~ The Empire State Road Trip, hosted by the prestigious Harbor Hotel Collection ~
Cover photo: Graycliff, a Frank Lloyd Wright house, courtesy Gerry Barker
It’s day two of our visit to Celoron, New York, and the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel – time to hit the road and discover what awaits on this first part of our Empire State Road Trip.
First up is a hearty breakfast at the hotel’s Lakehouse dining room. Hearty is right – whether you choose the Belgian waffle with fruit toppings or one of the omelets, the portions are large and just the fuel you’ll need for a busy day of sightseeing.
We’re excited to begin the day at one of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes, Graycliff. Located some 60 miles away on the banks of Lake Erie, it was the summer home of Isabelle Martin and her husband, Buffalo entrepreneur Darwin D. Martin. Previously, Wright had designed their city residence, the Martin House. The Martins were both early friends and financial supporters of Wright.
We drove through green, rolling hills, passing through several small towns, including one called, appropriately enough, “Gerry.” Pam snapped a photo.
Maintained by the Graycliff Conservatory, you can choose from one or two-hour guided tours. We opted for the one-hour tour, given our limited time. We were instructed beforehand to bring our vaccination cards with us. They didn’t ask to see them, but did require masks until the tour started.
Our guide explained how more than $20 million has been invested in restoring the three-building complex to its original state. You enter through long flower gardens, where Mrs. Martin cut fresh flowers for both her home and guests. Notable is that Graycliff may likely be the only gardens Wright personally designed during his long career.
The two-story house features long expanses of windows on each side, carefully selected to allow maximum light and sweeping views of the lake. There’s a charming water feature at the entrance and stone brought up from the shores below is used throughout. Designated as a New York State Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s well worth your time.
Continuing our drive along Lake Erie, our next stop was lunch. We opted for SunCliff on the Lake, just a few minutes away. Formerly an historic mansion built in 1914, and later owned by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, it now serves as a learning and leisure retreat that includes a restaurant. Our outdoor table provided a view of both the lake and the gardens surrounding the mansion.
We learned Lake Erie is home to almost 30 wineries, which you can visit as part of the Lake Erie Wine Country trek. With time at a premium, I asked Pam to pick one. She selected Liberty Vineyards and Winery, located some 20 miles or so in the town of Sheridan. She picked wisely.
Over the course of a tasting, we met the owners, who by coincidence, had our same first names – Gary and Pam Burmaster (noted that Gary spells his the right way). They not only told us about the 150-year history of growing grapes here, but also explained in detail how weather and conditions affect grape growth. We learned so much, and sampled some excellent wines in the process.
Back in the car, our next stop is the famed Chautauqua Institution, on the shore of Lake Chautauqua, founded in 1874. Established to promote lifelong learning and self-improvement, every summer it offers extensive programs that span arts, education, religion, culture and recreation that draw visitors from around the world. Driving along its narrow streets, it’s like a visit to a college campus. Don’t miss seeing the Athenaeum Hotel with its grand porch. If we only had more time to have a drink and enjoy the view.
Next door to the hotel is the town of Jamestown, notable as the place where “I Love Lucy” star Lucille Ball grew up. She was born here Aug. 6, 1911 at 69 Stewart Ave., the home of her grandparents. While at the hotel, we walked to her childhood home in Celoron, since renamed 59 Lucy Lane. It’s privately owned, but you can snap a photo from the street.
Back in Jamestown, you can visit the Lucille Ball Memorial Park, where as a teenager Lucy worked as a hot dog vendor, featuring Lucy statues, as well as where she is buried at Lake View Cemetery. But we’re here to see the Lucy Desi Museum, which captures everything you loved about the TV series as well as showcasing Lucy and Desi’s Hollywood careers.
There’s so much to take in, including entire recreated sets from their New York apartment and the Hollywood hotel room. We especially enjoyed the Writers Room and viewing their home movies. And don’t miss the Vitameatavegamin Photo Op. No matter if you’ve seen it a hundred times, and we probably have, Desi and Lucy created some of TV’s most memorable moments.
Down the street from the museum is the National Comedy Center, where we were met at the door by Gary Hahn, director of marketing and communications. Since it opened in 2018, it’s received rave reviews as one of the best museum experiences in the country. After Hahn’s tour, we can see why.
With over 50 interactive experiences, and COVID-safe protocols top-of-mind, it immerses you into the world of comedy – past and present. You begin by creating your own avatar and humor profile, which you take with you on a wrist “laugh band.” There are opportunities to do your own stand-up routine or mimic a funny face (I tried to mirror John Cleese, with mixed results). It’s fun, fascinating and educational. You even get a personalized “Joke to Go” when you leave.
Back at the hotel, we see the Chautauqua Belle steamboat docked by the Carousel Bar, just back from a trip on the lake. We have a leisurely dinner and order a Harbor Breeze – our new favorite cocktail – to watch another sunset. Before you know it, it’s time to start packing for the next leg of the trip. Where does the time go?
NEXT: Continuing to our next stop, the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel and the Finger lakes wine country.