It’s been a major case of summertime blues for me. The year started pretty great, with the world finally opening up again to a semblance of what it was. Mask regulations were lifted and events are now back at full capacity. But for me personally, there have been a lot of losses of late. I lost my Dad after several bouts with his health over the past year, and some friends and heroes whom I look up to have passed as well in recent months. I was desperately in need of a recharge. While vacations don’t solve all our problems, sometimes that’s all we need to bring us that bit of light when our shine has been diminished.
Saratoga Springs, New York (nicknamed “The Spa”) has always been a happy place for me. Located in upstate New York, the city is just about seven hours from Toronto, proudly sporting its official slogan upon arrival, “Health, History and Horses”. Not to be confused with Sarasota, because many friends think I’m off to Florida when I say I’m going to this beautiful summer treasure!
Water from these Springs have diverse characteristics, healing properties and a distinct flavour. Saratoga Springs water is said to have magic healing powers that help with skin ailments, assist with digestion, and more.
The famed Big Red Spring at Saratoga Race Course. Bring a bottle!
It is no mystery how much I love horses and every summer for a 40-day meet, among the very best in Horse Racing congregate at charming Saratoga Race Course to enjoy the sport at its highest level. The meet draws people from all over. The venue, donning its distinctive red and white stripe motif throughout, recalls traditions of yesteryear, but with modern amenities and flourishes that have connected its spirit to a new generation of attendees who either grew up like me around the sport, or just want to come out showing off their summer’s best hats and fascinators. Once the meet ends, the city with a population of just under 30,000, goes back to its regular pace as a trendy college town. Saratoga Springs is a destination of incredible taste, refinement and sophistication that somehow manages to always feel fresh.
BOOKING.COM makes it easy – and on short notice!
Because the demand is great to be in Saratoga Springs between late July to early September, finding accommodations can be pricey and difficult. BOOKING.COM makes it super easy to filter a search on their user-friendly website and App (iPhone, iPad and Android-ready). The latter is used by over 100 million monthly active users globally. You can filter your search with the options you really want from their pool of 28 million reported listings with 30 different types of places to stay. Whether you’re looking for a villa, treehouse, cottage, or a boutique hotel, Booking.com truly has it all, everywhere.
If, like me, you are known to travel on little notice, this can limit your options. BOOKING.COM made finding accommodations rather simple, narrowing down properties within a close driving distance to Saratoga Springs. Trust me, hotels here fill up months in advance, and sometimes I really don’t know if I’ll be travelling till much later than that. You’ll be relieved to know that on Booking.com, there often is an option for full refund before a particular date because the unavoidable happens!
I landed upon the stunning Desmond Hotelin Albany, New York, a scenic 25 minute drive away from my ultimate destination. Not only is proximity important. I come with a very specific set of requirements. When choosing a place to stay, I rely on reviews from actual people who have stayed at the property. BOOKING.COM has more than 283 million verified reviews from real guests who have stayed at each accommodation and booked through them. Based on this, I was able to filter my search to properties with a minimum “8.5” rating and up. The Desmond Hotel hit the mark.
The Desmond Hotel
Above this, I don’t travel without my beloved dog beanie and while searching “pet-friendly” accommodations, this requirement eliminated some wonderful establishments from consideration for me. On the flipside, it also paired me with a place that welcomed us and those who like mindedly don’t exclude our furry loved ones from our trips.
Travelling sustainably is also super important to me nowadays and with BOOKING.COM’s search filters, I was able to see that The Desmond is a “Level 1” Travel Sustainable Property. This means that they have implemented some impactful sustainability practices. Another thing we love about BOOKING.COM is that you can also look for properties with a “Travel Proud” badge, showing their commitment to understand and help overcome the challenges LGBTQ+ travellers face. We support businesses that support inclusivity and diversity.
If accessibility options are important to you, BOOKING.COM has filters for disabled guests, the ability to look for places that offer electric vehicle charging stations, and many more details that people might need at their accommodation.
