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Road Trip! Destination: Finger Lakes region, N.Y.

| Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011

The rolling hills and reflective water of New York's Finger Lakes region is a relaxing destination anytime of year.

But the best time to visit must be now, during the harvest season when brightly colored leaves stand out against farmland, vineyards and cloud-dotted blue skies.

The area -- with its 11 lakes -- was formed by glaciers more than 100 million years ago. A little has changed since then, but the region remains a destination for those seeking an escape from a hectic life.


Driving around Seneca Lake, it seems you can't go 100 feet without passing -- who are we kidding• -- stopping at another winery. Almost 100 wineries dot the region, with at least 36 at Seneca Lake -- and counting. Limo services are available to make the rounds worry free.

Tastings generally cost about $2 or $3 for five or six samples -- you can choose your preference from dry or sweet. For more expensive reserve or limited-quantity wines, expect to go $5 or $6 per sample. And expect to be so pleased you're willing to begin to fill your trunk with a case or two along the way. Pourers are quite knowledgeable about the wines they offer, so consider this an educational expedition.

A few favorites:

Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard ( ) is housed in an 80-year-old scissor-trussed barn. The German founder's family has a winemaking history of more than 300 years in his native land. Wiemer released his first vintage in 1979, and became one of the first producers of Vinifera wines in the region. The shop offers small pots of a variety of grape vines for a DIY project.

Wagner Vineyards ( ), set upon a rise over Seneca Lake, offers beautiful views from its decks and Ginny Lee Restaurant, along with an extensive wine-tasting list. The property includes a microbrew pub with tasting bar -- bring a cooler to transport a growler -- and large gift shop of wine-related products.

Anthony Road Wine Company ( ) continues to win awards for its Rieslings. Of particular interest is the Martini-Reinhardt Selection Series. The airy visitor center gift shop -- with wine-tasting bar -- and gardens are worth the stop.

Details: .

Belhurst Castle

On beautiful grounds overlooking Seneca Lake, the 1800's Belhurst Castle in Geneva is a terrific spot to visit for lunch by the terrace firepit or to catch the weekend brunch buffet. Day visitors can enjoy browsing its lavish wine shop and sample wine tasting. More serious romantics will plan a weekend stay in one of its 14 period mansion rooms -- and book a treatment from the extensive menu of the Isabella Spa-Salon at Belhurst . Truly serious romantics plan their nuptials here on the grounds. Additional accommodations are available at Vinafera Inn and the nearby White Springs Manor. Details: .

Watkins Glen State Park

The Gorge Trail at Watkins Glen State Park is a magnificent must-stop in the area for those with a bit of adventure in their hearts. Wear good walking shoes and be prepared for climbing steps. The cavernous pathways take you behind a waterfall -- there are 19 in the park altogether -- over a suspension bridge and through short tunnels within two sheer cliff faces that tower 200 feet. Details: .

Corning Museum of Glass

The world's-largest glass museum features glass artistry and history spanning 35 centuries. Changing exhibits fill the galleries, along with the museum's permanent collection. Watch artists craft glass pieces in narrated hot-glass demonstrations. Or, try your hand at crafting and etching pieces of your own. It requires reservations and an added fee -- $10 to $28 depending on the project. Details: 800-732-6845 or .

Rockwell Museum of Western Art

View the best of the West in the East. A fine collection of historic and contemporary Western and Native American art is housed in this former City Hall in Corning. Its permanent collection is housed in 10 theme galleries, such as the Buffalo Gallery, Visions of the West and the Legacy of the Vanishing Race. The ground floor sports a Trading Post-styled gift shop. On the second floor, the Remington and Russell Lodge is designed as a ranch great room complete with atone fireplace and Western furniture. Details: 607-937-5386 or .


Chefs at the best places point out their commitment to local produce, and at least one vegetarian dish on their menus.

The charming and exquisite Suzanne Fine Regional Cuisine ( ), housed in a former farmhouse in Lodi, specializes in what they term 'farm fresh and country elegant cuisine." We swooned over one of our best meals of the year. Included is Elysian Field lamb, New York free-range duck and chicken, plus fresh caught fish that's over-nighted from the source.

Ports Cafe ( ) in Geneva offers a funky, casual setting for an interesting mix of dishes ranging from house-smoked Carolina spare ribs and tandoori chicken to shrimp saute and rib eye steak.

Red New Bistro ( ), part of Red Newt Cellars, offers an enticing five-course chef's menu in addition to its seasonal fare. Check out the bacon-wrapped grilled pork tenderloin stuffed with verjus apples and ginger, or dry-rub short ribs with housemade crab-apple barbecue sauce.

You can take your hunger to the water with a dinner cruise on Captain Bill's Seneca Legacy ( ). Choose from a variety of sightseeing cruises, including the live entertainment-dinner cruise, Sunday brunch, dinner cocktail cruise and burgers and blues cruise. The boat boards at Watkins Glen.

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