The picturesque village of Aurora on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake, just over two hours from Buffalo, is a perfect getaway destination any time of the year. My husband and I spent a long weekend in this village celebrating our anniversary 10 years ago. This past summer I had the opportunity to revisit the village for a few hours with my daughter. It was just as charming as I remembered.
Aurora was a bustling village during the 19th Century. Because of its prime location on Cayuga Lake, it was a major stop on the transportation route that was part of the Erie Canal corridor. In fact, the village was so well known that Henry Wells, of Wells Fargo Stagecoach, established Wells College here in 1868. However, over time, like many other small communities in the state, the village saw an economic downturn once other modes of transportation gained in popularity.
Due to the generosity of Pleasant Rowland, a graduate of Wells College who made her fortune creating the American Girl Dolls and later selling the company to Mattel, the town saw a transformation over the last 15 years from a sleepy college town to a popular lodging and dining destination. Rowland formed the Aurora Foundation to give back to the town that educated her.
My husband and I stayed at the Aurora Inn, a Federal-style brick inn built in 1833 by E.B. Morgan, a friend of Henry Wells. It was a popular dining and lodging spot in the mid-19th century but had fallen into disrepair before being fully restored in 2002-03. Today the upscale inn, which also has a cozy dining room open to the public, offers travelers 10 luxurious guest rooms decorated with designer fabrics and furnishing.
Four properties make up the Inns of Aurora. Besides the Aurora Inn, there’s the Italianate stone E.B. Morgan House, once the private residence of Morgan, which has seven guest rooms, and the Roland House, a Queen Anne style mansion with 10 suites. The most recent addition to the group of inns is Wallcourt Hall, a boutique hotel with 17 guest rooms located in a building that once served as a dormitory for the college.
One of the must-see places in Aurora is the headquarters of Mackenzie Childs, located a few miles north of the village. Its hand-decorated tableware and home furnishings are sold in exclusive shops around the world. While everything in the shop is beautiful, as well as whimsical, some of the items are pricey. But don’t worry; it also has hand-crafted items that are more moderately priced. During my most recent visit my daughter found a cute case for her phone; we also found a lampshade that was the perfect size and color for an antique lamp that we recently had rewired and that was in need of a shade.
The first time we visited, my husband and I took a tour through the actual production facility. That option is no longer offered. But you can still see how their products are made by watching a 15 minute video in a small theater set up next to the retail shop. In that same room is a huge dollhouse decorated with miniature Mackenzie Childs items. Don’t forget to check out the bathrooms in the retail shop; they are decorated in Mackenzie Childs style, including a ceramic fish sink and whimsically painted tiles.
If you want some decorating ideas for your home, sign up for the free, one-hour tour of the 1840s Victorian farmhouse on the property, which is decorated top to bottom with Mackenzie Childs furnishing and pottery, along with art pieces and antiques from around the world. If it’s a nice day, be sure to take a stroll around grounds and gardens that are beautifully landscaped during the summer.
Head back into the village to the area right by the inns for more to see and do. Sample locally produced wines at Bet the Farm Winery, located just steps from the Aurora Inn. Just down the street, you can purchase hand-made items crafted by local artisans at the Aurora Arts & Design Center.
If you want a bite to eat, stop by the Aurora Inn for breakfast, dinner or weekend brunch. Across the street from the inn, the Fargo Bar & Grill is a popular spot to enjoy burgers, crab rolls, and more. Take a leisurely stroll down the street to Dorie’s, a casual restaurant that has a variety of sandwiches, baked goods, and ice cream on the menu.
A few other wineries are a short drive south of the village. These include Pumpkin Hill Vineyards and Bistro, a seasonal restaurant in a country farmhouse that features locally grown produce on the menu. Nearby is Long Point Winery, which is noted for its dry red and white wines. Also in the same area is Treleaven Winery by King Ferry, the oldest established winery on the east side of Cayuga Lake. All of these wineries are part of the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail which was formed in 1983. If you prefer beer, stop by Aurora Ale & Lager Company, a nanobrewery that makes small batches of unusual beers; their most popular being The Ruckus IPA.
If you go
Inns of Aurora, 391 Main Street, Aurora, 315-364-8888, www.innsofaurora.com
Mackenzie Childs, 3260 Route 90, Aurora, 888-665-1999, www.mackenziechilds.com
Cayuga Lake Wine Trail (www.cayugawinetrail.com; 800-684-5217),
Cayuga County Tourism 131 Genesee Street, Auburn, 315-255-1658, 800-499-9615, www.tourcayuga.com