The unexpected allure of upstate New York

The Finger Lakes region is a hotbed of natural beauty and historic landmarks in upstate New York. Among them: the towns of Seneca Falls, home to the 1920 convention that propelled the women’s movement, and Ithaca, home to Cornell University. Off every state highway snaking around the series of 11 narrow glacial lakes are hiking trails and waterfalls.

The area, whose boundaries are roughly Syracuse to the northeast, Rochester to the northwest and Elmira to the south, is also chockablock with wineries.

Depending on the destination, it’s a four- to five-hour drive from the city. My mom and I — native New Yorkers, her 70-plus and me thirtysomething — had never been. At first, she wasn’t keen to try.

“I don’t like nature,” she said, emphatically. “And I don’t drink.” Burned out and aching for a serene retreat, I pleaded. “But there are important suffragette sights to see and historic houses to tour! We can skip the vineyards for cute boutiques on scenic main streets. I’ll drive everywhere, and you won’t even have to walk.”

She conceded a four-day weekend, and I rushed to make the most relaxing arrangements possible. (Isn’t that ironic?) The Inns of Aurora offered to host us, so I read up on its surroundings. On the eastern shores of Cayuga Lake, Aurora is an impossibly quaint village with stately red-brick homes and idyllic Wells College.

We ventured out to Auburn, where Harriet Tubman’s house — out of which she led abolitionist and feminist efforts later in her life — and the home for aged African-Americans she oversaw opened as a national historic park just last year. The ranger-led tour was informative and moving; the runaway slave, who has been pitched to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, overcame a lifelong neurological illness and other obstacles to lead hundreds of slaves to free lands via the Underground Railroad.

Nearby, in and around Seneca Falls, the houses of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (whose “Declaration of Sentiments” at the 1920 meeting codified women’s demands) and Mary Ann M’Clintock (a Cady Stanton collaborator in whose living room the declaration was drafted) are further time capsules and tributes to the area’s role in the women’s rights movement, which is nearing its centenary. My mom and I exchanged reverential glances, in awe of these trailblazers as their stories came to life.

We particularly enjoyed Linden Street in the college town of Geneva, a narrow thoroughfare of trendy restaurants and bars strung with fairy lights and dotted with street art. There, H.J. Stead serves up a brunch that would be at home in Brooklyn (avocado chili toast and turmeric lattes, anyone?), while the Linden Social Club is a craft cocktail haven with Mexican-inspired small plates.

Back in Aurora (from $165), we relaxed on the porch of our lakeside mansion; the inns’ 43 rooms and suites are divided across four architecturally stunning houses, each with their own attentive innkeeper who hosts light breakfasts and happy hour drinks and snacks.

Ours, Roland House, was gorgeously decorated in the whimsical colors and patterns of local ceramics and home goods brand MacKenzie-Childs.

We made s’mores around a bonfire (“This is fun,” Mom exclaimed), we kayaked up and down the lake (“Look how outdoorsy I am!”), we watched the sun set over the mountains and a glittery sky of stars emerge (“Wow, you can never see this in the city”).

Did the Finger Lakes win over at least one nature-phobic New Yorker?

Without a doubt.

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