Held at Lake County’s Metroparks Farmpark in Kirtland, Vintage Ohio is a fun festival of tastings from about 20 Ohio wineries, a sampling of gourmet treats and a browsing of crafters’ wares to the sounds of jazz, blues and rock bands. The event, which marks its 20th anniversary in 2014, typically takes place the first week of August. It also features cooking demonstrations and wine discussions. www.visitvintageohio.com
Ashtabula Covered Bridge Festival
Based at the County Fairgrounds in Jefferson, about 7 miles south of Ashtabula (and about 9 miles south of the Ashtabula harbor), the Covered Bridge Festival usually takes place the second weekend of October. The festival is really a celebration of fall; however, it’s a great time to see the bridges when the seasonal color is at its best. www.coveredbridgefestival.org
See the Light
At Land’s End Photography features the artwork of Jeff Stephens. A native of Ohio, most of Stephens’ work features land- and citiscapes of the Buckeye State. He’s had a lifelong passion for photography and loves capturing the world’s beauty in still life.
Stephens first fell in love with landscapes more than 20 years ago, while on a trip to the Rocky Mountains. He views photography as “painting with light.” Each image that Stephens creates is a reflection of his own vision of the world at large.
Prints and canvases of his work can be purchased at www.atlandsendphotography.artistwebsites.com, or to view more of his photography, visit www.atlandsendphotography.com. You can also follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/atlandsendphotography.
- Geneva-on-the-Lake Visitors Center http://www.visitgenevaonthelake.com
- Ashtabula County http://www.visitashtabulacounty.com
- The Lodge at Geneva http://www.thelodgeatgeneva.com
- Lake House Inn http://www.thelakehouseinn.com
- Geneva Marina http://www.genevamarina.com
- Ashtabula Yacht Club http://www.aycohio.com
- Conneaut Visitor Information http://www.visitconneautohio.com
- Fairport Harbor Visitor Information http://www.fairportharbor.org
From wineries, covered bridges and a haunted lighthouse to a U.S. President’s home and library and the beautiful natural areas of a state park and arboretum, northeastern Ohio is a gem of a destination. The region, stretching from Lake County just east of Cleveland to Ashtabula County bordering Pennsylvania, is one of contrasting lifestyles and marinas, summer escapes and fishing, and historic and nature destinations. Oh, and if you’re lucky you may be able to snag an overnight reservation at a Frank Lloyd Wright B&B.
A stop at the Ohio Wine Producers Association’s famed Vintage Ohio event in early August a few years ago left me dreaming of a return trip with time to linger. I wanted to relax with my husband at the Lodge at Geneva on Lake Erie, do tours and tastings at the wineries, picnic by a covered bridge, and bike shoreline trails and back roads.
If we had cruised over, we would have docked at Geneva Marina in Geneva State Park. Operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts, it has more than 400 slips including transient docking, fish cleaning and other services, boat repair and fueling, and a snack counter.
“The wineries and ‘The Strip’ in town are why people come here,” says dockmaster George Krembrenk. “There’s lots to do when they get here. It’s not just staying on their boat.”
A popular Lake Erie stop, Krembrenk recommends boaters reserve a slip the Monday before coming, particularly if they desire a weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Although boaters tend to come from other Lake Erie towns, Krembrenk gets them from all over. “We have one here now from Florida, and we get people doing the loop,” he says.
My husband and I dropped anchor, so to speak, at The Lodge at Geneva for its central location between Mentor and Ashtabula, Ohio and for its wonderful Lake Erie views. The bonus was a good dining room, bar with nightly entertainment, friendly staff, and bike rentals.
Because we drove we didn’t need The Lodge’s wine shuttle tour, but it sounded good if we boated here or wanted to drink rather than just visit the wineries and taste.
We could have dined just at The Lodge, which we did when we arrived. But we heard that the Crosswinds Grille at The Lakehouse Inn, about a 6-minute walk into town, drew diners from around the region. Chef Nate Fagnilli is known for his preparations of locally sourced foods. Reservations there are a must.
Krembrenk and folks at The Lodge’s reception mentioned “The Strip” as an attraction. We found it funky-looking and fun. You can hike or bike from The Lodge or the marina to Adventure Zone at the western edge of The Strip for miniature golf, bumper boats, go karts, climbing walls, and more great family entertainment. Do a seafood supper at the Sandy Chanty, or go for the fresh Lake Erie walleye and perch at Lake Front on the water at the end of the strip.
Don’t miss the Old Firehouse Winery on Lake Road while you’re in the area. Open year round, the winery offers a calendar of events, a laid-back atmosphere and views of Lake Erie.
