Give a hand to the Lake House on Canandaigua’s spectacular Finger Lakes setting in Upstate New York. In native Iroquois, this lacustrine paradise’s name means ‘chosen spot’, and being placed right by the water amid wineries, toytowns and a landscape that redecorates seasonally, feels very select indeed. The house itself, a former motel remodelled and run by a drinks dynasty, is the cosiest of retreats with a New England air: Adirondack chairs by fire pits, barrel saunas with views, artisan-crafted decor, true local flavour and lively late-night s’mores sessions. Ski and skate by winter; swim, sail and sip by summer, the Finger Lakes have us firmly in their grasp.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability (1pm early check-in or late check-out can be guaranteed for $100; after this time, a charge equal to half the room rate may apply). Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £190.60 ($240), including tax at 13.5 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional resort fee of $30.00 per room per night on check-out.
Rates don’t include breakfast ($25 a person). Some wellness classes and a shuttle to the nearest city are free.
The Lake House has a range of ADA-compliant rooms and suites, plus elevators and easy to navigate public spaces.
At the hotel
Access to the lake, gardens with lounging areas, terrace with a fire pit, deck, spa with barrel saunas, library with a chess board, Tokyo bikes and snowshoes to borrow, concierge, charged laundry service, high-speed WiFi. In rooms: 55-inch HDTV with Sonifi streaming, Nespresso machine, bathrobes and slippers.
Our favourite rooms
There’s a hint of New England to rooms and suites, with their white walls, hardwood flooring and generally peaceful air. Everything is high-spec, with Waterworks bathrooms, custom furnishings from the Brooklyn Home Company, and artisanal rugs – we especially like the sculptural four-poster beds carved by artist-in-residence Fitzhugh Karol. You’re here for those waterfront views, so choose any room or suite with ‘lake’ in its name – they all have balconies or patios, suites have bath tubs, and the Premium has a working fireplace, too.
Swimmers have several options here. You can go wild in the cooling waters of the lake (swimmable in summer), or take the cushtier route of splashing in the hotel’s heated pool (opening times vary depending on the time of year) – it’s right by the waterfront, so you get the same effect, and it’ll pick up the slack when the lake gets too chilly for dips. Choose the former and you’ll find clear waters, leafy borders and vigilant lifeguards; while the latter has a hot tub at its head, bookable soft white day-beds (with SPF, lip balm and beer koozies), and a seasonal bar steps away.
Nature works as one of Willowbrook Spa’s therapists, after all she’s present in the custom herbal tinctures and massage oils you choose at the start of your session, the relaxation gardens and the botanicals used to revive and restore. Holistic healing takes the form of tailored massages, bodywork to straighten iPhone-slumped spines, amethyst bio-mat energy aligning, CBD pain alleviating, skin smoothing, naturopathic facials, hydro-dermabrasion and mani-pedis. But, the tonic you really need is in the great outdoors, in one of the Nordic-style barrel saunas, that blinker you to everything else but soothing lake scenes. And the hotel gym has all you need for a full work-out, including treadmills, ellipticals, streamed exercises and Peloton bikes.
Pack seasonally. In summer, you’ll need all the swim gear and any boating attire, plus trusty trail boots. In winter bring skates if you have them, ski pants and boots, and all the layers. Year-round, you’ll need something stretchy for yoga classes.
The lake makes a very picturesque wedding backdrop – and you could make an entrance via speedboat…
Dogs under 35lbs can stay on the first floor of the Cottage for $75 a stay (plus a $25 a day cleaning fee), and they’ll get a bed, bowl, treats, waste bags and tennis ball. They’re not allowed at the pool or eateries and must be crated if left indoors. See more pet-friendly hotels in Lake Canandaigua.
Very welcome, the Lake House is built for quality time, and swim-or skate-confident kids will have plenty to occupy them.
The lake has a lifeguard during summer but this is a getaway for older kids who’ve got some laps under their belt.
Most of the suites sleep up to three.
In summer there’s a free kids’ club, plus you can swim, sail, kayak, paddleboard and more on the lake. And Bristol Mountain’s sky rides and ziplines will keep them amused. In winter, there’s skating and skiing for beginners. And close by, the Strong National Museum of Play makes everyone feel like a kid again.
Little ones are welcome to use the hotel’s main heated pool, but it’s not supervised, so keep an eye out.
On request there’s burgers, mac and cheese, hotdogs and tenders. S’mores by the fire are a guaranteed nightly hit.
No need to pack
Most sporting equipment can be hired onsite or nearby, but if you have tot-sized kit, bring it along.
