The Thousand Islands on the St Lawrence River furnishes a water adventure, complete with pleasing scenery, thousands of islands (1,864 to be precise), modest and majestic island cottages, and the unexpected and lavish Boldt Castle on its own perfectly manicured island.
My friend and I took a cruise that combined a tour of the Thousand Islands with a stop at Boldt Castle (some shorter cruises willtake you past, but not stop, at Boldt Castle). We thoroughly enjoyed the water breezes, cottage country views, and exploring the grandest cottage of them all.
While there are several towns where you can grab a Thousand Islands cruise, one of the best is Rockport. Nearly all the homes and shops in this tiny, but charming, village are oriented to be as close as possible to the water. A couple of casual restaurants boast great patios right on the river. This makes for a lovely view as your cruise ship leaves port, and you can fit the entire village – including the historic St. Brendan’s Church perched on a rocky cliff – in one camera frame.
Along the way, an audio guide will point out Zavikon Island (home of the shortest international bridge, where the cottage is Canada and the adjacent island with the family’s flag pole is in the US). The guide also points out notable cottages along “Millionaire’s Row.” These homes were all built in the early twentieth-century when the Thousand Islands area was the must-visit vacation destination for wealthy Americans and Canadians. Such lavish “cottages” measure several thousand square feet in area and were quite costly to build, as all supplies and workers had to be boated in.
Although you think nothing can awe you after seeing the expansive, manicured gardens and sprawling cottage estates, cruise visitors gasp and run to the railing as Boldt Castle comes into view. Built by George Boldt, a New York luxury hotelier, Boldt Castle boasts 120 rooms and impressive reddish-grey granite architecture in a romantic European style.
The castle is found on Heart Island; Boldt had the island artificially altered to create a heart shape. There are plentiful hidden hearts found in the architecture and gardens as the castle was intended as a gift to his beloved wife, Louise. Unfortunately, after four years and $2.5 million in construction costs, George abandoned the project when his wife died.
The castle lay in disrepair for many years until it was purchased by the Thousand Island Bridge Authority, which is restoring the interior to its original condition. While efforts are made to replicate the original vision and grandeur of the project, it is clear there have been substitutions in the quality of materials and furnishings (perhaps not surprising given the original budget and the fact that thousands of visitors tromp through the rooms annually on self-guided tours). Perhaps the most impressive interior feature is the opalescent stained glass green, beige, and blue dome window that casts a beautiful light over the entry foyer several storeys below.
Given the romantic origins of the estate and the lovely views over the Seaway, it is perhaps not surprising that the grounds are often used to host weddings (as when we visited on a Wednesday).
This romantic setting and great view ensure that it is quite relaxing to sit on the wrap-around porch and gaze over the impressive river.
The cruise itself is about 45-minutes each way, plus a two-hour stop over at Boldt. The double-decker boat holds a few dozen people and often sells out on weekends during the summer, so online ticket reservations are recommended. Boldt Castle has an additional entry fee of $8 for adults and $5.50 for children and a passport is required as you pass through (the most hassle free) customs. There is typical burger and fry fare offered by the boat docking station at the Castle.
With fall cruises offered through the end of October, now is a great time to see the fall colours in the Islands.