"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt." J. Muir
If there's one thing that my friends know about me, besides the obvious (like how much I love to eat/drink, tell jokes, travel and write), it's the fact that I would rather lick a dirty toilet seat than go camping. Hell, I can barely bring myself to use a unisex bathroom at a bar!
About a year ago, I received some intel on Ithaca by Firelight Camps, a "glamp" site located in upstate New York. Not having a clue what "glamping" was or how it differed from, gasp, traditional "camping," I couldn't get on their website quickly enough. Here's what I learned:
"For those not familiar, Glamping is a term derived from the two words 'glamorous camping.' Glamping is also referred to as 'glam camping,' 'lux camping,' 'luxury camping' and many other similar phrases. Regardless of the specific terminology, the idea is the same; glamping brings the world of luxury into nature in the most seamless way possible. Glamping has origins in Africa and Thailand, but is relatively new to the U.S. and Europe. Most people want the feeling of falling asleep under the stars and being in nature without having to sleep on rocks to do it. Glamping allows for just that. It lets guests to be one with nature, while still enjoying the luxury of a bed and pre-pitched tent."
The more I read about Ithaca by Firelight Camps and its owners, Emma and Bobby, the further I was intrigued. Having fallen in love in undergrad, the young couple studied abroad together and learned more about the their respective trades: Business for him and hospitality for her. During his time in the Peace Corps, Bobby taught micro enterprise and entrepreneurship courses to high school students and women in Nicaragua while Emma honed in on her love for cooking, rock climbing, and eco-friendly tourism. The two brought their passions together and started their first hotel and café, La Buena Onda, in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. There, they partnered with local coffee cooperatives, a chocolate factory, artisan groups, and outdoor adventure guides to bring eco-tourism activities to their guests. While they thoroughly enjoyed their time in Latin America, the couple returned to the states with the intention of creating a new hotel that would have an impact closer to home. After receiving his MBA from the Johnson School of Management at Cornell, Bobby continued to travel overseas to learn more about the eco-tourism industry. Meanwhile, Emma worked with ConTENTment Camping at the Bonaroo Music Festival (to launch a village of glamping tents for the festival goers) and started a food blog. She even became a top finalist on the "Food Network Star!" It was also at this time when the business plan for Firelight Camps was created...
"We thought the Finger Lakes would be the perfect place to launch Firelight Camps," said Emma. In 2014, Wine Enthusiast voted New York State "Wine Region of the Year," with the Finger Lakes being a major contributor. "Our community is so supportive of young entrepreneurs, and there was a wealth of knowledge and resources here to help us build the camp. The Finger Lakes is one of the oldest and most vibrant food and farming regions in the country, and is quickly becoming known as an agritourism destination. It's also home to an astonishing number of waterfalls and lakes, which is a huge attraction for outdoor lovers."
In the beginning of this past summer, I booked a single night's stay at Firelight Camps for the second week of October. I would be in Manhattan the weekend prior for one of my dearest friend's weddings, so it only made sense to make my way upstate thereafter for some R&R.
On Tuesday morning, October 6th, I flew to Syracuse from NYC. Upon arrival, I rented a car and made the 45-minute drive to Ithaca. The scenery along the way was absolutely breathtaking; aside from the region's inherent natural beauty, the potpourri of fall colors - in the form of leaves and produce - was everything that I could have hoped for and more.
When GPS announced that I had "arrived" at my destination (Firelight Camps), I was both perplexed and a bit relieved to pull up to a full-service hotel/spa and restaurant. Where the heck was I? As I made my way further down the drive, I saw a sign for the Camp and continued just beyond the hotel and restaurant, down a little hill, and on to a grassy clearing with a central "tent."
I pulled my rental car off to the side of the gravel road and made my way in to the "lobby tent," where I received a warm greeting from the staff and a quick orientation, if you will.
...I was particularly thrilled to learn that "Happy hour is from 5-6PM when we spark the evening campire and bar remains open until 11PM." Woohoo!
Upon making my way over to my tent, I noticed the al-fresco communal hangout area just off the lobby, complete with a fire pit, an assortment of seating options, and liberally strung twinkle-lights.
The staff told me that I could park my car outside of my tent to unload my suitcases, but that I would then have to parking just up the short hill near the facilities. Yep, that's right, folks, I said "facilities." Would they be unisex? Clean? Small? Would there be hot enough water? Would there be hot water at all? I didn't bring my own towels; would I have to dry myself off with the shirt on my back? Would there be previous bather's hair and other remnants left behind? Oh, dear god!!!!!!!!
After getting settled and unpacking my essentials, I made sure to familiarize myself with the battery-powered lanterns-cum-phone chargers that were located in my tent. Try walking to the facilities in the pitch dark (There's no electricity in the sleeping tents.) without one of those suckers!
From there, I decided to go check out the facilities before stopping over at the lobby for happy hour. And, I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised by how clean and ample the restrooms and showers were, in addition to being fully-stocked with shampoo/conditioner/soap!
5PM couldn't come quickly enough! I made my way back to the lobby tent for happy hour and enjoyed wines from the local Finger Lakes region, "hard" apple cider (it just so happened to be Cider Week while I was there), and good company. Amongst a handful of couples (including one with their adorable dogs in tow), there was a fun group of older women on a pseudo college reunion trip.
As the sun slowly set over the glampground, so did the temperatures. While I was still in the lobby, I made sure to secure a propane heater for my tent to keep me warm overnight, as it was forecasted to dip in to the 40s!
Just after happy hour and a quick shower, I walked over to John Thomas Steakhouse (the restaurant located further up the property) where I enjoyed a fantastic lobster dinner.
Forgoing dessert at the restaurant, I made my way back to camp in anticipation of enjoying a glass of red/nightcap and attempting to roast s'mores by the fire...
With a full and happy belly - plus a solid buzz - I made my way back to my tent and prepared for bed: I turned on the propane tank, put on my socks, and crawled under the warm blanket. Aside from the heater's buzz, the only thing I could hear beyond the mesh of my tent's windows were the leaves lightly dancing and the crickets chirping. A few hours later, I awoke to the tranquil sound of a rain shower that aided me in to falling in the deepest, most comfortable sleep that I've experienced in...forever. Wow.
The following morning, I allowed myself to sleep in before packing up and heading to the continental breakfast in the lobby tent - something I haven't done in quite some time. Ultimately, however, I was jonezing for a cup of coffee and some sustenance.
Although I would have loved to stay for another night (or two!), it was time for me to hit the road and explore the region and Ithaca proper, in addition to checking out Cornell's campus.
With the 2015 glamping season closing at the end of October, I look forward to returning in the summer of 2016 so that I can enjoy more time in the area, plus the bounty of local recreational options (wineries, lakes, hiking trails)! Plus, I'd love to bring some of my girlfriends; as snobby as some of them are, I am proof-positive that glamping is the prissy girl's - or guy's - answer to conquering the outdoors/nature. In fact, I loved it. Alllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll of it! Go ahead and quote me on that...I urge you!
Until we eat again,
The Lunch Belle