I have fond memories of camping as a child, but when I make moves to replicate the weekends spent inside a questionably damp sleeping bag, the idea never comes to fruition.
It’s a lot of work. In Manhattan, friends with cars are few and far between and friends with tents simply don’t exist. Once you’ve tackled the hurdle of renting both and buying all the outdoor equipment and provisions, you’re a.) exhausted and b.) paying a cost comparable to a cushy weekend in a hotel.
That memory you have of eating SpaghettiOs and s’mores over a campfire probably doesn’t include your parents spending an hour packing up a car or setting up a tent. Logistics can be a death knell.
For all of these reasons, I was overjoyed when I started reading about the glamping movement online. Glamping, or “glamorous camping”, isn’t just a cutesy name; it’s an opportunity to get back to nature without sacrificing comfort. It’s camping with convenience.
I’d seen many pictures of these safari-esque glampgrounds in Africa and other epic destinations and had pretty much accepted that something like this wasn’t accessible from Manhattan until Firelight Camps stumbled upon my inbox.
Located 10 miles outside of Ithaca, this was an easy four-hour drive which meant it was doable without taking a holiday. It didn’t take long for me to book a trip after looking at the dreamy photos online; it sounded exactly like the beautiful fall weekend I was looking for.
I learned that Firelight Camps was recently opened by Emma Frisch, a fellow “Bitch in the Kitchen”, Food Network star and owner of Frisch Kitchen, and her husband Robert, a former owner of a boutique hostel in Nicaragua and Peace Corps volunteer. Talk about a power couple..
We arrived aggressively early on Saturday and spent the morning on the Cayuga Wine Trail sampling Finger Lakes varietals until it was time to check in. Unbeknownst to me, the Finger Lakes are likened to the “Napa of the East” and vineyards decorate the roads that line the lakes upstate. More here on our Finger Lakes weekend guide coming soon.
We headed to Firelight around lunchtime. It was tucked behind La Tourelle Resort & Spa, offering the services and food of the hotel with enough exclusivity to still feel like you were on a campground. We were warmly welcomed by the receptionist. I’m used to lukewarm customer service in my rushed city of speed, and was instead greeted with true attention and warmth. Upon check-in, we were handed head lamps to use during our stay, another detail I likely would have forgotten in my haste to leave the city.
I spent time exploring the lobby tent, which featured a “camp store” of hand-picked pieces, homemade goods, and cookbooks.
The tent was decorated with awesome Moroccan-print rugs and pillows, wood furniture, and a striking painting of Firelight by local artist Ryan B. Curtis. The tent was clearly built with the idea of congregation and community in mind; it wasn’t just a lobby for fleeting travelers.
The outdoor lounge area was my favorite part of the glampground. With inviting wicker furniture, recycled pallets, hammocks, bulb lighting, and a smoking fire, I wanted to settle here with a good book. Emma’s homemade s’mores were already calling my name, but I had more to see.
We were led to our Ravine Deluxe through a short, secluded walk in the woods and I was shocked by how enormous the canvas tent was in person. Securely fastened front flaps revealed an interior that fit a futon, an armchair, a writing desk, and a massive king sized bed. The tent was equipped with a heater(!), his and her lanterns, extra duvets, and even a coat rack to hang shoes and clothes.
I immediately wanted to find half the furniture online and replicate it in my own apartment, from the memorable printed rugs to the eclectic wood pieces. Our tent also had a semi-enclosed porch with two rocking chairs and a hammock outside. The whole trip could have been spent sitting on that porch relaxing, but unfortunately I don’t operate well in one spot.
We quickly changed and headed to Buttermilk Falls on a hike that was accessible from our tent, soaking up the trail thick with fallen leaves. It took every ounce of willpower not to go Instagram-crazy with the beautiful hues of fall that decorated our path.
We hiked past a gorge and spent the majority of our time snaking along a picturesque waterfall. The best part of the hike, other than the view, was that the hotel did pick-ups at the end so we didn’t have to hike back up hill! We had a campfire happy hour to make, after all.
When we returned, we shared drinks with the owners, staff, and other glampers at the complimentary happy hour featuring Finger Lakes wine. I’m used to my neighbors not acknowledging my presence in the hallway of my apartment building, yet I welcomed this unfamiliar feeling of community, striking conversation with friendly strangers. After a glass of wine and a game of bocce, we followed Emma and Robert’s emphatic recommendation to dine at Just a Taste, a seasonal American tapas restaurant in town.
Ithaca was vibrant at night with a flourishing food and bar scene and the crunchiness and culture that comes with an established college town. I likened it to the Denver of the East Coast and I enjoyed the bustling scene from the restaurant. Our meal was fantastic and I would echo Emma’s high praise.
After a very full day of driving, wineries, and hiking, Paul and I were eager to return to Firelight for a s’mores nightcap. After getting marshmallow all over myself, we decided to retire to the comfort of our tent.
Stars and headlamps guarded our walk to the tent, which was toasty from the heater despite the very cold temperature outside. We reveled in the lack of electricity, experiencing a rare feeling of disconnect from the modern world. We were quickly asleep, and despite a torrential thunderstorm hiccup halfway through the night scaring me senseless, we stayed warm, dry, bug-free, and rested.
The next morning we woke up early to claim the communal spa bathhouse, which included a small sauna, a heated living room and two large bathrooms. The bathhouse was a bit of a trek from our tent, which meant midnight visits were out of the question. However, it certainly beat the portajohns of my camping youth!
From there, we headed to a couples massage at the on-premises August Moon Spa. After a chilly morning, it felt wonderful putting on comfy spa robes and sitting by the fire in the tranquility room. The massage was a lovely way to start a Sunday, and I recommend utilizing the convenient services during your stay. All of that relaxing made us hungry, which was a perfect segway to our campfire brunch hosted by Emma to close out the weekend.
We returned to the glampground to find Emma tending to sizzling thick bacon over the fire and digging out fire-baked potatoes from the embers.
We sipped on mulled cider mimosas served with a pumpkin rim and garnished with a candied lemon twist. The breakfast spread included fresh bacon and chive scones and other sweet treats from the local Wide Awake Bakery, Emma’s homemade maple orange butter, and fresh granola with fix in’s.
Emma set up a fire-baked potato bar, a first for me, complete with homemade z’atar sauce, sheep’s milk yogurt, pickled beets, and fresh cheese. Topped with the thick, melt-in-your-mouth bacon and served with a side of Emma’s seasonal quiche, our brunch plate was complete. I love that Emma brings her food with roots philosophy to Firelight, giving campers a feeling of gourmet, specialty dining without the formality of a restaurant. Everything we ate was delicious and gave us a true taste of our surroundings.
I had the pleasure of getting to know Emma and Robert this weekend, thanks to the intimate experience at Firelight they’ve curated. Their passion for their newest endeavor is evident in every thoughtful detail at Firelight, and their entrepreneurial spirit was contagious. They are full of energy and forward thinking, and their collective talents (food, hospitality, luxury tents, love for the outdoors) made me leave really believing in the vision they have for Firelight Camps.
I look forward to visiting their second location when they open next year, and I highly recommend putting glamping at Firelight on your radar as you think about spring weekends.
1150 Danby Road