The Thrifty Traveler: New York'€™s Finger Lakes offer affordable winter romance

The Thrifty Traveler: New York'€™s Finger Lakes offer affordable winter romance

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While many head to New York'€™s Finger Lakes for boating and park access, the truth is the destination has much to offer in the form of a winter couple'€™s getaway. Craft breweries, vineyards and distilleries abound, along with a number of picturesque inns, theaters and scenic driving routes. With Christmas festivities starting as early as Thanksgiving, romance is built into your travel itinerary at no extra charge. Here'€™s how you can make the most of your time there this winter.

Holidays: For example, Syracuse boasts an annual event called Lights on the Lake. Hosted by Onondaga Lake Park, it features two miles of elaborately-lit displays, arches and animated scenes which visitors can access by car. Rates are $15 per vehicle on weekends and $10 during the week. The city also offers a public outdoor skating rink in Clinton Square which visitors can access for just $3 per person. Serious shoppers will want to hit Destiny USA, where a number of luxury brands are available at outlet prices.

Once you'€™ve worked up an appetite, you can grab a spicy hot dog at Heid'€™s or head towards Armory Square for a little window shopping and a sit-down meal. A fun place to try is the Empire Brewing Company, which offers a full menu and artisan beer that'€™s crafted on site. Tasting flights of generously-sized samples are available for less than $10. The variety of local, veg-friendly food offerings and funky vibe make this intimate basement brewery a must for conscious couples who prefer casual romance. Value picks include their $4 cups of vegetable chili, $5 double orders of soft pretzels with dipping sauce and $2 blue cornbread served with maple butter.

Another romantic activity is the annual Dickens Christmas Festival held in Skaneateles. Held every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas, the festival features a variety of free activities for travelers. Costumed actors stroll the streets, bursting into song and chatting with travelers. Street performances from A Christmas Carol take place throughout the festival, with free eggnog and roasted chestnuts available for window shoppers. A fun and affordable snack option is the homemade potato chip nacho appetizer at the Sherwood Inn. At $10, they are a bacon and blue cheese experience that'€™s large enough to share. If you prefer baked goods, Patisserie is a precious little venue offering numerous scrumptious snacks ranging from $1.50 to $5.

A great way to commemorate the occasion is to head to Mirbeau. This luxury boutique inn offers free photographs during the Dickens event. Visitors pose in front of a decorated Victorian scene and enjoy complimentary hot chocolate and cookies while they wait for their picture to print. If you'€™re up for a splurge, the venue offers a number of overnight packages that come with a multi-course gourmet meal. You can also opt to enjoy a little pampering. Mirbeau'€™s treatments start at $130 and come with a full day'€™s access to their aqua terrace, relaxation area and a number of fitness classes.

Snow: Winter is a popular time to enjoy the slopes and trails in this part of New York, and the city of Cortland offers easy access. Roughly a twenty-minute drive to four separate ski venues, it makes a good base of operations for couples on a winter vacation quest. Alumni House is a romantic accommodation option featuring opulent common areas, period-style rooms and artwork from the 1500s throughout the building. Large suites with private bath can be had for a $150 on a weekend, while smaller rooms with a shared bath can be had for as little as a hundred bucks. With breakfast included and the downtown bars within walking distance, it'€™s a convenient and affordable option.

The Center for the Arts in nearby Homer features a variety of performances suitable for a couple'€™s getaway. The fact that it'€™s a repurposed historic brick church certainly adds to the appeal. If you'€™re searching for more of a resort experience, Hope Lake Lodge at Greek Peak Mountain is likely your best bet. Featuring condo-style accommodations, an indoor water park, 33 ski trails and access to a full range of spa services, the venue is well suited to couples searching for single place to ski and relax. High season rates start at $299.

Nature: For beautiful waterfalls and striking gorges, the greater Ithaca area is tough to beat. More than 150 falls are located within a 10-minute drive of the city'€™s downtown. Conveniently enough for the traveler'€™s budget, they are mostly accessible through the area'€™s three state parks. One of the most visually striking is Taughannock Falls, but the Buttermilk Falls and Robert H. Treman state parks boast impressive waterfall and gorge access as well. It'€™s important to note that paying the parking fee at one allows you access to the others on the same date, making a day of waterfall watching an extremely affordable vacation option.

When you'€™re ready to relax after a day of exploring, a romantic accommodation option exists at La Tourelle. With commanding views, tasteful rooms and an on-site spa, it'€™s a good fit for couples in search of affordable luxury. Weekend rates for a queen room are $160 during the winter months, but make a weekday reservation during the same season and you can experience the same elegant king suite enjoyed by the Dalai Lama himself for just $200.

If you need to pinch your spa pennies, a savings of 20 percent is available in the evenings from Tuesday through Thursday. There'€™s also a complimentary wine hour in the lobby every evening, along with a free organic coffee bar. An affordable farm-to-fork bistro is available on the first floor.

Attractions: Ithaca is also home to Cornell University, featuring the free and impressive Johnson Museum of Art. Boasting a number of permanent collections and regularly rotating exhibits, it'€™s a great stop on any romantic travel itinerary. And of course, what vegetarian in North America hasn'€™t heard of the famous Moosewood Restaurant? Its meatless meals and sought-after cookbook titles make it a mandatory stop for couples who prefer cruelty-free dining. Hearty entrees can be had for less than $15, with lighter fare and home-baked vegan treats available for even lower prices.

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