Incredible Ithaca!

March 8, 2006 10:39 am

After a hiatus of several years from the pages of Ottawa Life Magazine as a backpacking international travel writer, I have returned with my wife Annie, this time as parents embarking on our family’s first vacation to ‘gorges’ Ithaca, New York. Located in the central Finger Lakes Region, Ithaca is a pleasant five-hour drive from the National Capital region.

To test the rumoured excellence of New York State’s road signage, we left Ottawa in the general direction of Ithaca, but did not plot our course on a map. Crossing through Johnstown and Ogdensberg, we followed Interstate 51 to Syracuse. From there, we motored to Ithaca along the scenic southwest routes 11 and 13. The signage is indeed excellent. Effortlessly, we arrived to a warm reception from the hospitable proprietors of the Spruce Row Campsite & RV Resort (

With over 200 tent and trailer sites, Spruce Row offers an abundance of private camping and fully equipped cabins. The resort offers an assortment of paddleboats, playgrounds and hayrides, as well as a miniature golf course and tapered swimming pool. Parents who want to engage in activities with their children have plenty to do. We awoke the next morning, with camp-heads and a hankering for a big American breakfast. We were also keen to explore our surroundings.

Bisecting lush fields and dense woodlands, the winding country roads led us to the Falls Tavern Restaurant in nearby Trumansburg, where heaping breakfasts, fresh juice and plenty of hot coffee are served. We were greeted by the warm buzz of lively conversation and three old-timers sitting alongside a table facing the door. You couldn’t help but smile as they gave our family a watchful appraisal and offered friendly nods. We had an opportunity to chat with one of these sage patrons, after eating a stick-to-your-ribs meal. A fellow by the name of Koskinen spoke with a quiet pride of the community he had “no desire to leave” and described a rich history of ingenuity, diversity and reinvestment.

A busy day at the Ithaca Farmer's Market.

Indeed, Ithaca has enjoyed an abundance of novelty, growth and sophistication. In the first halt of the 19th century, the area had its own railway line (since converted for use as a hiking trail.) Cornell University was established in 1865 as a co-educational institution. We are told that many of the students fall in love “with the Finger Lakes area and decide to settle there. The 1920s saw a booming silent cinema industry spearheaded by the acclaimed Wharton Studios, where the classic Perils of Pauline serials were made. By the end of the 1990s, Ithaca had established its reputation for superb tourism. Today, this wonderful region boasts an abundance of attractions that promote sustainability, dynamic ingenuity and a strong communal network.

Perhaps the most famous acheivement in innovation was the perfection of coffee by Ithaca’s own Gimme! Coffee (, established in 2000. I had the good fortune to experience Gimme! Coffee early on in our visit to Ithaca and noticed that many locations around town were serving this fine brew.

We next visited the Sciencentre ( facility has an abundance of interactive exhibits that promote Science. The monumental Sagan Planet Walk is a scale-model of the solar system stretching over one kilometre to the downtown Commons. Each planet station was designed by local artist Erin Caruth and commemorates the famous astronomer and Ithaca resident Carl Sagan. The Sciencentre is one of eight institutions to visit on the educational Discovery Trail (

Following our tour of the solar system, we boldly explored the historic Downtown Ithaca Commons (, a pedestrian marketplace with an international flair reflecting the diversity of the local population. At a Tliai restaurant, a polite proprietor entertained my clumsy attempts to order a chicken and cashew dish in the Thai tongue. (One could say I was tongue-Thaied!) turns out the server was Laotian.

Shopping alternatives include the Dewitt Mall, Centre Ithaca or Wegmans. While downtown, we spotted the Ithaca version of a police cruiser, a bright yellow VW Beetle. (It may or may not have had a happy-face painted on it!). I took this vehicle as symbolic of the community’s laid-back and progressive manner, while Annie thought it spoke of good taste.

