From what we’ve heard, there's no better getaway than the Finger Lakes– it's known for its wine, lovely lakeshore scenery, charming small towns, and ice fishing, so we made it the region we explored on the final stretch of our mega road trip through New York State. With the FIAT 500X just as ready and raring to go as we were, we braced ourselves for an adventure into Upstate New York.
The picturesque Newfield Covered Bridge is the perfect place to start this leg of the trip-- nothing says quaint and charming like a red covered bridge! Even though they were wildly popular in the 19th century, there are only 29 bridges like it left in the state of New York-- you won't find a better spot for a photo op!
We started out in Watkins Glen, home of the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, a legendary 1973 festival that brought together over 600,000 fans of The Band, The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead. Music festivals might seem like a recent fad, but how cool would it have been to go to one of the very first? We couldn't resist blasting a few of our favorite tunes from The Dead on SiriusXM radio installed in the FIAT 500X--rock on, man. Nestled on the Seneca Lake, there’s tons of tchotchkes and knick-knacks waiting to be found in the village’s antique shops, if you're not a fan of The Dead.
Watkins Glen’s biggest claim to fame is Watkins Glen International, home of the Formula One Grand Prix. With a tough track known as the “Mecca of American Road Racing,” The Glen has a rich history, hosting everything from old-school 1950's Formula One races to major NASCAR events. These days, their main events include a rad vintage grand prix, beer and wine festivals and the SCCA Super Majors Tour. But the best part of visiting the track is that we got to live out our childhood fantasies of becoming a race car driver by taking the FIAT 500X for a spin along the course! Plus, you get a picture of you and your car at the finish line so you can always keep the memory... totally worth the $25 cost.
Before hitting the road, we stopped in to the Glen Mountain Market, where you can munch on sandwiches inspired by Finger Lakes attractions – like the Grand Prix (roast beef and horseradish sauce on foccacia) and the Seneca Valley Veggie (veggie cream cheese, green apples, sprouts and more on fresh cracked wheat bread) – at sun-drenched tables looking out onto the village. They use fresh and locally-sourced ingredients, so you're really getting a taste of Watkins Glen here!
Bellies full, we started on a boozier stretch of adventure. The region is known for its many wineries, so whether you're just passing through for views of rolling vineyards dipping into the Finger Lakes, or you're like us and grabbed a friend who doesn't love wine to take the wheel while we sipped in some wine and scenery, it's worth exploring.
We passed waterfalls and rushing creeks on Route 14 along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail on a mission to taste the Cayuga valley's best. We began our tasting trail with the Cayuga White at Castel Grisch Winery then a sip of Saperavi at Standing Stone Vineyards (their $5 sampler of six wines is a steal, plus they do wine and cheese pairings and tours of the cellars) and bit of Fine Old Tawny Port at Fox Run Vineyards, which is a great place to stock up on snacks to go with all the wine you're probably going to buy along the way. Pro tip: the Finger Lakes region is known for its white wines, so when in doubt, order something light!
And if you’re feeling hesitant about the hoity-toity sound of winery touring, don't rule it out right away: there are some ultra laid-back vino stops on the trail, including Billsboro Winery, where wine-sampling can mean washing down wood-fired pizzas on the patio while listening to live music. Plus, any vineyard is worth a stop just to check out the area's breathtaking views!
There’s tons of wineries to be found on the famed stretch of vineyard-ridden highway, but only one FLX Wienery. No, that's not a typo. Pick up a bottle along the way and then stop by this tongue-in-cheek roadside BYOB, where you don’t order simple hot dogs... you’re served weiner-art (translation: fresh cooked wieners with toppings that range from your average ketchup, mayo and fried onion dog to the unusual, more adventurous offerings, like the one topped with cheese curd and “debris.”) And if that’s not enough by your caloric standards, finish off with a deep fried Almond Joy or an Oreo Stout milkshake.
If you're more into the brews and views than the wine, fear not! There’s a few breweries along the Seneca Lakes Wine Trail as well with plenty of vistas for the designated driver that takes you! At Climbing Bines you can take a tour of hop vines that provide the foundation for the microbreweries 30 different beers. Their brews range from imperial IPAs to raspberry hefeweizens, and they even make a hoppy apple pie ale. Regardless of what you choose, it'll pair well with a game of cornhole or Frisbee golf on their property right on Seneca Lake.
A nineteenth century barn overlooking the lake is the perfect setting for another Upstate NY craft brewery, Two Goats Brewing. This local joint offers a wide selection of beers, which they brew in the basement of the pub. They don't offer flights, so if you want to get the best bang for your buck, go for the Headbutt (a combo of their tasty cream ale and their delicious stout) or the Dirty Butt (the cream ale and the amber). They only serve one thing here, food-wise... a mouth-watering roast beef sandwich, which is perfect for soaking up all that booze. Pro tip: come in the evening to watch the sun set over the lake while enjoying a pint.
We then made our way into Geneva, where a sunrise over Seneca Lake and cold-pressed juice from the Red Jacket Orchards is enough motivation to get you out of bed bright and early even if you spent the night before chasing Chardonnays down the Wine Trail. Their Half & Half juice contains apple juice, lemon juice, and Guayasa tea for the perfect caffeine kick to get you on the road again. They also have a little store stocked with locally-made goodies... good thing the FIAT 500X has plenty of cargo space, because we packed in as much juice as we could!
In the summer months, Seneca Lake State Park is a go-to destination for its blue swimming waters, sandy beaches and serious Sprayground. In the colder months, you’ll see cross-country skiers cruising by or ice skaters twirling away on the lake. The waterfront walkway offers stunning views any time of the year, though, and it's the perfect place to stretch your legs.
With this epic trip coming to a close all too quickly, we headed over to the Wall of Mussel to bid a light-hearted goodbye to our time on the road. If you've read the daily comics in the newspaper, you might recognize the character Frazz, who can be seen swimming, cycling and running all over the mural, which covers a retaining wall. It's Frazz cartoonist Jef Mallet's tribute to the Musselman Triathlon, a summer Geneva tradition.
Beef and Brew was the perfect setting for a final meal: nestled in a downtown stretch of shops and restaurants, this eatery has 120 beers, several area wines and delicious European fare. Plus, everything tastes better when you’re enjoying it next to a brick fireplace with framed landscapes of strange lands, old-fashioned oil lamps and tall model ships. But, as we know, all good things must come to an end. This held true for our wine- and adventure-fueled journey around the Finger Lakes – so we started the five-hour journey home to the City that Never Sleeps. But not without grabbing some locally-ground coffee and one last sunrise over the Lakes first.