Looking for the perfect place to stay to explore New York’s Finger Lakes? Consider the Aurora Inn, an historic 10-room property located on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. It’s an elegant boutique destination resort owned by Pleasant Rowland, founder of the American Girl doll company who once said her goal was to “…allow little girls to be little girls for a little longer.” At the Aurora Inn, I felt like I could be a princess…forever.
Cayuga is one of New York’s eleven Finger Lakes, named for their distinct, slender outlines that stretch from south to north. Cayuga is the longest of the lakes, extending approximately 40 miles from Ithaca to Seneca Falls. The Cayuga Wine Trail, billed as “America’s First” stretches around the perimeter of the lake. Another popular area attraction is Taughannock Falls State Park, offering a beach for swimming, boat launches, gorge trails and campsites, and the stunning waterfall that is 3 stories higher than the one in Niagara.
An American Girl
The Aurora Inn is one of 4 hotel properties owned and operated collectively as the Inns of Aurora by Pleasant Rowland, the creator of the American Girl doll empire. Ms. Rowland is a graduate of Wells College, located in the village. Through the years she has acquired and renovated many historic properties and, in the process, made both friends and enemies within the community. She acquired the Inn in 2013, along with several businesses, including Dorie’s Bakery, the Fargo Bar & Grill, Skillet & Embers Catering Co., the Village Market, and Wells College Dining.
The “Wow” Factor
The American Girl dolls provided my daughters with a way to enjoy history through play. My stay at the Aurora Inn had the same effect on me. There are no electronic hotel swipe cards in Aurora. I was escorted to my room by a tall and elegant hostess named Gabrielle who used an old-fashioned key to open the door to my lakeview queen room.
As she stepped aside, I believe I audibly gasped. The room was perfect. A yellow and grey large-scale floral wallpaper served as the backdrop for a bamboo bed. Crisp white shutters were open wide, letting in sumptuous amounts of afternoon light. Additional furnishings in the room included two sitting chairs, an entertainment armoire, and large desk. The bathroom featured floor to ceiling cream marble and a generously sized vanity with a single sink. There was a large walk-in shower, but no bathtub. The toiletry line was unfamiliar to me but the scent of the William Roam line was fresh and clean.
A Room With a View
Gabrielle led me through a door, into a hallway, and then out to the expansive semi-private balcony deck with rocking chairs, planters overflowing with red geraniums, and a panoramic view of the lake. It’s the ideal spot to enjoy a glass of local wine at sunset. I headed out there in the morning in my cozy Frette bathrobe with my basket of complimentary coffee and muffins. Luckily I had no neighbors, since there is no partition separating the balcony.
A Dining Experience
Dinner at the Aurora Inn should be included on your list of must-dos when visiting Cayuga Lake. I chose to sit on the terrace instead of the cozy dining room because I didn’t want to miss the sunset. Chef Patrick Higgins works closely with local farmers to source the ingredients he uses to create delicious and beautiful seasonal plates. You can learn some of his secrets; Chef offers cooking classes at the Inn. My servers were a pleasant mix of local residents and Wells College students who were eager to please. I started with a spring onion tart, followed by a grilled tenderloin with summer squash, and ended with a strawberry/rhubarb crisp topped with homemade vanilla ice cream. To accompany the meal I took advantage of a weeknight wine promo and ordered a bottle of pinot noir from Heart and Hands, a nearby vineyard.
The Rest of the Best
The other properties that make up the Inns of Aurora are within walking distance. They include E.B. Morgan and Rowland Houses and Wallcourt Hall, which opened in 2016 in a building that formerly housed a dormitory for a girls’ preparatory school. The rooms at Wallcourt are slightly less expensive but are significantly smaller and decorated in a modern style that was not as appealing to me as the traditional style of the other hotels. All guests have access to the dock, fire pit, and kayaks at the Aurora Inn. Swimming is permitted in the lake but bring water footwear; getting in requires walking across rough and slippery rocks.
If You Go:
The Aurora Inn is a destination resort, perfect for a romantic celebration or girls’ getaway. Summer weekend rates are quite high – expect to pay over $400 a night.
Although I saw one group with children, I wouldn’t consider it a family-friendly destination – the advertised room rates are for 2 occupants and additional persons are charged $30 a night.
Splurge on one of the lakeview rooms. You’ll enjoy spending time out on the balcony; it’s ideal for sipping, reading, or napping.
Free public parking is available on Main Street or in the parking lot adjacent to the Bet the Farm Winery.
WiFi is complimentary and the service is strong and the rooms are equipped with Bose bluetooth speakers.
A gym is not located on site, but guests are welcome to use the Wells College fitness center. Towels are available at the front desk.
The atmosphere in the Inn is very friendly, but elegant. I was traveling with a business casual wardrobe and would have felt uncomfortable tramping around the lovely surroundings in ratty attire.
The Inns of Aurora host a number of special events throughout the year, with discounted room rates. Get on the mailing list to be alerted of upcoming cooking classes, wine weekends, and other promos.