While this hotel at first glance doesn’t appear to be particularly towering in the classic sense of a hotel, it is rather expansive horizontally. Each of its three floors are packed with rooms. There are in fact, 323 guest rooms, plus a litany of conference rooms, a 24/7 fitness facility, a restaurant (Mr. D’s – named after founder John K. Desmond, Jr.) and a beautiful indoor courtyard with greenery and a pond that is home to beautiful Koi fish. Though we drove in in an amazing 2023 Honda HRV supplied by Honda Canada, the hotel is literally right beside the Albany Airport and they offer shuttles to the airport for those who need it. The hotel lobby also features a monitor display showing upcoming departure times, a mindful added touch for those travellers flying.
Rooms bestow an elegant, thoughtful decor and here I had the pleasure of staying in a Double Queen Guest Room that could host four people easily. This was one of the best sleeps I’ve had in quite some time, with curtains that shut-out the light completely. beanie can vouch for this – she hogged the bed! In an effort to be eco-conscious, room refreshing can be done by request. We’re of the mindset that we don’t wash our towels and sheets daily at home, and wouldn’t expect the same on vacation at a hotel. There is an abundance of USB charging ports which is important, Wi-Fi, a large desk, an HDTV and temperature controls which I took advantage of.
Many hotels talk about being “pet-friendly”, but are they really? The Desmond has a grassy outdoor courtyard where dogs can stretch their legs and do their business, complete with thoughtful bag dispenser stations and bins ready as well. This means a lot, alleviating the stress of having to go far in an area we weren’t too familiar with. Parking is also free.
BOOKING.COM has an ATTRACTIONSfeature that offers users access to things to do in over 1,200 cities with over 39,000 curated bookable attractions and experiences, like tours, museums, activities, theme parks, rentals, and more. Though we know Saratoga Springs quite well, we know there is never a shortage of places to shop along their Broadway District, including delightful apparel shops or Saratoga Marketplace with numerous quality products from local retailers. If you love big box U.S. stores too like me, you’ll be pleased to know that there are super-sized versions of these in Saratoga Springs. And while you’re doing all this, why not take your furry loved one for a Spa Day of their own in “The Spa”?
Much of the action in this city centers around spectacular Saratoga Race Course in the summer. Last year alone, 1,075,586 fans visited over the span of their 40-day meet, enjoying horse racing at its highest level. The track is the world’s oldest major sports facility, having opened in 1863, and has seen legends gallop over its turf and dirt surfaces. The Oklahoma Training Track is open in the morning to the public to come see their favourite athletes train, with free parking during those hours. All of this is also a short walk away from the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, which opened in 1950 to commemorate those people and horses who have made a significant impact on the sport.
The meet at Saratoga Race Course includes marquee races which ultimately are precursors to deciding which athletes are crowned champions in North America at the Eclipse Awards at the culmination of the 2023 season. Important races include the Travers, Alabama, Test, Ballerina and the Whitney Stakes, all of which we were there for. The latter is a Grade I race valued at $1 million, named in honour of the influential Whitney family whom for generations had a huge impact on Saratoga, and this year was won by the striking gray horse WHITE ABARRIO ridden by unstoppable North American leading jockey, Irad Ortiz, Jr., for owners C Two Racing Stable & Antonio Pagnano and trainer Richard E. Dutrow Jr.
The heavy favourite going into the race was CODY’S WISH, owned by industry leaders Godolphin LLC and trained by iconic Bill Mott. The horse is named after a boy named Cody Dorman, who is living with Wolf-Hirschhornsyndrome and saw his fateful “Make-a-Wish” come true when the horse took to the boy right away. This horse has gone on to win close to $2.5 million and is widely regarded as one of the best horses in training.
