At La Tourelle Hotel, Bistro, and Spa, it’s clear there are plenty of good stories behind the walls as soon as you walk in. Around the bar are signed posters from act that performed at the historic Ithaca State Theater in town, from Spoon to Modest Mouse to Ricki Lee Jones to Ira Glass. “We had B.B. King here on his farewell tour, Glen Campbell on his. Bobby McFerrin played piano in the lobby for hours when he stayed here,” says second-generation owner and managing director Scott Wiggins.
Scott has seen a lot of people come through since his parents bought a 70-acre dairy farm in the 1960s. They started with a restaurant, then apartments, then a real hotel with 35 rooms starting in 1986. “They wanted the feel of a French bistro and chateau house,” he says. Now many of the 54 rooms are named after regions of France.
Rooms come in three general styles: traditional rooms, deluxe fireplace king rooms, and specialty rooms. Two of the specialty rooms are extra quirky. Stairs lead up to the King Upper Tower Room, which is round and has a conical mirrored ceiling and a skylight. The Yellow Barn Suite is in its own building that was, yes indeed, the farm’s barn. This one runs close to $500, but it’s more like a house than a hotel room, with three bedrooms and a three-story atrium living room.
The traditional rooms are more like regular hotel rooms, with a king bed, two king beds, hardwood floors, and sitting area furniture. Bookcases with books add a homey touch and there are modern amenities like coffee makers, TVs, complimentary WiFi, and a fridge. All the rooms have pillowtop mattresses you won’t want to get up from.
The fireplace king rooms add a glow to keep you warm in the winter months. They have all the same amenities as the regular rooms but with fancier bed frames, more bookcases, a nice view from the balcony or terrace, and larger baths with a double vanity and a whirlpool tub.
If you’d rather go glamping, they’ve got that covered too. A partnership with Firelight Camps has put elevated furnished tents on the grounds that get you closer to nature.
The August Moon spa at La Tourelle is a serious affair, with multiple single or double massage rooms with whirlpool tubs and two relaxation rooms. There’s even a Vichy waterfall massage room, which is not a common thing. Naturally there’s a sauna and steam bath as well. A lot of the medicinal herbs used in the spa are grown on the farm and the family members who run it distribute a line of spa products as well. Try the aloe and apple cider treatment to really go local.
Since this whole business started out with the restaurant, they’ve had decades to get it right on the dining side. There’s a bistro using a lot of locally sourced ingredients and also the John Thomas Steakhouse with aged beef and Maine lobster. This is in a separate building that was the original farmhouse. Both are highly regarded in the Ithaca area and locals come here for special occasions and wedding parties. (Or when Cornell parents want to treat their student offspring.) I only had the chance to try their breakfast, but it was a heavenly affair: oatmeal-encrusted French toast with brown sugar cream and fresh berries.
The fun bar area has all the performer posters lining the walls and there’s a lounge area with a fireplace. This being the Finger Lakes region, you’ll find plenty of good New York State wine and beer from the abundant local breweries.
There’s plenty to explore on the extensive grounds here, including giant chess and a trail leading to the Buttermilk Falls State Park trail system. There’s a gazebo and lounge chairs by a pond if you want to have a glass of wine outdoors.
I won’t repeat what Mr. Wiggins told me when I asked him which celebrities had been the most demanding, but one of his most difficult stays to arrange was quite a memorable one. “The Dalai Lama blessed some land near here for a Tibetan center and around 150 Tibetans living in America came here for a big meeting. He had quite an entourage: they booked out the whole hotel!”
Review and photos by editor Tim Leffel, who was hosted one night at La Tourelle while researching a Finger Lakes region article for another publication.