Say "I Do" Among the Trees

Spotlight: Upstate New York


October 21, 2019
Words by Carolyn Steere
Photos courtesy of

There is a Native American legend that the Great Spirit laid his hand upon the land to bless it and when the hand lifted, the imprints left behind formed the impressions of the five Finger Lakes. The region certainly is blessed with unspoiled beauty, warm hospitality, lively farm-to-table restaurants, outdoor activities galore and wineries, breweries and distilleries around every corner…all in America’s backyard.  

Rochester, New York is the “front door” of the Finger Lakes region and is where we started our journey.  History seemed to surround us as we drove down streets lined with century old trees and magnificent Victorian mansions. Our first stop was the Strathallan Rochester, where we found a tale of two centuries.  The City View Ballroom is modern and elegant, with a very sophisticated vibe and 360-degree views of the city. Just across the street is the Century Club, built in 1892, with a more intimate feel.  

Just down the street is the beautiful estate of George Eastman, the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company. Built between 1902 and 1905, this historic mansion provides a perfect backdrop for wedding ceremonies with its stunning staircase, light and airy conservatory and manicured gardens. It is no surprise it is also a favorite place for wedding photographers to capture a “first look.”

One of the more noted wedding venues in the region is Belhurst Castle and Winery, which was voted number three in USA TODAY’S 10 Best Wine Country Hotels in 2018. Located on the shores of beautiful Seneca Lake, the large lawn is a favorite ceremony location, followed by a castle reception fit for a prince or princess. With three hotels, two restaurants, a winery, spa and salon, you can create the wedding of your dreams all in one place.

Located in the charming village of Aurora on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake is the Aurora Inn. During the summer months, weddings are held on an expansive stone terrace overlooking the lake. Steeped in history, nineteenth century elegance coupled with modern convenience make the Aurora Inn an inviting location for hosting your wedding events and accommodating your guests.

In contrast, after a little tire crunching outside of Ithaca, New York, we came upon some hidden gems. At Gratitude and Grace, we fell in love with the contrast of a stunning country barn with an elegant Italian chandelier, twinkle lights and tulle. This is a wedding venue where you and your guests can enjoy the property for the weekend and the celebration can go on for as long as you like. There is also a beautiful Victorian house on property where you and 14 of your family and friends can stay.

Another amazing country venue in the Ithaca area is the Treman Center. It features a three-story event space created from local stone and wood salvaged from an 1870s hay barn, a serene Tuscan courtyard with circular firepit and a beautiful outdoor tent sourced from Africa. 

“Whimsical” best describes New Park Retreat, a bed and breakfast and event center on beautiful grounds just outside of Ithaca. This is a wedding venue where creativity is encouraged and the staff takes pride in making your vision come true. Whether it is a circus themed wedding or dining in the forest, New Park Retreat can make it happen.

There are over 100 wineries in the Finger Lakes region and Heron Hill Winery in Hammondsport has undoubtedly one of the most spectacular views of Keuka Lake. A beautiful, landscaped lawn overlooking the lake is the setting for warm weather ceremonies, followed by a tent reception featuring some of their premier wines carefully chosen to accompany the wedding menu. For a comfy place to lay your head and enjoy an outstanding meal in Hammondsport, check out the Pleasant Valley Inn.

Our last stop was Letchworth State Park, often known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” with three major waterfalls, lush forests and dramatic cliffs. Couples can reserve any number of overlooks for no cost on a first-come-first-served basis for ceremonies. Glen Iris Inn, which was formerly a country estate, is also a popular site for ceremonies and receptions in the park. The wedding site for the Inn overlooks Middle Falls, an amazing backdrop.

At Destination I Do, we are always in search of up and coming destination wedding locations. The Finger Lakes region of New York provided us with one surprise after another, where the value was amazing without sacrificing quality.

Photos courtesy of (in order of appearance): Inns of Aurora (1st), Mann and Wife Photography (2nd), Jim Vallee (3rd), Kelly Kazmierzcak Photography (4th), Mylee Dondiz (5th & 8th), Copyright 2018 Bill Hutches (6th), Tory Williams Photography (7th), Natalie Sinisgalli Photography (9th) & Leslie Carrère (10th)

This article first appeared in Destination I Do’s Spring/Summer 2019 issue. You can order a copy here.

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