Area restaurants use local produce whenever possible. The 80-year-old Ithaca Bakery ( should be included on any vacationer’s itinerary. The mouth-watering aroma of fresh baking coupled with the immeasurable deli offerings will tantalize and satisfy the various cravings of a hungry family. Glenwood Pines Restaurant ( features a six-ounce Pinesburger served on French bread from the Ithaca Bakery. The Moosewood Restaurant (, home of the famous cookbook, is known for its vegetarian creativity. We regularly stopped at Purity Ice Cream for bountiful scoops made with fresh local milk.

A spectacular view of the falls.

The next morning, we planned an early trip to Ithaca Farmer’s Market, a cooperative of local vendors displaying a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, preserves, arts, crafts and prepared meals. All products made or grown come from within a 50-km radius. We were delighted by stall after stall of tantalizing curios and edibles. Departing from the pier at the Farmer’s Market, Tiohero Tours ( offers a one-hour narrated tour of Cayuga Lake and provides information about the local geology and history, told through the entertaining yarns of the captain and crew. The tour company also raises awareness of water-quality issues affecting the lake and uses bio-diesel fuel and biodegradable paint on their craft.

The region’s three sprawling State Parks beckon with their network of inviting hiking trails. Guided hikes are offered as well. With our Farmer’s Market picnic in hand. we planned to visit the 66-metre Taughannock  Falls that majestically cut through the soaring shale cliffs of a post-glacial gorge. We portaged our children up the accessible path to the base of the park. A popular tourism slogan, Ithaca is Gorges, lives up to its promise, while the locals love to tell you that these falls are higher than Niagara.

Robert Treman State Park is a tranquil forest sanctuary: 14 km of well-groomed hiking trails wander along the rugged gorge of Enheld Glen and Lucifer Falls. Following our vigorous hike, we took a refreshing swim in Cayuga Lake, loaded up at Wegmans, and retired to cottage life at beautifully situated Williams Ridge Cottages (315-364-8485).

Following the next lazy morning, we decided to shake a leg up at the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance ( This annual event showcases traditional and contemporary roots music and is loads of fun for the whole family. Just don’t forget your tie-died shirt and dancing sandals! Just Joking! You can buy it all there! I went from squeamish bureaucrat to bluegrass-billy in no time.

Originally organized as a concert to benefit the local AIDS association, the GrassRoots Festival has grown into a nationally recognized event and is one of New York’s few self-sustaining not-for-profit arts organizations. Today, the festival continues to raise money for the fight against AIDS and other worthy causes, while providing an excellent profile of local and invited artistic talent.

My family’s weeklong vacation wound down, with Annie and I realizing that plenty of other attractions remain for our return visit. As we drove out of town, listening to Blue Rodeo’s Finger Lakes, we noticed a bumper sticker that read:

“Ithaca: 10 square miles surrounded by reality.” This summer, when you and your family need an escape from reality, consider a rejuvenating visit to Ithaca, NY. You’ll be glad you made the trek.

For a complete list of vacation ideas, contact the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau (904 East Shore Drive, Ithaca, NY 14850; tel.: 1-800-284-8422; The friendly and knowledgeable staff will provide an exciting range of options to suit any traveller’s interests and needs.

The Troutbeck Experience

November 8, 1999 9:45 pm

Text and images by: Katharine Fletcher

Deep in New York State’s Hudson Valley, there’s a home away from home, beckoning.

Snuggled in your wing chair across from a crackling fire, your eye is greeted by rows of books clustered along wooden shelves. Magazines sprawl across a coffee table, before a comfy sofa. The door of the game room is ajar, and the murmur of voices emanates from the ongoing poker game. You hunker down, cozy in your cocoon.

Idly glancing at your watch, you realize you have time for a swim or stroll and a before-dinner drink at the open bar.

You opt for a stroll. Out you go, into the hushed landscape of Troutbeck’s muted colours and sounds.

Leaving the English-style manor house behind you, you follow the bend in the private road. Just before venturing along the nearby “beck” — the brook once filled with trout which gave the inn its name — you spy a historic sign.

