You might not fully know the definition of “serene” if you haven’t yet visited Aurora in New York, a strikingly placid paradise on the shores of Cayuga Lake. This small town’s hospitality scene revolves around a collection of hotels (five, to be exact) and dining and drinking destinations that together make up Inns of Aurora. This luxury boutique resort was founded by Pleasant Rowland, the brilliant mind behind the American Girl Doll concept. Laura Coburn, Director of Serenity at Inns of Aurora, shares Rowland’s story in a nutshell: “Historic Aurora Village is less than one square mile and includes Wells College, where [Rowland] attended undergrad,” she says. “Post-graduation, Pleasant went on to found American Girl Doll, and after selling to Mattel years later, decided to use the money to reinvest in the town she credits for starting her journey. Pleasant’s investment helped the Inns of Aurora become what it is today, including five luxury inns, two restaurant concepts, a multi-disciplinary activities center, a culinary demonstration kitchen, and a 21,000 square foot spa (opening in 2020).”
It’s nearly impossible to choose where to stay between the five houses. But you actually can’t go wrong–a different experience awaits at each, tied together by common threads (think resident innkeepers, wine and cheese hour every afternoon, nightly turndown, homemade breakfast, and more). Here, we explore perhaps the most eclectic of all guest rooms: Room Eight at Rowland House.
What’s the most requested room at the Inns?
The Courtly Check room (room eight) in Rowland House is extremely popular among guests, especially those who are fans of MacKenzie-Childs, which is just up the street from the Inns of Aurora.
What makes that room so special?
The Courtly Check room is particularly special as it was entirely hand-painted by local artist Kari Ganoung-Ruiz. The Inns of Aurora and MacKenzie-Childs also have a very intertwined relationship. The basement of Wallcourt Hall was the first MacKenzie-Childs studio, and when the brand filed for bankruptcy in 2008, Pleasant purchased the company and restored it to profitability. A little fun fact: Pleasant views Aurora Village as a three-legged stool, and considers Wells College, MacKenzie-Childs and Inns of Aurora equally important to the success of our little town.
What is the usual rate for that room?
The rate varies based on season and day of the week. $300 per night is the average.
What makes the property special and unique?
Rowland House’s proximity to water’s edge on beautiful Cayuga Lake is very special. The wraparound porch with rockers and stunning views of the iconic temple and boat house with a sunset backdrop make this one of my favorite places to stay. I also lead private yoga experiences on the lawn by the lake or up on the boat house deck – a great way to move and meditate in nature. The in-house dining room is also a fantastic spot for intimate dinners prepared steps away in the gourmet kitchen by the award-winning culinary staff. The parlors are perfect for cocktail hour, featuring custom libations crafted by the team. A short walk away is the 1833 Kitchen and Bar where one can book a private “Finger Lakes Foodie” experience. The culinary team, led by Executive Chef Eric Lamphere and Dining Room Manager Erin McElhinney, will guide you through a selection of sips and bites crafted in the Finger Lakes.
Aurora Cooks! Demonstration Kitchen is a great culinary experience for date nights, group activities, or even for solo travelers. Executive Chef Patrick Higgins and Taste Curator Grace Mattingly lead guests through informal tastings and educational sessions, including demonstrations on topics from making fresh pasta to braising, poaching and mastering the art of risotto.
Wellness, including mental, physical and spiritual wellness, is a strong focus of the Inns of Aurora. As a certified Ayurveda Health Counselor, I help guests understand how to better support their digestion (for example, eating warming foods to boost slow digestion).
In addition to our yoga, meditation and Ayurveda offerings, guests can amplify their sleep experience with our Sleep Easy Package. You’ll enjoy a weighted blanket, hand-blended, sleep-promoting tea prepared by me, along with a tea kettle, cups and honey. Sleep Easy herb infused essential oil from Banyan Botanicals and an eye mask ensure you’ll rest well. We love for our guests to come here and enjoy sleep as much as all other activities.
What’s your personal favorite dining/drinking experience on property?
It’s tough to choose. My husband and I enjoy craft cocktails with fresh ingredients and special touches. We like to start a romantic night out visiting with the creative libations team at 1833 Kitchen and Bar. There is always some new simple syrup or infusion that’s been made for the season and we enjoy seeing what garnishes have been brought in from the kitchen garden. For dinner we enjoy sampling and grazing, and the menu allows for easy sharing with freshly harvested sides and accompaniments. There’s typically seasonal fish prepared in an artful way by our executive chef. We often start with an artisan cheese and charcuterie board (the meats are cured in-house and the bread prepared in-house fresh daily) and end with a handcraft dessert created by our pastry chef.
Tell us a few more fun facts about Inns of Aurora.
Four of the five inns were formerly private homes of family members of an original investor in The New York Times. Also, the hand-beaded chairs on the Rowland House mezzanine were made in South Africa and had to be paid for in silver–that was the only form of compensation the artist would accept! Lastly, Wallcourt Hall was originally a dormitory for girls attending preparatory school before becoming the first MacKenzie-Childs studio, and the Schoolhouse Activities Center was actually a schoolhouse in 1903.