Travel Thoughts By Kim

By Kim Pritt, Contributor Posted 23 July 2022 at 3:00 pm

The view of the mansion across one of nine gardens on the property.

Let’s go on an adventure together….to Sonnenberg Gardens!

On Thursday, July 14th, I had the pleasure of visiting a local treasure – Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua, NY. It was a day-trip organized by Mitzy Peglow of Orleans Travel for the Busy Buddies group I belong to. A comfortable motor coach took our group from Tops parking lot to our destination in Canandaigua – the “Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park” for the day. It was such a lovely day – I had a great time! I love doing day-trip bus tours. It gives me an opportunity to experience new things around our area without having to drive and find my way around. Perfect!

Sonnenberg Gardens is a 50-acre estate located at the north end of Canandaigua Lake in the beautiful Finger Lakes – originally a 300-acre farmstead. The property, open to the public from late spring to mid fall, was the summer home of Frederick Ferris Thompson and his wife Mary Clark Thompson. Frederick was a prominent New York City banker – one of the co-founders of what is now known as Citibank and JPMorgan Chase Bank. Mary was the daughter of former NY Governor Myron Holley Clark. The couple’s primary home was in New York City, but they chose Mary’s home town of Canandaigua for their summer residence. In 1887, they built a 40 room Queen Anne style mansion where the former farmhouse stood. Today, the property is managed by a non-profit organization that was formed in the early 1970s to restore the mansion and gardens. They have a year round staff of six, about 170 seasonal volunteers, and operate solely on funds raised from admissions, events, memberships/donations, and gift and wine sales. They receive no local, state, or federal funding. Given all that and some other facts from the history of the property, I think they do an awesome job.

This is the entrance to a complex of greenhouses dedicated to various specific floral varieties, such as orchids, succulents, and more. More greenhouses are located around the property, as well.

We were left to explore the gardens and the mansion on our own. It was a lovely day to stroll around the property and take in the splendor and opulence of life in the gilded age. When I think of a summer home, I think of a small cottage on the lake….they built a 40 room mansion with bedrooms equipped with full bathrooms and large walk-in closets / dressing rooms in every one. The mansion is simply stunning and full of beautiful original furnishings and items that belonged to the Thompsons. While the gardens could use a little more tender loving care, it is easy to imagine how gorgeous the property must have been back in the Thompson’s day.

The property consists of the mansion, nine gardens of various styles – including a wonderful Japanese garden, several green houses, a café that serves light lunches, a gift shop, and the Finger Lakes Wine Center where they offer wine tastings.

Lunch was a highlight of the day. We were given a choice of three wraps – veggie, smoked turkey, or chicken Caesar. I chose the smoked turkey and was very happy with it. Instead of the usual tortilla wraps, they used delicate crepes to wrap the meat, lettuce, red onion, and roasted red pepper mayo and it was amazing – what a wonderful idea. The meal started out with a chilled melon and berry soup that was yogurt based and absolutely incredible – I think everyone left wanting more of that soup – I know I did! We finished off lunch with delicious cookies or brownies. So good!

After lunch we gathered for a wine tasting in the Finger Lakes Wine Center. We were treated to six different wines to taste. Four were Sonnenberg’s own wines that they only sell on the property – you can’t find them anywhere else and they are very good. The other two were from other Finger Lakes Region wineries – a Hot Pepper wine that really surprised me and a watermelon wine that was the perfect ending to the wine tastings. I enjoyed all six wines.

After the wine tasting, some went back to wandered the grounds and explore gardens they missed before lunch and others sat to chat and enjoy being out on such a gorgeous day. The bus left to head home about 3:30 and we were back in Albion by about 4:45. It was such a nice day – a good time was had by all.

I highly recommend visiting Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua – a true local treasure, for sure, and so easy to get to – not far at all!

I took TONS of photos and did a good bit of research into the history of Sonnenberg Gardens and the couple who built it – the Thompsons. Check out my blog post for all the photos and history….and, then, go see it for yourself:

Happy Adventuring!

This stunning stained glass window is the first thing you see when you get to the bottom of the steps going into the old root cellar that is now a beautiful tasting room for the Finger Lakes Wine Center.