It tells you that Troutbeck was the former home of Myron B. Benton, “poet-naturalist, friend of John Burroughs, Emerson and Thoreau.” Images of Walden Pond leap to mind. The sign fails to inform you that this site welcomed the founders of the black movement, including Booker T. Washington, who helped form the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

Perhaps now, as you walk, you’ll wonder if Emerson and Thoreau lingered on a stroll just like yours, today, over two centuries later. The sharp, cool scent of autumn pierces such reveries, and draws you onward.

Falling leaves swirl softly about. Suddenly invigorated, you start kicking at the piles of leaves, reliving that time-tested, joyous childhood pastime. Just possibly you’ll break into a laughter-filled, heady run and, as your feet fly, you’ll breathe in the cool, still air.

The sheer beauty of these eastern woodlands catches you. Here and there, tucked away in the woods, you’ll discover private homes straight from the pages of Architectural   Digest. For like many international inns and retreats, Troutbeck’s ample acreage is a refuge for a private community. The artful architecture and gracious settings provide ample inspiration for you… for if you are like us, you’re always on the lookout for great gardening or deck ideas for your own home.

Returning to your room, you’ll marvel again at its unlocked door. There are no locks here and this lends an unexpected charm to Troutbeck, for once you’ve crossed the threshold into its serene world, you have entered a gentler, easier time.

But now the pool beckons… grabbing your swimsuit, you return outside, walking the short path to the outbuilding. Once you’re there, you’ll recognize that it’s also the greenhouse! Plants and flowers provide welcome green borders to the turquoise water. How many laps are you up to? No one will be watching, no one will be counting, so take your time. Try floating in this interior, green world and let your mind focus on the superb meal awaiting you.

Typical meals at Troutbeck include fresh, seasonal and local produce. Who knows what Chef Robert A. Timan will be planning for tonight?

Consider these possibilities… (and do some more laps of the pool, first). A typical dinner menu might include wild mushroom bread pudding; mesclun with spicy walnuts, Anjou pears and champagne vinaigrette; followed by an entrée of ginger marinated duck breasts with a rhubarb chutney.

Dessert? How can you demure? After all, this is a holiday, so surely you’ll test the bittersweet chocolate cake, triple lemon tart, or warm polenta soufflé cake with a molten centre… We dare you to resist.

Whether you opt for dessert or not, the ambiance of the dining room is enchant ing. Candlelight flickers on its exposed, stone walls while leaded glass windows reveal the last glimpses of garden for the evening. Eventually, the old glass shimmers, reflecting candlelight, glass and silverware. Troutbeck is charming, easy, relaxed. Go. You’ll love its gentle ways.

That’s Troutbeck for you, just a bend down the road from Amenia, New York, hidden in the Hudson River Valley’s gentle hills and dales.

What else is there?

The Hudson Valley is packed with intriguing finds. Fine gourmet cooking classes from world-class chefs, antique shops, galleries, historic homes… browse the Internet at:, or write to: Vintage Hudson Valley, c/o Maren Rudolph, P.O. Box 288, Irvington, NY 10533; tel: (914) 591-4503; fax: (914) 591-4510; e-mail:

Spooky Hudson Valley Sidebar

“If I could but reach that bridge,” thought Ichabod. “I am safe.” (from ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ by Washington Irving)

“But the headless horseman relentlessly pursued him on his jet-black steed. Urging his mount to gallop faster, terrified Ichabod sped through the darkness trying to outrun the horrifying spectre.”

Such is the imaginary stuff of legends and horror… or is it?

Especially come Hallowe’en, it is easy to let our minds wander fancifully, to imagine that sprites and goblins people winter’s approaching dark nights…

American writer Washington trying loved the Hudson Valley so much that he penned the spooky ‘Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ near his home, north of Tarrytown, New York. Here, too, he wrote his other beloved masterpiece, ‘Rip Van Winkle.’ His home, Sunnyside, remains as a heritage treasure enjoyed by thousands of visitors yearly.

When in the Hudson Valley, visit Sunnyside, the 19th-century home of Washington Irving, near Tarrytown. For more information, call (914) 631-8200.

If you go

Troutbeck is a 71/2-hour drive from Ottawa…and a mere two-hour drive from Manhattan if you want to coordinate a business-and-pleasure trip to the Big Apple.

