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Saratoga Springs, N.Y.: Horse racing, yes, but the 'Queen of Spas' offers lots more

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Christened the “Queen of Spas,” Saratoga Springs and its natural mineral springs became a tourist draw when entrepreneur Gideon Putnam created the first spa resort in the early 1800s. Grand hotels, casinos, more spas, opulent mansions and a world-class horse track followed, making this a hot destination for notable politicians, tycoons and artists. These early cultural influences are found throughout the city today with more than 1,000 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, its charming Victorian architecture, soothing spas and artistic performances. Its pulsating downtown is full of art galleries and gift shops, live music around every corner and eateries to satiate any foodie.

Great for:

Families, couples, foodies, racing enthusiasts, music lovers, health and wellness travelers.

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Saratoga Race Course

What to do:

While Saratoga has 21 mineral springs throughout the city, 12 can be found at the 2,200-acre Saratoga Spa State Park. Set against a backdrop of brick columned buildings, sweeping arcades and arched esplanades from the 1930s, this park boasts biking and hiking trails, several swimming pools, a 27-hole golf course, the Gideon Putnam hotel, restaurants, an auto museum and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

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The Gideon Putnam hotel

You can’t visit Saratoga without going to a spa, and it should be the Roosevelt Baths & Spa, one of the oldest and grandest, established in 1935. Named after President Franklin Roosevelt, who is credited with preserving the area’s springs, this Georgian Revival-style bathhouse on the grounds of the park offers many blissful treatments.

The Saratoga Race Course is the country’s oldest, established in 1863, and is the place to promenade decked out in your finest duds while watching thoroughbred racing from the historic grandstand. Breakfast trackside is a long-standing tradition and a great way to watch the horses with their trainers as the track is waking up. Several on-site bars and restaurants range from casual to upscale. Walking and stable tours offer the chance to learn the key features and history of the track, and a playscape for the wee ones. Listen for the hand-rung bell 17 minutes before post time alerting riders and patrons that the race is about to start. 

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Mouzon House

Where to eat:

Founded in a 1938, Hattie’s Chicken Shack is a funky hot spot popular with locals. Hattie, the original owner, brought her authentic style of Southern cooking with her from Louisiana. Be sure to try chef Jasper Alexander’s fried chicken. He beat Bobby Flay in a fried chicken cookoff.

The Mouzon House is a farm-to-table restaurant set in an 1883 Victorian brick house, and chefs David and Kaitlyn Pedinotti source everything from local farms.

Hamlet & Ghost offers seasonal fare and craft cocktails inside a former 1870 grain and feed store that during Prohibition was converted into a “hardware” store, serving as a front for illicit gambling and drinking.  

Where to stay:

Located in the heart of town, the Adelphi Hotel is one of the last of the grand hotels. Although recently modernized, the exterior looks as it did when it was originally constructed in 1877. The interior, while updated, still retains its old-world charm.The Inn at Saratoga was built as a boarding house in 1843. This 42-room Victorian lodge is sumptuously decorated with antiques, has an on-site bar, several fireplaces, an old-fashioned parlor and a chef-prepared breakfast.

The Saratoga Arms is a luxury, boutique hotel whose brick building was constructed in 1870 and features a wraparound porch and cozy fireplaces. Guests can enjoy a farm-to-table gourmet breakfast. 

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Geyser Creek Trail

Hidden gem:

While at the state park, hike the Geyser Creek Trail to witness the only two actively spouting geysers east of the Mississippi River.

On the way:

Stop at June Farms in West Sand Lake just outside of Albany to stretch your legs, view the heritage farm breeds and have a craft cocktail, local beer or snack at the “pony barn.”

From Hartford: 2 hrs, 20 min / 145 miles

From New Haven: 3 hrs / 182 miles

From New London: 3 hrs, 10 min / 195 miles

This article appears in the July 2021 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.