Saratoga Springs – A 19th-century Queen of Spas

The name Saratoga Springs has long evoked a privileged life of horse racing, polo matches, fancy hats, and genteel garden parties. This oasis of Victorian elegance, known as the “Queen of Spas,” was a summer playground for the moneyed, thanks to its naturally carbonated springs, which can still be visited.

The elegant Saratoga Race Course, Americas oldest and loveliest sports venue, is the flower-decked town’s main attraction. A who’s who of thoroughbreds and jockeys has long made Saratoga’s summer the nation’s best racing season. Today’s main course was built in 1864, and retains a lovely Victorian grandstand. Across from the track, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is a repository of Triple Crown trophies, diamond-encrusted whips, and interactive exhibits.

Saratoga Springs is also a cultural hotbed, especially during the summer, when the open-air Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) hosts the New York City Ballet, followed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Big-name artists from opera to pop fill out the summer season. Spring and summer is the best time for strolling the inspiring Italian classical gardens at the famous artists’ colony of Yaddo, founded in 1900 by financier Spencer Trask and his wife Katrina, a poet. Yaddo is the gold standard to which all others aspire and getting a residency here (up to 2 months) is still a highly sought-after plum.

The Adelphi Hotel, built in 1877, is a mint-condition time capsule of Victorian charm, with 39 rooms full of period antiques and vintage photos of old Saratoga. Its opulent lobby and the adjacent Cafe Adelphi serve as a gathering place for local residents and performers from the summer arts community.

Saratoga Springs also has a wealth of unusually fine inns and B&Bs, foremost among them the Batcheller Mansion Inn, a splendid example of high Victorian Gothic architecture built in 1873. President Ulysses S. Grant was once a guest here, enjoying, no doubt, its fantastic blend of architectural influences from France, Italy, and Egypt (the original owner had lived in Cairo).

About 10 miles east of town is the site of the Battles of Saratoga, the first significant military victory of the American Revolution. Replica British cannons and an interpretive trail at the Saratoga National Historical Park tell the story of how, in 1777, American forces met and defeated a major British army, leading France to recognize the independence ol the U.S. and enter the war as a military ally of the struggling Americans.