“Walk the lake path or bring a bike,” says Geneva-on-the-Lake CVB director Marge Millike. She points out that no matter where you eat, the mood and pace is casual. The B&Bs in town might have a room if reserved in advance, but don’t try for a cottage.
“Families have been coming here for several generations to escape the cities,” Millike says. Cottages are in high demand.
Back at The Lodge, we checked with the reception desk for a map detailing wine and covered bridge routes. Don’t worry that you probably can’t do it all. We took a day just for bridges and wine and merely made a dent.
Ashtabula’s 18 covered bridge trails divide into North/Eastern and South/Western tours.
Then there are the wineries scattered throughout Ashtabula County and into Lake County. Supposedly, there are 20 places to stop and sip. Based on our small sampling we found they varied greatly from intimate operations to full-scale ,Napa-style attractions, and from limited but choice vintages to a broad selection of varietals.
Area Wineries: Savor the Flavor
Try to get to Debonné Vineyards, a Grand River winery in Madison that has been turning out the good stuff since 1916. Considered Ohio’s largest estate bottled winery, Debonné specializes in Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and ice wine.
St. Joseph Vineyard, another Madison winery, produces international-winning Pinot Noirs. Its other wines, including Rieslings and Chardonnays, are also award winners. Down the road is Grand River Cellars, another excellent choice.
If you don’t mind limited tastings but want to leave with one of the best Chardonnay’s in the region, stop at Harpersfield Vineyard, between St. Joseph and Ferrante Winery. I tasted its Chardonnay on the first trip but didn’t take a bottle because I had no ice chest in which to store it — and the heat outside was unfair to great wine. This trip the Chardonnay, whose reputation has grown into the stuff of legend, was not open for tastings.
Owner Patty Ribic explained they only produced a small amount. “We sell out what we make,” she explains. But a few other wines that could be sampled were excellent.
Another must-stop on your agenda is Ferrante Winery. They do a wonderful lunch. We ate inside because of the outdoor temps, but normally the terrace is a wonderful place, with its fountain and vineyard setting. Then it was time to sip and shop. Part of the Grand River appellation, Ferrante’s Grand River Valley Golden Bunches Dry Riesling took Best of Class in the American Fine Wine Competition, and several of its wines are 2013 gold medal winners. The winery is operated by third-generation Ferrantes: Nick and sisters Carmel and Mary Jo.
If you’re willing to have your mind changed about rosé, stop at M Cellars. Opened to the public in 2013 after selling its products to other vineyards for nearly six years, the wines are already award winners.
By the way, don’t pass up the white steeple church you see on South River Road (near Grand River). The building houses the South River Vineyard. While there, stop in and visit the new kid on block and South River’s offspring, Red Eagle Spirits. It’s housed in a repurposed old barn.
Checking out the Grand River wineries provides a good opportunity to snap a photo of the Harpersfield Covered Bridge. A two-span Howe Truss bridge, it is the country’s longest at 228 feet. Built in 1868, it’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The steel part was attached following a 1913 flood.
Ashtabula and Conneaut
With The Lodge at Geneva as our headquarters, we drove scenic lake roads over to Ashtabula’s harbor and crossed the impressive Ashtabula Lift Bridge on Ohio State Route 531 to Conneaut, Ohio. A Strauss Bascule bridge constructed in 1925, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
What a photo op! The structure was up when we arrived, so we decided to park and window shop Bridge Street’s shops and galleries. They’re housed in turn-of-the-century buildings.
We could easily have stayed longer to lunch there, visit its Hubbard House Underground Railroad Museum, go to Walnut Beach (known for lake glass) and check out the Ashtabula Maritime Museum. But we wanted to also see the harbor at Conneaut, do some of the 18 covered bridges on Ashtabula’s map east tour and still get back to Geneva-on-the-Lake for our dinner reservation at the Crosswinds Grille.
What we did find out is that even though the Ashtabula Harbor at Lake Erie and the Ashtabula River is a working freighter stop, its scenic shoreline and the Ashtabula Yacht Club (AYC) is a good Lake Erie destination.
Located on the river near the lift bridge, AYC is convenient. It welcomes transients but does not take reservations. There are other marinas on the river that mostly store and service local boats; however, boaters are welcome to check out Kister Marina, also near the bridge, and Brockway North Coast Marina further down the river. “Most visiting boaters come to us,” says AYC fleet captain Niles Waring. “We’ve had boaters dock here from Florida and Wisconsin.”
Waring points out that Ashtabula is worth visiting. “We’ve had a revitalization. Bridge Street has nice restaurants and shops, and boaters have only about 300 yards to walk,” he says.
