New York overlook Cayuga Lake. Photo courtesy of Aurora Inns.

    Adirondack chairs overlooking Cayuga Lake in New York's Finger Lakes region, provide the perfect end to a day of exploring the area.  Photo courtesy of Aurora Inns.

Adirondack chairs overlooking Cayuga Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes region, provide the perfect end to a day of exploring the area. Photo courtesy of Aurora Inns.

Candyce H. Stapen is a writer at Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @Familyitrips and Instagram @CandyceStapen

and check out, his non-profit organization that brings solar-powered computers and training to rural schools in Africa. To read articles by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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