Look around you – nature doesn’t still look this good without a little help. The Lake House on Canandaigua is run on geothermal power, has significantly reduced single-use plastics (you’ll find water-bottle-refilling stations throughout), uses locally made and compostable products wherever possible,
and has implemented green housekeeping practices to save water and energy. A former motel, the hotel has been renovated using reclaimed and responsibly sourced wood, such as kiln-dried willow, and some furnishings are made from salvaged beams. Passive House building tenets were adhered to during building and an innovative air-filtration system has been fitted. Local businesses and artisans were called on for everything from the hand-carved four-poster beds to the floral arrangements and after-dinner cheeses, to reduce emissions and ensure high-quality craftsmanship. The restaurant team has sourced nearby suppliers too, whether its small-batch maple syrup made using age-old techniques, heirloom-grain cultivators, dairies, farmers, or organic and biodynamic vineyards. The gardens are tended using all-natural fertilizers and herbicides (except for the lawns which are herbicide-free) – the proud horticulturalist will happily give you a tour – and bath and spa lotions and potions are all natural.
Haul the Sand Bar’s five-beer bucket out to the pairs of Adirondack chairs on their lake deck; after dark, when the fire pits are lit, ask for a s’mores kit. Or picnic in the gardens.
Dress for the sailboat you want to own.
Get your teeth into all the farms, dairies and orchards of the fertile Finger Lakes region – or at least their superior produce. The Rose Tavern has a seafaring-barn feel, with its Hague blue, corrugated-metal panels and white wood vaulted ceiling. There’s a long bar, cosy wood booths and cushioned banquettes. And a large window into the kitchen lets you see chefs fuss over the steaks, lamb racks, Berkshire pork chops and shoyu-glazed hamachi on the wood-fired hearth’s grill, and dabble in deliciousness; say, the house sausage with goat’s cheese and pumpkin on poblano cornbread; salmon with farro, figs and pepperonata; and spiced coffee cake with roasted apples and chai cream. Morning-ish people can enjoy burritos and maple créme anglaise-drizzled French toast at breakfast, and hot-honied biscuits and gravy, or waffles with lemon curd and espresso streusel at Sunday brunch. More casual eatery the Sand Bar is a sophisticated salty dog, with its white wood beams and boat hanging from the ceiling. Stop here for a frosty Three Heads’ IPA or toasty hot toddy, and more classic bites: mignonette-sloshed oysters, clam chowder, lobster rolls and crab cakes.
The Library Bar is the hotel’s dedicated drinking den. Written-word connoisseurs will love the books and leather sofas, and those of wine, whiskey and more will love the themed tastings. Experts hone in on global appellations; crack open crates from Young Lion, Frequentem and more local breweries; measure out shots of whiskey from Utah’s High West or Casa Noble tequila; and deep dive into a city’s cocktail history. In fact, Constellation, the family-run hotel owners, have a bit of a past with the drink – from humble beginnings as a sacramental and kosher wine producer in Prohibition-era New York, to a beer, wine and spirits superbrand – so they’re reliable for exciting rounds, whether you’re on the chilled Finger Lakes riesling, cult small-batch beer or cider, or the surprisingly cheesy house martini (served with a wedge of manchego and blue-cheese-stuffed olive). And, in season, the Pool Hut bar serves post-swim sippers.
Breakfast in the Rose Tavern is from 7am to 10.30am, lunch from noon to 2.30pm, and Sunday brunch from 7am to 2pm. Dinner starts at 5pm and finishes at 10pm, Monday to Thursday; 11pm Friday to Saturday, and 9pm Sunday.
Want to wake up to waffles? Have your own cheese and charcuterie platter party? Munch midnight chips and dip? The room service menu runs through the day and night (with a limited late menu).
The Lake House on Canandaigua sits at the northerly point on its namesake pond southeast of Rochester in New York State’s Finger Lakes region, surrounded by organic wineries, picturesque small towns and a bounty of natural beauty.
The closest airports are Rochester and Syracuse, both around an hour’s drive away (transfers can be arranged for $100 each way), and Buffalo is just under two hours away by car. However these only serve domestic travellers, so if you’re arriving from further afield, you’ll need to transfer from JFK, LaGuardia or Newark. By plane, the journey’s about 90 minutes to Rochester, or you could road trip it if you have five hours to spare – you’ll see lots of tree-furred scenery along the way.
Amtrak trains stop at both Rochester or Syracuse, on a route that links up with Buffalo, Boston and New York. Transfers can be arranged for $100 each way.
New York State is the polar opposite of New York City, with no subway, few taxis and journeys by foot that tend to ramble on for miles (by choice). So, you’ll need a car for exploring Canandaigua’s sister lakes and the intrigues surrounding them. There’s free parking and valet parking at the hotel.
It’s possible to swoop down on a seaplane if you’re arriving from NYC.
Worth getting out of bed for
The Finger Lakes is a fitting name for the group of slender bodies of water in Upstate New York’s wilder west (between Rochester and Syracuse), even if there are 11 in total. Alongside the lacustrine beauty, there’s greenery galore (all the fierier for leaf-peeping come fall), prestigious colleges (including Ivy Leaguer Cornell), and dozens of top wineries. But first, start your day serenely with yoga, meditation or gentle stretching, which should clear your mind enough for itinerary-planning. What you do here is largely weather-dependent; in summer, Lake Canandaigua is a watery wonderland for wild swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding through Canandaigua Sailboarding, or hiring out a pontoon or speedboat for two hours at a time (half- and full-day bookings available too) through house partners Seager Marine (with picnic lunches included); you can also sail out to see the foliage when it turns hue or take a guided sunset cruise where you’ll learn about the native Iroquois tribes and the plutocrats who built the area’s mansions. Sunbathe on beachy banks (Kershaw Park is prettily landscaped); try your hand at beekeeping at a local farm; wander the historic pier, lined with quaint clapboard cabins; or go on a floral odyssey through Sonnenberg Gardens’ globally inspired green spaces, lushly planted greenhouses, Roman baths and mansion house. For an adrenaline hit, Bristol Mountain has aerial adventures and ziplines, while in winter, its snow-coated slopes are wintersports heaven with 1,200 vertical drops for all levels. The lake freezes over in cooler months, so you can skate across; there are snowshoes to borrow onsite so trails through the diverse terrain aren’t limited to summer (aside from those by bike) – trek through gorges, or drive to Cumming Nature Center to shuffle into tree clusters, browse their science museum, and catch a planetarium show. The Lake House gets all the cosier too: ‘class with a glass’ sessions let you get crafty and drink (say, whiskey while you burn patterns into wood or jewellery-making with wine); at ‘tea and apothecary’ mix essential oils while tucking into cakes and finger sandwiches; listen to live music and get prizes at the trivia nights and après-ski parties in the Sand Bar; and get to know the locals, drink in an ice bar and watch fireworks at January’s Winter Carnival. Year-round, you can shop along Main Street, play and ride at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, or take cookery classes at the New York Kitchen next door.
All that fertile green space and fresh country air has bestowed a notable homegrown dining scene on the Finger Lakes. And Canandaigua might be a small town, but its culinary offerings are great and often very comforting. Take Kix on Main, which has steaming crocks of lobster-corn chowder; steak melts on Asiago-crusted sourdough with sautéed mushrooms; and jumbo shrimp wrapped in local Smokeman bacon, in a sherry-cream sauce. Bon Ami has gallic leanings (even if we’re not sure the French make liberal use of bowtie pasta and sriracha). They’ve nailed the bon part though, serving Italian sausage-stuffed galettes in a parmesan cream sauce; pork cutlets with apples, onions and sage in a cider-bourbon glaze; and steak au poivre doused in cognac. Rio Tomatian’s Mexican dishes feel authentic, with cotija-cheese-crusted blue-corn quesadillas stuffed with Oaxacan cheese and chile de arbol salsa and tequila-flamed shrimp with chipotle peppers; be sure to collect all of the taco flavours over the course of your stay. And, Coho Pizza & Wine uses the finest ingredients in its ‘healthy’(ish) pies – we like the Butcher, with homemade meatballs, pecorino, pepperoni and banana peppers – and Pizza Hut wouldn’t expertly pair a fine local wine with your slice.
New York Kitchen, just next door to the Lake House, has tempting lunch and brunch menus, with seasonally flavoured French toasts, Baja fish tacos, Bavarian pretzels with a beer-cheese dip, white pizzas and meaty sandwiches. Then swing by Scoops ice-cream parlour for dessert – perhaps a waffle cone filled with cannoli, maple-walnut or rainbow sherbert, a hot-fudge sundae or banana split.
With the sheer number of wineries, distilleries and breweries in Ontario County and the wider Finger Lakes region, we’re amazed the locals don’t exist in a continual boozy fugue state. That doesn’t mean you can’t though (driver excepted). The Canandaigua Wine Trail is 30 miles of stopping and sipping running the length of the lake; riesling and cabernet franc are the star varietals here, but the drinking’s as varied as the scenery along the route. The Rochester / FLX Beverage Trail is more of a spider diagram (with cideries and distilleries) over four counties, and if you find some favorites, you’ll recognise many on the hotel bar’s menu. And, if you’re still not telling strangers you love them by this point, then ask the hotel to arrange a bespoke beer tour for you.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this New England look, New York attitude hideaway among the Finger Lakes and unpacked their binoculars and boots, and cans of Frequentem IPAs, a full account of their sailing and s’mores break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside the Lake House on Canandaigua in Upstate New York…
You’re going to have to visit the Lake House on Canandaigua twice – maybe even three or four times – because this Finger Lakes hideaway in Upstate New York takes on a whole new personality with the changing of the seasons, so it’s never the same stay. Summer might seem the main attraction, with its halcyon days of dipping in and out of crystal waters, picnicking on the banks and then lazing in an Adirondack chair till late when Canandaigua delicacies are artfully plated, craft brews made within walking distance shared and s’mores are toasted over the fire pit. But we also like winter when the lake becomes an ice rink, mountain trails become ski drops and snowshoe treks, and the hotel welcomes you back to roaring fires and whiskeys, homey craft sessions, a heated pool and hot tub, barrel saunas which gaze out over the lake, and upbeat après-ski parties. Then there’s the leaf-peeping cruises (and spiced treats) come fall and the riotous greenery – ideal for hiking and biking – in spring. Set aside the annual leave because with such diverse distractions, plus the bright artisan-crafted rooms; sociable wine, cocktail and beer tastings; holistic spa spoiling; and family-focused fun, return trips are assured.
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