Cody’s Wish & Cody Dorman
The Card on Whitney Stakes day was stacked with stars and gave us the honour of seeing top three-year-old filly PRETTY MISCHIEVOUS, who won the Grade I Test Stakes. Just this past May, she won the prestigious $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks, the female companion race to the Kentucky Derby..
Last but not least, one of my favourite parts of Saratoga Springs is Beekman Street, a mecca of art, culture and food. Galleries, pubs, shops and restaurants line this charming and low key residential district if you want that downtown vibe minus all the traffic and congestion.
A full Album of photos taken at Saratoga Race Coursehere.
Saratoga Springs is a place of taste. Having been a few times over the years, my favourites align with those of locals. Hattie’s for Fried Chicken. Sweet Mimi’s Cafe for brunch and pastries – the Cinammon bread was recommended to me by owner Jeanette and I’m sold! The hotspots on weekends can see hour-long queues, so get there early and they offer free coffee for those in the queue. Uncommon Grounds makes a truly perfect bouncy Bagel, so we get why there are 30-minute queues. The Love & Lox is a hit. Historic Adelphi Hotel (also available as a property on BOOKING.COM) has been providing visitors top tier accommodations since 1877 and it houses some great spots to dine, like Salt & Char, plus a dog-friendly patio at Morrissey’s Lounge with its trendy menu spanning Asian, Italian and classic American. The Local Pub and Teahouse serves comforting pub fare and is very popular with locals. Their tender, melty Short Rib over mashed potatoes is perfection. Taverna Novo also provides an intimate and special experience if you love Italian. The latter two are on Beekman Street.
The food options at Saratoga Race Course are also great. They have their own Shake Shack and you absolutely must get the exclusive “Sloppy Track” milkshake. The track also has a branch of aforementioned Hattie’s, plus bars like the Easy Goer and Fourstardave, named after iconic racehorses who made their mark locally.Though we wish we got to spend more time in Albany, we were wowed by breakfast at trendy The Scene. This cafe has cocktails and coffee on its menu, plus several brunch options. Thoroughly enjoyed my Scenewich and Cinnamon Toast Latte set against an aesthetically-pleasing backdrop.
With it being a seven hour drive to Saratoga Springs, it’s important to take proper breaks along the way. We chose Hilton Garden Inn which is also available via BOOKING.COM and rated a strong 8.6 as calculated by user reviews. This hotel is just minutes from the Falls and equally close to wineries in the region. In addition, it boasts a remarkable Level 3 Travel Sustainable badge, a distinction reserved only for those accommodations that have made large investments and efforts to implement impactful sustainability practices. They are also pet-friendly, with grassy areas for your pet to go and thoughtful bag dispensers for your convenience. Did I mention that beanie got a welcome bag upon arrival? It’s honestly the little touches that make you want to share your experience with others! You’re literally across the road from the Outlet Collection at Niagara, or you can save up for cross-border shopping seeing that you’re only minutes from the U.S. All this, plus free parking!
Our drive to Saratoga saw new revamped Applegreen Service Stations, which were actually quite amazing, giving us reasons to stop and recharge, and making that drive bearable! Dunkin’ Donuts, Panera, Popeyes, Shake Shacks and more, plus a chance to fill up on some reasonably priced fuel. America is so spoiled!
BOOKING.COM made it easy to plan this unforgettable trip. And they aren’t just for booking a place to stay. BOOKING.COM offers flights, car rentals, taxis, activities, all of which can be organized into one place – the BOOKING.COM app or website. No more rifling through different confirmation emails from different companies – keep your itinerary streamlined and simple.
And with BOOKING.COM’s Rewards & Wallet feature, you can apply earned cash value to selected flight bookings, selected property bookings, any car rental bookings, any attraction bookings, any taxi bookings, and any insurance that you add to your trip through Booking.com.
Summer’s almost over. Isn’t it time you took a moment to recharge?
With the honourary Princess of Saratoga, beanie
Grab a seat and join us on our journey to Saratoga Springs. A Reel of Highlights: