Located along the St. Lawrence River spanning the border between northern New York State in the US and southeastern Ontario in Canada, the 1000 Islands is a region of endless shorelines, rich history and unique culture.
The 1000 Islands Parkway
We love driving the 1000 Islands Parkway at any time of year. There is something almost overwhelming about looking out across the river and islands, still at this point more an extension of Lake Ontario. The article An Unforgettable Road Trip Along The 1000 Islands Parkway gives a great sense of its loveliness. The Parkway runs from Gananoque to Brockville.
Cruising in the 1000 Islands
One cannot help but feel the pull to get out on the water and explore the islands. Although cruises are also available from Kingston, Brockville (a high-speed option is available here!) and Gananoque, it seems to us that Rockport is probably the best point of embarkation. It offers good access to two of the area’s highlights, Boldt Castle and Singer Castle.
Boldt Castle is something of a millionaire’s folly. George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York and manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, enjoyed family trips to a cottage on Hart Island. In 1900, work started on what was to be one of the largest homes in the United States, a six-story “castle”. Construction ceased in 1904 after the death of Boldt’s wife. For 73 years it was left untended, before being restored by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority. Important: You will need to carry your passport if visiting Boldt Castle as it is technically across the border in the US.
Singer Castle, on Dark Island, is the only remaining/existing castle on the St. Lawrence to be completed, fully furnished and resided in during the heyday of the great builders and industrialists in New York. It remained in the Bourne family from 1905 to the mid 1960’s. Frederick Bourne was the fifth President of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, hence the name. Originally though it was known as ‘The Towers’. The inspiration for the castle came from Sir Walter Scott’s Woodstock.
Tours of both of these lavish homes from a golden age are included in Rockport Cruises Two Castle Tour, an all-day cruise (10 am to 4 pm) that includes lunch. They note that this involves extensive walking.
Of course one can also explore the magic of the 1000 islands by joining a guided paddle, something we hope to do before too long!
Additional options to consider
For a more varied itinerary (if not taking the all-day cruise), there are a number or possibilities.
Continuing the theme of grand houses, Fulford Place , a 20,000-square-foot Edwardian mansion set in Italianate-style gardens, might appeal. ‘Original tapestries, paintings, statuary and ceramics collected on the Fulfords’ world travels are on display throughout the period rooms and are featured in special exhibits. The grand style of the Beaux Art house was ideally suited to the Fulfords, as they entertained Canadian Prime Ministers, British princes and the neighbouring well-to-do whose grand “cottages” lined the St. Lawrence River.’
If the Italianate garden has whet your appetite, there are a number of other gardens in the area that form part of the Leeds Grenville Garden Trail.
Rockport itself is a pretty village for a gentle stroll, though I suspect it may be very busy at the height of summer. So far we have only visited as winter gave way to spring
You might choose to start the day at the Aquatarium in Brockville, ‘who’s mission it is to inspire curiosity through enriching and entertaining experiences’. It is an interactive museum focused on the culture, history and wildlife of the area. The daily feeding of the otters seems to be something of a highlight – looking at the calendar, this seems to happen at 11:30 am, though it would be worth checking around the time of any visit.
You might also want to bring the day to a dramatic close with an evening at the Thousand Islands Playhouse, classic summer theatre (much of the programme is devoted to relatively light fare, particularly it seems in 2018) in a beautiful dockside location.
Food and Drink
There are plenty of options for refreshments along the way.
If you take the full day cruise from Rockport, lunch is provided.
Just a few minutes up the road, the Ivy Restaurant at Ivy Lea is certainly very picturesque, as is Donnelly’s on the River, new for 2018 so something of an unknown quantity. The reviews seem reasonable for both, though we can’t vouch for them. You can also pick up a one hour cruise from Ivy Lea that includes Boldt Castle on its route, though it doesn’t stop there.
Heading towards home, in Gananoque we have a couple of pre-theatre favourites. Most often we seem to have enjoyed a leisurely wood-fired pizza in the garden of the Purple House Cafe. If we feel like splashing out for something a little more sophisticated, then we turn to Riva, though it’s a good idea to book well ahead.