Summer is the ideal season for enjoying the great outdoors, whether you prefer rest and relaxation, family fun or thrilling adventure and you don’t always have to travel far and wide to find it. As I’ve learned over the years, there may be amazing vacation destinations in your own backyard with some of the best views nature has to offer and the serenity you crave on warm, starry nights.
1,000 Islands in North America (made up of over 1,800 islands) is a popular destination for those seeking a blissful retreat away from the hustle and bustle of city life. This fascinating archipelago along the mighty St Lawrence River straddles the border of America and Canada and offers a rustic, wilderness experience alongside luxury accommodations. The air is fresh, the locals are friendly and there are lush green forests, magnificent wildlife and elaborate mansions on private islands jutting out along the channel.
I’ve been to 1,000 Islands Canada and the town of Gananoque but this time I wanted to cross the border and experience life on the river from a different perspective. Clayton is a charming little town surrounded by the St. Lawrence and nestled along the edge of upstate New York, just minutes from Ontario.
If you seek comfort, great dining and breathtaking views, the place to stay is 1,000 Islands Harbor Hotel. This large, fairly new property seems to be the American version of an upscale Caribbean resort with expansive patio space, colorful floral accents, a trendy outdoor bar and comfortable lounge chairs overlooking a deep blue backdrop.
As you enter the immaculate lobby you are greeted by the staff who work tirelessly to ensure that you are pampered and pleased during your stay. The hotel is also a great source for tourist information pertaining to scenic attractions, restaurants and local landmarks should you need help planning your trip.
The first thing I noticed as I made my way to the room was how clean and well kept the hotel is. The decor is modern and sophisticated with large bright hallways, tasteful artwork and modern furniture. My king size room featured a sizable bathroom, flat screen TV, mini fridge, plush pillow- top mattress (designed specifically for the hotel) and a comfortable sitting area with a gorgeous view of the sparkling blue river.
I liked that the designers opted for sleek wood floors instead of traditional carpeting to maintain cleanliness and unlike many rooms I’ve stayed in, there was a vanity area with great lighting for makeup application. (Balcony suites large enough for families and longer stays are also available).
The town has a decent selection of restaurants and bars but the Seaway Grill located at the hotel offers elegant dining and delicious meals. The Chef prepares a diverse array of delectable dishes including soup, fresh salads, seafood, steak and chicken plus they host a variety of fun events where guests can sample international and exotic cuisine.
Marinated kale, romaine, avocado, asiago cheese, glazed almonds, crutons and Caesar dressing
Grilled chicken breast on a bed of pasta, tossed with red and yellow peppers in a tequila lime-cream sauce
Other amenities include high speed wifi, room service, a business center, complimentary tea and coffee on each floor every morning, a well equipped fitness facility, indoor heated pool, nightly turn down service, transient boat docks plus wedding, banquet and meeting services. (The King room starts at $194.00 per night but rates vary by season and category). For more details visit the hotel’s website at: 1000islandsharborhotel.com
Despite being located in a small town, The Harbor Hotel strives to entice and entertain with a variety of fun events including food tastings, live music, murder mystery nights and parties. Winter on the water is also a magical time since the river freezes over in icy blue sheets and roaring fires keep guests warm and toasty. During the colder months the hotel hosts the popular Fire and Ice Extravaganza where the deck is transformed into a winter wonderland of intricate ice sculptures and dazzling lights.
One of the most popular things to do in the area is spending time on the St. Lawrence (one of the cleanest rivers in the world). I took UncleSam's Boat Tour - a company that has been providing river boat cruises for over 85 years! The tour begins at nearby Alexandria Bay and features a historic narrative in both American and Canadian Waters.
While on board, guests have the option of sitting inside the temperature controlled cabin with large viewing windows or up on deck where you can enjoy the refreshing breeze. Along the way we passed under Thousand Islands Bridge (connecting Ontario and New York) and saw large water birds soaring overhead. We marveled at the private mansion on islands owned by famous celebs and millionaires and learned about the intriguing love story behind the majestic Boldt Castle. Although this is not a luxury tour (the boats could use a little sprucing up and cleaning) I had a great time and there was also a snack bar stocked with treats and drinks. Tickets are $23.00/adults and $11.50 for kids, you can visit the website by clicking HERE.
At the end of the tour we stopped at Bodlt Castle on Heart Island which prominently stands out among the other structures on the channel. No expense was spared in constructing this impressive stone masterpiece - it features 6 floors, 120 rooms, tunnels, an indoor pool, Italian garden and of course mesmerizing views of the water. (Entrance to the castle is $12/adults and $7.00 for children), To visit the website click HERE.
The grand staircase
If you love wine there are a variety of fabulous vineyards in the surrounding area. I’ve been wine tasting in, Niagara, Pelee Island and most recently Tuscany but I love discovering new brands, unique parings and interesting flavors. Coyote Moon Vineyards in Clayton is family owned and still uses hand harvesting methods and self painted labels to create their delicious, award winning wines. They successfully combine tradition with technology in an effort to get the most from their grapes and they even grow a variety that can survive in harsh winter climates.
After touring the facility and sampling a selection of wines paired with the family’s homemade salsas and sauces I can see why they have become one of New York’s most awarded vineyards. I like wines that are smooth, semi-sweet or dessert wines so I purchased a bottle of Fire Boat White along with some of their fresh tomato sauce. If you are in the area, I highly recommend stopping by Coyote Moon, the drinks are fabulous and the prices are great. You can check the website by clicking HERE.
Clayton is also known for their irresistible wine slushies which are amazing on hot summer days!
Although my family owns 100 acres in Ontario cottage country we don’t visit as often as we'd like and building a property is not always an easy task. If you don’t have a cottage but would like to experience the peace and tranquility of a small town or even some camping this is a fabulous place to do so. I spent the evenings strolling in the village and having dinner at some of the river front restaurants which offer stunning patio views basked in warm sunlight. If you want a visit larger shopping malls, movie theaters and popular restaurants you can always head over to nearby Watertown.
Clayton is also known for their Antique Boat Museum, fishing, water activities, the Opera House, boutiques, golfing, parks, and a variety of leisurely hobbies. Even though the town is only a short road trip from Toronto, it feels like another world - remote and untouched by rush hour traffic, noisy streets and sun blocking skyscrapers. The locals are welcoming, the architecture is charming and it is a fabulous place to escape, de-stress and unwind.