The “INNside” Scoop on Finger Lakes Bed and Breakfasts

Photo courtesy Finger Lakes Bed and Breakfast Association

Today’s travelers are looking for an antidote to the sameness of chain hotels and hunger for a taste of the unique flavor of the areas they visit. That hunger is being fed, literally and figuratively, by the growing number of independently owned and operated bed and breakfasts that have sprung up since the 1970s. Here in the Finger Lakes, a bed and breakfast can be urban or rural, cottage, cabin, farmhouse, mansion or a simple family home. It’s the blend of style, location and genuine hospitality that sets it apart and offers the guest a rich and varied experience.

The term “bed and breakfast” or “B&B” originated in Britain and remains a popular choice of lodging for European travelers. Empire State Bed & Breakfast Association (ESBBA) defines a bed and breakfast as a private home accommodating up to 10 people with breakfast served to guests only, with the owner living on or adjacent to the premises. The terms ‘inn’ and ‘bed and breakfast’ are used interchangeably, but a true inn has more than five guest rooms and may have a public restaurant.

Breakfast at a B&B is an opportunity to meet and converse with other guests, made all the more pleasant by the atmosphere and excellent menu. In keeping with the style of an inn, you may enjoy breakfast on an open country porch or in a candlelit formal dining room set with Grandmother’s silver. Some inns serve breakfast at an agreed-upon time; others serve any time within certain hours. Often coffee and other beverages are set out for the early-to-rise. Check with the innkeeper if you have food allergies or dietary restrictions; they’re happy to adjust recipes for vegans, vegetarians, or allergies like lactose or gluten intolerance.

At Copper Beacons Bed and Breakfast in Trumansburg, Ilene Collins likes to garnish an entrée with fresh organic edible flowers and herbs she grows in her own gardens. “It’s an opportunity to educate interested guests about the uses and properties of lesser-known herbs,” she said. Ilene serves high tea to her guests every Friday afternoon and incorporates sweeter herbs and fruit in her tea samplings. She and husband Gerry plan to open an Herb Shoppe on site to sell organic estate-grown herbs, dried flowers and local arts and crafts.

Reunion House is a 6,000-square-foot Asian contemporary-style bed and breakfast at the edge of a national land trust and Taughannock State Park, near Trumansburg. With over 14 years experience teaching Chinese cooking, owner Shirley Wang promises to “nourish your mind” with her East-meets-West breakfast. “A typical Chinese breakfast would probably include dumplings,” she said. So, along with traditional American breakfast fare, she serves vegetable-filled dumplings and Chinese-style pastries. “I was a runner and hiker, so I like to serve a healthy breakfast that’s lower in fat and sugar,” she explained.

Urban B&Bs like Rochester’s Edward Harris House are attracting more and more business travelers. “Especially after 9/11,” said owner Susan Alvarez, “women traveling alone appreciate the security of the inn and surrounding neighborhoods.” Susan caters to business clientele by offering a complimentary newspaper, a liberal cancellation policy, flexible check-in and breakfast times, as well as the chance to have small business meetings on the premises. Data ports, fax machines and color copying are business necessities that are provided in-house. Add the fact that it’s centrally located and just minutes from the airport and you have complete convenience.

Rural life in the Finger Lakes means agriculture and family farms remain a vital part of the landscape. At Gentle Giants Bed and Breakfast in Stanley, Glenda Nash’s country breakfasts feature eggs from her own chickens and fresh organic produce from her son’s adjacent vegetable farm. During the growing season, husband Bill sometimes takes interested guests on a tour of the fields. Their five Belgian horses, “Mr. Boston and his ladies” are so popular Bill has even had guests volunteer to do the chores!

Romance and history are compellingly combined at the Hubbell House on Van Cleef Lake Bed and Breakfast in Seneca Falls. By their own admission, longtime Victoriana collectors Joanne and Karl Elliott are “purists” and research every detail to make the home period correct. These innkeepers even moved the kitchen back to its original location in the lower level, which opens on to Van Cleef Lake. The house is thought to have been on the Underground Railroad, and visitors come to town to tour the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Women’s Rights National Historic Park.

Prime private shoreline fishing brings fishermen to Maxwell Creek Inn Bed and Breakfast in Sodus. In the fall they can catch salmon and lake trout along Maxwell Creek, Maxwell Bay and the shore of Lake Ontario. “Gentlemen fishermen” don’t mind leaving their gear outside in exchange for the pampering that innkeeper Belinda McElroy shows them at her comfortably elegant 1846 cobblestone home. Outdoor grills near the original cobblestone carriage house even allow the anglers to prepare the catch of the day on the premises.

Charlotte and Dennis Witte own Eastlake Bed and Breakfast on Conesus Lake. “We traveled and stayed at bed and breakfasts here and in Europe for about 15 years and built this house specifically as a B&B,” Charlotte explained. They included up-to-the-minute amenities like data ports in each guest room of their expansive lakefront home.

Years of travel helped them understand that vacations don’t always go as planned. Charlotte recalls a family visiting during parents’ weekend at SUNY Geneseo. The guest’s car was damaged when it hit a deer, and after the father drove the car home to be repaired, Charlotte and Dennis made sure the family got to the weekend’s events on schedule. Sometimes guests are researching family genealogy and find the Witte’s intimate knowledge of the area very helpful. “We know the local elders and historians who can help them fill in their family tree,” noted Charlotte.

At a bed and breakfast, the abundance of amenities and innkeeper’s attention to quality and detail add value to the package. You may find a guest refrigerator stocked with drinks, and afternoon tea or refreshments may be served. You’ll find high quality soaps and shampoo, hair dryers and sundries you may have forgotten. Television, movies, books and other reading materials invite you to sit a spell. Whirlpool baths and in-room fireplaces are the most popular amenities guests look for. Today more inns are being outfitted with data ports or other computer access.

With so many kinds of bed and breakfasts to choose from, the Internet is one of the best places to begin your search. Finger Lakes Bed & Breakfast Association’s website,, lists over 50 member bed and breakfasts by name, city or area and includes a link to each member’s website. You can also check other local B&B associations, ESBBA, Finger Lakes Association, winery associations, local chambers of commerce and county tourism offices, as well as tourism publications like AAA. ESBBA and other associations require members to sign a Commitment to Standards. Members of AAA are inspected each year.  Check-in and check-out times, reservation and cancellation policy, children, pets and other operating procedures can vary, so read each carefully. Look for photos and the inn’s special recipes, too.

No matter what the occasion, one visit and you’ll be hooked on the combination of unique individuality, genuine hospitality and personal style that makes staying at a bed and breakfast such a memorable experience.

by Judith Austic
Judith Austic is the innkeeper at Barrister’s Bed & Breakfast in Seneca Falls and is the current president of the Finger Lakes Bed & Breakfast Association.

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