When the bridge was lowered, we were off to Conneaut, a world-class fishing area at the mouth of Conneaut Creek. The creek is considered the county’s top steelhead trout stream, and the lake is a prime walleye and perch fishing spot.
At the Conneaut Port Authority office, harbor master Denver Spieldenner had good news and bad. Yes, they welcome transients into their 300-slip marina and yes, they take reservations through their fuel dock office. They would probably need a couple of weeks notice, however, because the port is such a popular fishing stop. “We never turn away a boater,” Spieldenner adds.
That said, the bad news is that the Port Authority slips are for boats 25 feet and under, though it can occasionally accommodate boats up to 30 feet.
Back to the good news: There are two fish cleaning stations across the way, and the marina has showers and laundry facilities. Among other advantages are its location, according to Spieldenner.
“We have quick access to Lake Erie,” he says. You don’t have to navigate the river.”
Whether cruising or driving to a destination such as Geneva-on-the-Lake, it’s possible to miss some gems along the way. But if you dock at the elegant Mentor Harbor Yachting Club in Mentor-on-the-Lake, Ohio and rent a car, or if you’re driving and can snag a room at the charming Lawnfield Inn and Suites in Mentor, you’ll uncover treasures best known locally, but flying below the general radar. Picture a lighthouse haunted by a cat and an unusual campaign location, library and estate of a former U.S. President.
First, treat yourself to a stop at the Mentor Harbor Yachting Club (MHYC). We were wowed by its gorgeous Mediterranean architecture and its friendly staff when stopping there on our drive from Geneva-on-the-Lake to the Lawnfield Inn.
Although MHYC is private and among the top clubs on the Great Lakes, you’ll know it welcomes transients when you are handed a Visitor’s Guide listing options for provisions, health care, pharmacies, car rental and taxi service. Its guide also includes where to find marine hardware and supplies and boat services, such as Freshwater Gills, specializing in restoration of marine interiors. MHYC has a fine dining room, snack bar, pool and beach and will work with boaters 24/7.
“Just call ahead to make sure we can accommodate you,” says harbormaster Dan Miller.
We relocated from The Lodge at Geneva to Mentor’s Lawnfield Inn for its central location. To the east is Geneva-on-the-Lake. North is the Fairport Harbor Museum and Lighthouse. South is Holden Arboretum and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Penfield House. West is Lawnfield, President James A. Garfield’s estate.
Cruising by car
Industrial alterations where the Grand River meets Erie have changed the landscape and seascape in front and on the side of the Fairport Harbor Marine Museum and Lighthouse. But it’s still is a prime destination. (Note: The Fairport Harbor Breakwater Light seen across the Grand River is privately owned.)
A visit here is more about taking in the scenery from atop the 60-foot sandstone lighthouse, stepping into the Frontenac Pilot House, seeing the lighthouse’s third order Fresnel Lens, and hearing about all the museum’s Great Lakes memorabilia from keeper Dan Maxson, then listening for its cat ghost.
“This is the first lighthouse museum in Ohio and the Great Lakes,” says Maxon. As he shows off the artifacts during a museum tour, his excitement is infectious.
For lunch, we drove a short distance south where we could cross to the village of Grand River, Ohio on the western shore to indulge in seafood at Brennan’s Fish House. But we had to peek in to Pickle Bill’s Lobster House across the road because the outside was so outrageously funky. The inside turned out to be just as fascinating. I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun, so you’ll have to put Pickle Bill’s on your short list.
At the opposite end of the architectural spectrum from Grand River’s restaurant shacks was the Penfield House on the Chagrin River southwest of Mentor in Willoughby Hills, Ohio. Imagine sleeping in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home. Casual tourists cannot stop by the Penfield House, which is privately owned by Louis Penfield’s descendents, but it’s available for a short stay with a two-night minimum.
The next day we mused about what James A. Garfield, a brilliant man who was shot early in his term as the 20th President of the United States, would have accomplished if he lived. Garfield’s Lawnfield Estate is within hiking distance from Lawnfield Inn, where we’d dined the previous night and enjoyed a lovely meal. Operated as a national house and park, the home also contains Garfield’s presidential library.
South of Mentor, a winding road leads to the scenic Holden Arboretum. A favorite of bird watchers, Holden also has research, landscaping, shade and butterfly gardens.
One last treat before heading home was to stop at Malley’s Chocolate Shoppe and Ice Cream Parlor. Opened in 1935 during the Great Depression, Malley’s has nearly 25 locations in and around Cleveland as it expanded to meet demand for its ice cream concoctions and chocolate covered “marshmallos,” toffee and pretzels. We left with yummy Bordeaux chocolates.
A sweet and indulgent end to an even more delightful northeastern Ohio trip.