The Finger Lakes seems to be gaining popularity, based on the handful of articles we've seen posted here and on other blogs. We love visiting the wine trails of the Finger Lakes, but there is so much more to do there than just taste wine. We often forget this when in wine-tasting mode. The area has really embraced tourists; in addition to the wineries, Bed & Breakfasts, restaurants, small farms, quaint towns, and bountiful hills offer ample distraction, as well.

When we stay over, we often choose a quaint Bed & Breakfast in one of the towns dotting the hills, where old homes have been transformed into charming guest residences often run by extraordinary hosts and skilled cooks. On our most recent visit, we decided to do something different and stay in a hotel. We selected a resort we had discovered while planning our wedding: La Tourelle Resort & Spa, located just outside Ithaca. We hoped to pack a lot into the very short trip--just one night and one day.

Heavy storms chased us throughout the Finger Lakes on our drive from Rochester, but slowed up just in time for us to dash through the front doors at La Tourelle before the sky opened up, again. The hostess upgraded us to one of their fireplace suites, a real treat, and even though we'd missed the complimentary wine hour, she offered us a glass of wine as we checked in. We had dinner plans so instead opted to put our bags down and get ready. We ran the fireplace for a while, just to enjoy the special treatment, even though this was the middle of summer. The view from our room overlooking the hills above Ithaca was wonderful, even with the rain, and we braved the storm to enjoy the balcony, as well. The bed was comfortable, the shower was luxurious...and what more can we really ask for? La Tourelle offers all the amenities a traveler could ask for, including a spa, sports facilities, and hiking trails. We look forward to trying it again some time soon and enjoying these activities when we have a little more time on our trip.

One of the benefits of staying at La Tourelle is the opportunity to dine at John Thomas Steakhouse, located on the Resort's grounds just steps from the hotel, and housed in a beautiful old residence, complete with a front porch and original detailing throughout. We couldn't ask for a more convenient, or beautiful, location. As this was a vacation for us, we didn't keep our usual detailed work notes on the wine and food pairings, and enjoyed our evening immensely. Unlike our normal mode of attack, instead of trying to pick through the wine menu, we asked our waiter for recommendations. We started with a mini-bottle of champagne each for aperitif, which did wonders to cleanse the palate and get our taste buds ready. After sharing a hearty spinach salad with delicious bacon vinaigrette, we moved into our main course. Since Tina had chosen the salmon, and I went with the prime rib, we decided to order our wine by the glass, white for her and red for me, again chosen from the recommendations of our waiter. While Tina’s salmon was a bit dry, my prime rib was nearly perfect, and tasted fresh enough to be local. Family-style sides of German fried potatoes (a John Thomas specialty) and fresh green beans almondine made for a wonderful accompaniment. The restaurant was quiet on a Sunday evening, so we had plenty of time to enjoy our meal, savoring the food and wine. To wrap up our evening, we went with their dessert special, a fresh berry pie, paired with a sherry. The pie was an exceptional treat, as the berries were obviously fresh off the local farms. The sherry overpowered the dessert somewhat, but that was the one wine choice we’d decided on ourselves. It was a fun evening, trying different food and wine, with some easy recommendations from our very knowledgeable waiter.

While La Tourelle offers a breakfast in their café, we ventured into the Commons in downtown Ithaca to find something to eat. We’ve passed through many times and are always entertained by the quaint old storefronts offering interesting books, art, and food. Ithaca is, like many college towns, known for its thriving counter culture, liberal leanings, and unique lifestyles. On this particular morning, we came across Maté Factor, and decided to stop in. Named after the Yerba Maté drink (which they -do- offer), this little café could not be any cuter. A rustic them, with wood barrels serving for light fixtures. We planned on an easy breakfast of bagels, and Tina did indeed have one, but when I saw their waffles (a house specialty), I couldn’t resist. Made with a heavier flour than is typical, the waffles were dense enough to hold up against the generous dollop of maple syrup, butter, and whipped cream, without suffering the usual soggy fate. I left extremely satisfied, and prepared to face our day of wine tasting.

Focusing on the wineries as we do when we are in the Finger Lakes, I sometimes think we are missing out on other important aspects. With just short weekend visits, there is so much to pack into each trip. Sometime, we really need to make a longer trip. Hiking, camping, spending time on the water, eating, relaxing, shopping; this is a destination that has something for everyone, of course--especially for those who love wine.