Mention New York, and people will immediately think you’re off out on a shopping spree. Why, even when I told people I was off to New York State, they cried with excitement ‘Ooh shopping.
Have fun!’ No, I packed my bags to the brim (no room for shopping purchases) with outdoor kit for a week-long adventure out into the wilderness to discover what the state has to offer in terms of outdoor activities, good food and luxury.
Far from the concrete jungle, New York State is abundant with places to roam whether that is a national park, state park, walking, hiking and cycling trails, bridleways or indeed lakes and rivers to kayak on. But the offerings of the great outdoors run deeper in the arteries of this county. It’s their commitment to care about local communities and culture as well as conserving wildlife conservation and the environment that puts them at the forefront of responsible tourism. So as travellers, you get a more authentic experience which benefits local people and the environment which is exactly what I got and more.
Our trip began with a stroll around Genesee Valley Park in the city of Rochester where we got to experience nature first-hand. At 800 acres, the park is a haven for outdoor lovers with a network of trails along the Genesee River. I was surprised to see how busy it was on a Sunday morning with crowds of locals making the most of their leisure time with a gentle walk or a cycle ride.
Eager to get on a bike and make the most of this vast land, we got on our saddles to experience the special Erie Canal from Fairport. Built in 1825, this was one of the most significant industrial developments of America but the freight industry fell into disrepair with the rise of railroads. Today the canal, a protected ‘National Heritage Corridor’, is used by recreational boaters and tour boats while the old towpath serves the leisure time interests of bikers, joggers, skaters, walkers and in the winter cross country skiing. The trail, which winds its way from Buffalo to Albany, (although still being developed) through three counties, 13 towns and villages, and one major city, is a great way to access all sorts of interesting sites that you might otherwise miss by car. We cycled through hamlets and villages from Fairport to Macedon which grew along the waterway in their heydays.
Turning exercise into fun is a sure way of getting people involved without them realising they’re having a workout. Our next stop took us to Long Acre Farm which was not only a convenient place to sample local wines, but also for a bit of a mental stimulation. Having opened its doors to families 21 years ago, this 500 acre farm provides a great day out. It’s Maize maze pulls in adults and children alike to get lost in while the grown-up version of cider and wine slushies helps replenish a dry mouth after the activity.
The people of New York State take great pride in food, and you’re never far from a restaurant or bar that sells good organic produce. But perhaps the ancient Seneca town of Ganondagan (pronounced gah-non-dah-gan) is a prime example of a Native American community that helped develop one of the world’s most basic and healthy cuisines using natural foods that are popular today as are many of the natural medicines they used to treat illnesses. Their dedication to healthy eating prevails today with their determination through the White Corn Project. Over 500,000 bushels of white corn were destroyed by the French in 1687, but the project is bringing back the white corn through plantation, harvesting and processing in the town once again. We had great pleasure in sampling the white corn in the form of muffins and pancakes for breakfast at sit manager Peter Jemison’s home. And from the farm straight into the lap of luxury, we headed to the Wine & Culinary Center. The upmarket bistro overlooking Canandaiga Lake is the perfect sport to sample the finest of wine, craft beer and food the area has to offer. In fact, I would go as far as saying that the food here was probably one of the finest I have tasted. With so much choice, we decided to get a number of dishes to share. The smoked organic mushroom ravioli and salmon fillet and smoked fish cake went down particularly well all washed down with the local Saranac gourmet root beer.
In the Finger Lakes region we found ourselves surrounded by beautiful countryside and magnificent water. Stretching from north to south, the eleven Finger Lakes, named because of their resemblance to elegant fingers, offer an array of recreational opportunities both on water and land. Wanting to get in touch with Mother Nature, I got on horseback to really get a feel for the land beyond the tourist areas. In my opinion, exploring the rolling landscape of the Finger Lakes National Forest in any other way would have failed to do it justice. Local agriculture and farming practices are extended to animals here. They are only fed locally produced grains and hay. It’s also worthy to note that the Finger Lakes is the largest wine region outside of California producing 90 per cent of New York State wines. I certainly enjoyed a semi-dry Riesling to mark the end of my leisurely horse ride.
And if you’re seeking an even deeper connection with nature, then a trip to the luxury Wellness: The Lodge is a must. Hidden away in the Tug Hill region of Central New York, lies this sanctuary that encourages its guests to be at one with nature. You will find virtually every habitat type represented here from open fields, hardwood forests, pine forests, wetlands, river, ponds and springs. Wellness:Te was conceived by the French immigrant and avid conservationist Christophe Marin. His philosophy is that the power of nature can help to heal all wounds both spiritual and physical and aid in our individual wellness. As I sat around the camp fire, I reflected on how this lodge was yet another reminder of the Native Americans way of life who inhabited this very valley years ago.
If you’ve not guessed already, water is everywhere in New York State. With all other activities ticked off my list, it was time to turn my hand at kayaking and what better place to do it other than the 1000 Islands region? There are in fact almost 1800 islands, but some belong to the neighbouring Canadian side which lies just a paddle away across the St Lawrence Seaway. A canoeists’ dream! Meanwhile I got a good bicep workout paddling from one island to another stopping regularly to admire the crystal waters made super clean by the zebra mussels. Great for kayakers but not so good for the wildlife.
Just as well we were booked into the newly opened five star 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel in Clayton after a strenuous day. A dip in the indoor heated pool was very much welcomed before turning in at my double queen luxury room which I have to say with two king size beds and ample room around, it was still bigger than the size of an average downstairs of a terraced home.
Most people wouldn’t associate New York state with beaches, but you will find them everywhere even in central New York. Sylvan and Verona beaches offer the perfect place to take a break from all those activities whether you want to take a dip in the water or sink those hard worked toes in the sand as you lay back and absorb all that New York State has to offer.
For more information about authentic, off-the-beaten track travel in New York State, including ideas for outdoor activities, local culture and accommodation, visit responsibletravel.com’s in-depth travel guide: www.responsibletravel.com/new-york-state or www.nylovesu.co.uk
By Sabi Phagura