“Thomas Jefferson said Lake George is, without comparison, the most beautiful water he ever saw.”
I was on board The Morgan, a replica of a 19th-century touring boat, listening as bartender Dan Blanchard peppered our cruise with historic factoids. I have always been fascinated with Jefferson, so the statement gave me pause.
The most beautiful water he ever saw?
I scanned the horizon. The unspoiled verdancy of the Adirondacks merging with the light blue sky above and the deep blue waters below. The hundreds of seemingly tiny green islands that dot the lake. The warm sunshine, so precious in upstate New York, and the cool breeze as the boat picked up speed.
Lake George had me hooked, too.
I spend much of the year in far-flung locales, but feel a need to surround myself with classic Americana every once in a while to reconnect with my roots. And summer is when so many of America’s most iconic traditions are on unapologetic display. Like flag cakes on the Fourth of July, hot dogs at baseball games, and vacation time at the lake.
Lake George, nicknamed “the Queen of America’s Lakes,” stretches 32 miles between two strategic forts – Ticonderoga to the north and William Henry to the south — and has drawn visitors since before the Revolutionary War.
The area grew as a vacation destination in the late 1800s, with The Sagamore opening its doors to serve an upscale clientele in 1883. Today, in the tiny town of Bolton Landing, The Sagamore retains its status as one of America’s great historic hotels.
The best views of Lake George arguably can be found on the fifth-floor terrace of the resort’s main building. During my stay, I snuck away to this broad balcony each night before dinner and not once did I encounter another guest. And you can’t get closer to the lake without getting wet when you’re stretched out on an Adirondack chair at the Pavilion.
“It has all of the plushness of a 5-star hotel, but it has that one thing that most hotels could never create with money: a legacy,” says Lori Rothschild Ansaldi, who comes to Lake George every year with her large Italian family and loves being transported to another time when she visits The Sagamore.
“She [The Sagamore] almost forces you to stand straighter as you walk in the door, and immediately takes you back to the day where ladies wore dresses and men wore top hats even on the hottest of days in the Adirondacks.”
I loved being close to the action in the main building, but rooms at the lodge, a five-minute walk from the main hotel, are well suited for families. While kids seemed to love the Sagamore Kids Camp, My idea of recreation was borrowing a racket and hitting the tennis courts (complimentary for guests), though there’s a great 18-hole golf course a shuttle ride away.
Golf has never been my favorite activity, but mini golf is an entirely different story. I played “Around the USA,” and even scored a hole-in-one in “Vermont” with an ice cream cone in hand. Americana at its finest.
Hometown girl and Lake George High School graduate Rachael Ray managed restaurants at The Sagamore before she made it big in New York City and many of the area’s restaurants proudly present her stamp of approval.
A dinner reservation at The Sagamore’s own La Bella Vita gave me a reason to break out a swanky dress and heels, but when I left the hotel for meals in the surrounding towns, I found myself repeating “My dad would love this place!”
Generations upon generations had enjoyed every restaurant I went to — like the Ridge Terrace in Glens Falls, which served up good, if not excellent, food in a lively Adirondack-style log cabin across the lake from The Sagamore.
Of course, you can also camp out on one of the islands, stay in one of the smaller motels, or rent a house. But The Sagamore is unparalleled in the Adirondacks.
One morning, when I was walking to the gym, I saw a letter on the wall dated 1912. Its author described The Sagamore as a “perfectly appointed hotel on its own island wilderness. The most beautiful lake in America at its very door…every comfort and luxury as if you were in your own home.”
I’m happy to report that 100 years later, the grand dame of Lake George is the same as ever.
Summer will soon turn to fall bringing with it a different kind of Americana — boots, apple orchards, pumpkin picking, and colorful piles of leaves. But for now, I’ll take the smell of sunscreen and a slice of apple pie at this very American paradise.