“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” - Aristotle
Nestled in the outskirts of the Buttermilk Falls park in Ithaca, NY, is a new glamping getaway: Firelight Camps. Glamping, long a part of traveling Africa, is just beginning to trend in the U.S. The term is a hybrid of “glamorous” and “camping”. But when we first pulled up to the camp’s grounds, its entrance situated behind and below the hotel La Tourelle‘s parking lot, “glamorous” was not what sprang to mind.
Gazing down on an asphalt lot with a party tent, grill, bocce court and a couple of firepits (albeit, with comfy couches), the initial visual impact was not auspicious. But there, in the namesake town of a Greek island, I reminded myself of Aristotle’s quote. After all, I’d not yet seen the tents, nor experienced their happy hour.
Aristotle was a wise man. Firelight Camps is at heart, a work of art.
It’s thoughtfully welcoming, with an incomparably friendly staff. The tables and couches are all meant to share, as is complimentary round the clock Copper Horse Coffee, assorted teas and lemon water (with local snacks for purchase). Finger Lakes beer and wine are served gratis during the 5-7 happy hour, with a full cash bar available until 4 AM, delighting night owls, who can happily hoot it up with other nocturnal birds (human and feathered).
If however, you decide to stay up and watch the stars reflected in your wine, be forewarned that the continental breakfast served in the communal tent (7:30 – 10 A.M.) is hard to resist.
Farm fresh, local yogurt, granola, fruit, baked goods, juices – and that velvet coffee – are the only things that can entice you from the otherworldly beds. The linens are hotel quality, there are extra blankets, and the mattresses are surely comprised of slumber sorcery.
Everything in Firelight has some wizardry in it – the kind conjured up by consummate hosts who make you feel simultaneously pampered and at home. From the swimming holes in the adjacent park and the glittering lights around the fire pits, to the toiletries and fluffy towels in the immaculate bathrooms (a short jaunt from the tents).
In the tents, coat racks desire dressing, writing desks beg to be pressed upon, chairs on personal balconies beckon to be rocked, tables cry out for a cup of tea, hammocks grin from tree to tree, and lanterns await their chance to beam.
There is light here. The lightness that nature gifts us with when we allow her to; the lightness that comes with good conversation by the fire, smiling faces, turning your phone off, and friendship old and new.
Much of this light radiates from the owners, whose lives sound pretty magical themselves.
Committed to eco-sustainability, Robert and Emma Frisch met while at the University of Pennsylvania, opened a boutique hotel/restaurant in Nicaragua and, with partner Kyle Reardon, created Firelight Camps.
Robert served in the Peace Corps and Emma was a Season 10 finalist on Food Network Star, and is co-founder and executive director of the crowdsourcing platform PEAKS, and helped found Groundswell International.
And while there are only samples of Emma’s concoctions (like s’mores) at Firelight, groups can advance request a local wild food tour, culminating in dishes created from the group’s foraging.
(In fact, Firelight is ideally suited for large groups and weddings, who can occupy the entire camp and party on.)
Emma’s culinary craftings aren’t the only iron in the Firelight. Also on the grounds, John Thomas Steakhouse is well worth the big city prices. It’s no accident that it’s served such an eclectic community as Ithaca’s for decades. Each dish suggested by our remarkably informed, congenial waiter – including the enormous sides – was freshly prepared with knowledge and nuance.
So if you’re feeling overly citified, head up from NYC (four plus scenic hours by car/bus/train), down from Canada (as did a number of guests there), stopover on your way elsewhere, or visit your offspring at Ithaca College or Cornell, and “glampen” your spirits!
Hike/swim Buttermilk Falls or Taughannock Falls (a twenty minute drive), stroll through the streets of Ithaca, or at August Moon Spa, detox in the steam room or sauna (complimentary for Firelight guests), or have a massage (ask for Tasha) .
Or simply warm by the fire or chill under the canopy of trees, absorbing the unsullied air of the woodlands.
And let the light in.
Photo Credit: Frank Zagottis , Constance Boardman