Postcard from the Road – Chautauqua, New York
My mom and I spent a week at our favorite vacation spot, The Chautauqua Institution, at the beginning of August. Chautauqua is a truly unique spot located on a beautiful lake in Western New York State about thirty miles east of Lake Erie. It started out as a Methodist summer camp meeting in the 1870s but quickly progressed to a summer resort with a full-fledged university, sports of all kinds, a variety of religious functions and activities for kids. Now days, it is a little town completely surrounded by a fence (except along the lakefront). For nine weeks in the summer you have to pay a gate fee to get in but once inside you are entitled to attend lectures by famous speakers two or three times a day, symphony concerts twice a week, additional major music shows, a host of recitals, masters classes, dance presentations, discussion groups, etc, etc…There is a major music school, an opera company, a theater company and a dance school, all resident on the grounds, plus lots of classes for the summer public. You can take Spanish or weaving or juggling classes for a small fee. It’s a beautiful place. Most of the houses in the center of the grounds are Victorians dripping with gingerbread and dating from around the 1890’s. The lake is also major draw with sailing, swimming, and water skiing opportunities. It’s perfect for seniors like my mom since she can choose her own pace. She can walk the two blocks to the lecture or the one block to the lake or just sit on the porch and chat with passersby. It’s a great place for kids, too, since it’s safe enough for them to roam around on their own. My family has been coming to Chautauqua all the way from Texas since 1901. In fact, my grandparents, both from Dallas, met on the steamboat that used to take visitors from the train depot at the end of the lake to the pier at the Institution. I grew up going to the Children’s School and the Girls’ Club, swimming at the beaches and learning to sail (not very well) on the lake.
Since I had my eighty-seven year-old mother with me, I didn’t sign up for any classes this time around but we still had plenty to do. My brother Matthew who lives on Long Island drove over to join us. He took mom to the morning lectures every day (a series on faith in public life; speakers included the editor of Newsweek, a professor from Syracuse University and one of W’s speechwriters). In the afternoons we went to recitals or took a walk around the grounds. In the evening we usually took in the show at the Amphitheater, a roofed, open-air auditorium built in 1893 that hosts around 180 events every season. Highlights of the week for me…hmmm…the Muslim call to prayer sung at the Sunday sacred song service by the Jewish cantor and his Muslim roommate, the Music School’s piano competition winner, Howard Na, playing the Liszt Mephisto Waltz #1, lunch with my friend Deb who I hadn’t seen since the summer I worked at the bookstore here seven years ago, the Shostakovich Piano Trio played at the Amphitheater by the New Arts Trio, and most of all, the cool, breezy, sunny, thunder-showery, perfectly breathable, sit-outside-comfortably-all-the-time weather. You map fans out there would have enjoyed the giant National Geographic map of Asia spread out in the Plaza after a talk on the Middle East.
You can see the rest of my Chautauqua pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ataldredge/sets/72157606670390698/
If you go…
Practically all the accommodations on the grounds are weekly rentals that go by the “Chautauqua week” calendar, i.e. Saturday to Saturday. The Athenaeum Hotel does have daily rooms but, as befits an historical landmark, they are old-fashioned and expensive. The easiest way to find a rental is to use the accommodations page at the Chautauqua website. Gritty and I stayed in a nicely renovated condo in the Colonnade Cottage (built in 1897) that I found through Chautauqua Area Real Estate. It is cheaper but not nearly as fun to stay off the grounds.
Many rentals include some kind of kitchenette so eating in is standard practice here. Restaurant options include the venerable Athenaeum dining room and Tally-Ho Hotel and the newly opened Season Ticket in the St.Elmo Hotel. If you have a car, try the new French restaurant at the Red Brick Farm, La Fleur outside the grounds.
Other Area Attractions
Chautauqua is an easy drive from Niagara Falls and several fine wineries (try the Niagara ice wines). The antiquing in the area is superb if you’re willing to drive the back roads and visit barn after barn. Lucille Ball fans should take in the Lucy-Desi Museum in Jamestown and birders will want to see the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, also in Jamestown. One of our family’s favorite destinations was the Corning Museum of Glass in (surprise!) Corning.
Guide Books and Maps and recreational reading:
An Explorer Guide: Western New York State from Countryman Press $21.95 Buy it here
Michelin USA Regional Map 582: Mid-Atlantic, Allegheny Highlands really gives you the lay of the land.
City of Light by Lauren Belfer $12.95 Set in Victorian Buffalo and Niagara Falls, this historical novel has murder, romance and political intrigue. Buy it here