For information on the inn, and detailed instructions about the drive, check out the Troutbeck website at or e-mail general manager Garret Corcoran at

ADDRESS: Troutbeck, Leedsville Road, Amenia, NY 12501. Telephone (914) 373-9681 or tollfree at 1-800-978-7688,Fax is(914)373-7080.

RATES: $650 to $1.050 US for a weekend, NOTE: a 10% reduction is offered on the US dollar for Canadians. Take note that the price is all-inclusive and includes six meals, an open bar (complete with superb single malt scotch), use of the swimming pool, fitness centre, volleyball, basketball and tennis courts, friendly poker table, video library and 12,000 books.

Florida's Nature Coast: Canadian Dollars at Par!

April 8, 1998 8:59 pm

Text and  images by: Katharine Fletcher

There’s a little bit of heaven waiting for you on Florida’s Nature Coast… Mockingbirds will call melodious songs from palm trees. Natural springs pour turquoise waters through rivers bordered by emerald grasses and gnarled, bellbottomed cyprus.

And, as if such natural beauty is not enough to make you want to rush right down, Canadian dollars are accepted at par for stays of a week or more until May 21.

Where is this oasis of tranquil delights?

Steinhatchee Landing Resort.

At Steinhatchee Landing Resort (pronounced STEEN-hat-chee). Located only 1-1/2 hours south of Tallahassee, the state capital, the rustic fishing village of Steinhatchee is on the Gulf of Mexico. Freshwater and saltwater anglers know it well and in season (late summer) the scalloping is renowned. It’s a region largely untouched by commercial development: there are no McDonald’s, malls, nor Mickey Mouse or Goofy.

What you will discover, instead, is Old Florida, the sort of place where time lingers. Where you can bike down into the village of 1,000 to explore the coast at leisure. Where you can catch your breath amid the live oaks dripping with Spanish moss and cook your own meals, just the way you like, on the barbecue or in the kitchen of your housekeeping cottage.

Your host is Dean Fowler, a southern Georgian gentleman who has cannily designed a 14-acre “off the beaten track” resort whose cottages are tastefully hidden among live oak, sweetgum and palm trees. Walkways lead from gazebos to riverfront, from the vegetable garden to the little creek that wends its way to the river. To affect the feel of a a little village. Dean – everyone calls him by his first name,
staff as well as guests – selected three architectural designs from which you can choose. Victorian, Georgian or the appealing Floridian style called “Cracker.”

We stayed in a Cracker “Spice Cabin,” which feature two-storey screened porches, queen-size bed, full bathroom with ensuite laundry facilities, and an upstairs kitchen, dining room/living room with sofa bed, and VCR/TV. We enjoyed the generous space, as would a family of four or two couples. It’s simply superb value at $120 a night for the cottage – not per person!

It was especially delightful to greet the sunrise and enjoy the ensuing birdsong from the upstairs porch. Acorns from the live oaks fell with a crack and a rattle on the tin roof. Far from disconcerting, the sound blended into nature’s awakening: besides, we could watch the squirrels chasing them as they tumbled to the ground.

The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic Home

The whirlpool spa, exercise room and swimming pool await, only a short walk from your cottage door. Says Dean: “Our free activities include archery, badminton, jogging trail, volleyball, fishing, spa, tennis, bicycles, shuffleboard, horseshoes, canoeing, walking paths and basketball.” Quite enough to keep most happy, even for a week-long stay. For an additional fee you can rent a horse and ride the Landing’s trails.

Although the well-stocked Mason’s Market grocery is nearby, Steinhatchee Landing’s restaurant offers delectable cuisine. Don’t consider leaving without trying crab cakes, pecan-coated grouper and other culinary sensations such as the fluffy coconut cake!

For those of you who want to explore, you’ll find that Dean and his staff are tremendously proud of their region. The
Landing’s office offers brochures describing attractions such as the 25 natural springs (where you can see mastodon bones or tube down a river of turquoise water). Want a bit of culture after all this natural splendour? Ask about the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings historic home (this feminist was author of The Yearling); the antique shops of High Springs; or the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science.

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