Story by Fyllis Hockman; Photographs by Victor Block
Ithaca is a “gorges” city, and with 150 waterfalls within a 10-mile radius, it comes by its moniker honestly. Within the city limits itself, a one-third mile hike uphill – the Cascadilla Gorge Trail — was not only exhilarating because of the trek itself, but for the vastness and variety of six different freely flowing floes of cascading waterfalls.
The entire town is enmeshed in tree-laden canopies and small fairy-tale-like cottages. The fact that there’s a top-rated college or two hidden among all the greenery is a surprising bonus. Ithaca is so compact that you can experience an unexpectedly large number of diverse activities within literally minutes of each other from huge waterfalls to beautiful gardens to history museums and goat farms. And Cayuga Lake, the longest of the Finger Lakes, is almost always at your side.
I don’t usually seek out bees. Actually, I do my best to avoid them so I wasn’t sure what to expect at the Honeybee Embassy. Fortunately, the emphasis in on the luscious products they produce rather than personal interaction with the bees themselves. Much of Ithaca, it seems, is encouraging pollinators like bees to further the reproduction of flowers and plants. And the flowers are produced to attract said pollinators. A win-win for the earth.
Honeybee Embassy produces truly raw varietal honey meaning there are no additives, no heat and no pressure used in the processing as is true for most American honeys. Owner Teresa smiled disparagingly: “That’s like taking whole foods and turning them into white bread.”
The samplings bring a variety of tastes, textures and colors to the table. The goal, says Teresa, is “to educate people about the wild world of honey,” which her Czech grand-mother first started doing during Nazi occupation.
Who knew that honey nectar smells range from sweaty socks to cat’s pea to fruity and floral varieties – but fortunately none of that is evident at the tastings. The honey names resonate differently: Basswood, Goldenrod and Japanese Knotwood, for example.
Oh, and just as a diversion since we haven’t been to a waterfall in a while, there’s the nearby Taughannock Falls Overlook which just happens to the largest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. That makes it taller than Niagara Falls. At 215 feet, three stories taller. Take that, Niagara Falls!
Unlike the Honeybee Embassy, a visit to the Cabin View Alpaca Farm had more to do with the actual residents than the products they produce. Christine started the farm in 2009 with 3 alpacas and now there are 50, with whom visitors can interact in various ways from taking them for a walk to feeding them. We chose just to amble among the 9 females and 8 babies in the nearby pasture. All shades of brown, white, grey, fawn and black. My favorite was Patience who at 5 years of age sported a beautiful sandy brown tuft of hair, perfectly coifed – she was her own version of Ithaca gorgeous….
We were close enough to watch the kids gamboling about while the moms gathered to gossip among themselves. We spent a lot of time oohing and aahing at their adorableness.
And yes, alpacas do produce products although fortunately not edible ones. Alpaca yarn apparently is warmer, softer and more hyper-allergenic than sheep’s wool and not surprisingly a wide variety of scarves, socks, hats, mittens and adorable stuffed animals are available in animals are available in the gift shop.
And although I don’t find goats as intrinsically appealing as alpacas, a visit to Lively Run Dairy has its own advantages – among them, a lot of cheese. Unbeknownst to me, goats apparently were one of the first animals to be tamed by humans some 9000 years ago though apparently, they haven’t learned all that much. If you have something in your hand – anything at all – they think it’s for them and will come running after you. So much for well-trained.
In addition to cheese-sampling, there’s petting and feeding, goat shearing and spinning demonstrations. But that’s not really what got my goat! It’s the yoga classes they offer during the summer that 5-7 baby goats attend with you. So yes, you may be doing a downward dog with a goat on your back. On the other hand, dangly earrings may provide an unwelcome diversion from your warrior pose.
So, of course, it’s now time for some liquid refreshment – and although there are any number of wineries and breweries beckoning, Ithaca is better known for its cideries. South Hill Cidery has its de rigueur tastings several times a week, plus a smorgasbord of delectables to accompany the flights but it’s those three nights a week when South Hill more resembles a hoedown that make it unique.
Local bands come to play, a wood-fired oven radiates the smell of pizza, and musician/owner Steve circulates to make sure everyone is having a good time – but only when he’s not playing in the bands himself. Of course, the outdoor concerts are only available six months a year. The rest of the time you just have to drink cider!
If you go: The Hotel Ithaca is a gathering place for Cornell alumni and visiting guests as well as those coming to town for other reasons, and its ambiance provides links to the surroundings. Walls are covered with photos of the city which focus on the wondrous waterfalls people associate with the destination. The hotel is close to the popular Ithaca Commons, a wide pedestrian mall that is lined by places to eat and drink, unique shops and inviting galleries, and public art. Visit thehotelithaca.com. For more information, visit brightravenfarm.com, cabinviewalpacas.com, livelyrun.com, southhillcider.com and, of course, visitithaca.com.