With a population of just over 32,000, in Upstate's Finger Lakes region on the southern shore of Cayuga Lake, a 3½-hour drive from capital Albany and a bit over four hours from New York City, Ithaca is a prominent college town but also a a “gorges” city. I say that because it's surrounded by rocky gorges, many of them with waterfalls - more than 150 within a ten-mile radius. Within the city limits themselves, a one-third mile hike uphill – the Cascadilla Gorge Trail -- is exhilarating not only because of the trek itself, but for the vastness and variety of six freely flowing cascades allong the way.
The entire town is enmeshed in leafy tree canopies and dotted with small, fairy-tale-like cottages (the fact that there are a couple of prestigious, top-rated colleges - Ithaca College and Ivy League Cornell University - hidden among all the greenery is a nice bonus). Ithaca is so compact that you can experience an unexpectedly large number of diverse activities within literally minutes of each other from huge waterfalls to beautiful gardens to history museums and goat farms. And Cayuga Lake is almost always at your side.
Area Farms Boast a Rare Assortment of Animal Sanctuaries
And now let's talk bees. I don’t usually seek them out - actually, I do my best to avoid them. So I wasn’t sure what to expect at the Honeybee Embassy at Bright Raven Farm & Apiary (which is actually located in Jacksonville, a 15-minute drive north of Ithaca). Fortunately, the emphasis here is on the luscious products they produce rather than personal interaction with the bees themselves. Much of Ithaca, it seems, is encouraging pollinators like bees - which as you have no doubt read are increasingly endangered these days - to further the reproduction of flowers and plants. And the flowers are produced to attract said pollinators. A win-win for the earth.
Honeybee Embassy produces truly raw varietal honey - meaning there are no additives, no heat, and no pressurization used in the processing, as is true for most American honeys. Owner Teresa smiled disparagingly: “That’s like taking whole foods and turning them into white bread.” The samplings bring a variety of tastes, textures and colors to the table. The goal is, says Teresa, is “to educate people about the wild world of honey,” which her grandmother first started doing during the Nazi era in Germany. For example, who knew that honey nectar smells range from "sweaty socks" to "cat pee" to fruity and floral varieties – but fortunately none of that is evident at the tastings. The honey names resonate - for example, "Basswood," "Goldenrod," and "Japanese Knotwood."
Oh, and just as a diversion since we haven’t been to a waterfall in a while, there’s the nearby overlook at Taughannock Falls (top), which just happens to the largest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. That makes it taller than Niagara Falls by 215 feet (three stories) - take that, Niagara!
Unlike the Honeybee Embassy, a visit to the Cabin View Alpaca Farm in nearby Trumansberg had more to do with the actual residents than the products they produce. Christine started the farm in 2009 with three alpacas and now there are 50, with whom visitors can interact in various ways, from taking them for a walk to feeding them. We chose just to amble among the nine females and eight babies in the nearby pasture, all in shades of brown, white, grey, fawn, and black. My favorite was Patience who at five years of age sported a beautiful sandy brown tuft of hair, perfectly coifed – she was her own version of Ithaca gorgeous. We were close enough to watch the kids gamboling about while the moms gathered to gossip among themselves. We spent a lot of time oohing and aahing at their adorableness.
And yes, alpacas do produce products although fortunately not edible ones. Alpaca yarn apparently is warmer, softer and more hyper-allergenic than sheep’s wool and not surprisingly a wide variety of scarves, socks, hats, mittens, and adorable stuffed animals are available in Cabin View's gift shop.
Moving along, although I don’t find goats as intrinsically appealing as alpacas, a visit to Lively Run Dairy over in Interlaken has its own advantages – among them, a lot of cheese. Unbeknownst to me, goats apparently were one of the first animals to be tamed by humans - some 9,000 years ago - though apparently, they haven’t learned all that much. If you have something in your hand – anything at all – they think it’s for them and will come running after you (so much for well-traine!). In addition to sampling cheese, there’s petting and feeding, goat shearing, and spinning demonstrations. But that’s not really what got my goat - it was the summer yoga classes that five to seven baby goats attend with you. So yes, you may be doing a downward dog with a goat on your back. On the other hand, dangly earrings may provide an unwelcome distraction from your warrior pose.
And lastly, now it’s time for some liquid refreshment – and although there are any number of wineries and breweries beckoning, Ithaca is better known for its cideries. South Hill Cider offers tastings several times a week along with a smorgasbord of delectables to accompany the flights.
But it's three evenings a week in particular that make it truly unique, when South Hill more resembles a hoedown, as local bands come to play; a wood-fired oven radiates the smell of pizza; and musician/owner Steve circulates to make sure everyone is having a good time – but only when he’s not playing in a band himself. Of course, the outdoor concerts are only held six months a year - the rest of the time you just have to drink cider!
If you do decide to go, The independently owned, 170-room Hotel Ithaca is a downtown gathering place for Cornell alumni and visiting guests as well as those coming to town for other reasons, and its ambiance provides links to the surroundings. Walls are covered with photos of the town which focus upon the wondrous waterfalls that people associate with the destination. The hotel is close to the popular Ithaca Commons, a wide pedestrian mall which is lined by places to eat and drink, unique shops and inviting galleries, and public art.
For more great information on a great destination, check out VisitIthaca.com.
Love, love, love Ithaca - it's less than two hours from where I live, and it makes for a great relaxing getaway! And also thanks, I learned a couple of new things here.
Thanks so much. You made my day!