The Thousand Islands.
It sounds like a land from a fairy tale – but it exists. A constellation of islands as magical as it sounds, as these pictures show.
The name undersells it though, because this archipelago on the Saint Lawrence River, which straddles Ontario and New York State on the US-Canada border, consists of a staggering 1,864 islets.
The view of the Thousand Islands from the amazing 1000 Islands Tower, which is located on Hill Island
Some are big – around 40 square miles – but others are not much more than rocky outcrops.
And among them, you’ll find Gothic castles, historic lighthouses, shipwrecks and stately mansions.
Those that can be explored include that of the A.E. Vickery, which sank in 1889 alongside Rock Island Reef Light; the America, which can be found at a depth of 75ft near Jordstat Castle, and the Arizona, which sank in 1922 in 25ft of water on the south shore of Wolfe Island.
The area can also be explored in a limited, but spectacular way, by car.
The names of some of the islands – such as Navy, Admiralty and Lake Fleet – explains The Canadian Encylopedia, can be traced back to the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) between Britain and France and the War of 1812 between Britain and the U.S
An elevator whizzes visitors to multiple observation decks on the lofty 1000 Islands Tower (pictured)
The highly photogenic Thousand Islands International Bridge, built in 1937 and upgraded in 1959, spans 8.5 miles and offers drivers breathtaking views of the archipelago’s myriad outcrops.
The bridge is actually split into five sections connecting Interstate 81 in the U.S to Highways 137 and 401 in Canada.
The first section, running from the U.S mainland, connects to Wellesley Island, part of which is a designated State Park offering a sandy beach, a nine-hole golf course, hiking trails and multiple campsites.
Next drivers heading west weave their way via border control to Hill Island, home to the unmissable 400ft-tall 1000 Islands Tower.
An elevator takes visitors to the top, where mesmerising views await.
And back down on the ground, an ice cream parlour awaits.
The final section of the bridge system crosses Constance and Georgina islands before reaching the Canadian mainland.
Just Enough Room Island, which is the smallest inhabited island in the chain and barely the size of a tennis court
A Rockport Boat Line vessel pictured on a tour of the jaw-dropping island chain that’s shared by the U.S and Canada
The area grew rapidly in popularity in the 19th century as an exclusive holiday spot for business owners, governors, senators and presidents
The names of some of the islands – such as Navy, Admiralty and Lake Fleet – explains The Canadian Encylopedia, can be traced back to the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) between Britain and France and the War of 1812 between Britain and the U.S.
It adds that Endymion, Camelot and Mermaid islands are named after gunboats, while others, Gordon and Stovin, for instance, were named after military commanders.
Some of the outcrops have rather comical names like Just Enough Room Island, which is the smallest inhabited island and barely the size of a tennis court.
Other charming monikers include Honey Bee Island, Chimney Island, Friendly Island and Comfort Island.
Boldt Castle, pictured, was commissioned by George C. Boldt, a self-made millionaire and the first-ever manager of New York’s world-famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel
Singer Castle on Dark Island. The Gothic revival property was commissioned by Frederick Bourne, who was the fifth President of the Singer Sewing Machine Company
As the 19th century progressed, the area grew rapidly in popularity as an exclusive holiday spot for business owners, governors, senators and presidents, with Ulysses S. Grant (president between 1869 and 1877 ) paying his first visit in 1872.
Some of the other standout Thousand Island fans at the time included George Pullman, the inventor of the railway Pullman sleeping cars, American businessman John Jacob Astor IV (co-founder of Waldorf Astoria hotels), and Helena Rubenstein, who became one of the world’s richest women with her eponymous cosmetics line.
The rich and famous went about selecting their favourite spots in the Thousand Islands and building grand properties to accommodate their families and guests.
A view of Alster Tower on Heart Island. Several million dollars have been spent restoring Heart Island and its accompanying properties
A breathtaking aerial image of The Thousand Islands International Bridge system over Constance Island (left) and Georgina Island (right)
One of the grandest historical buildings still standing today is Boldt Castle on Heart Island.
The structure, modelled after a Rhineland castle, was commissioned by George C. Boldt, a self-made millionaire and the first-ever manager of New York’s world-famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
The Prussian-born American hotelier wanted to build the castle as a display of his love for his wife, Louise, and 300 workers set about erecting a six-storey 120-room abode, complete with tunnels, turrets, a drawbridge and Italian gardens.
But in January 1904 tragedy truck and Louise died suddenly. Boldt ordered the workers to stop work immediately.
A wintry shot of Singer Castle. It was originally christened The Towers, by its architect Ernest Flagg, whose design was inspired by Woodstock Castle in Scotland
The highly photogenic Thousand Islands International Bridge was built in 1937, upgraded in 1959 and spans 8.5 miles
A website detailing the history and information around visiting Boldt Castle notes: ‘A broken-hearted Boldt could not imagine his dream castle without his beloved. Boldt never returned to the island, leaving behind the structure as a monument of his love.’
The castle lay abandoned for 73 years until the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired it in 1977.
It was later opened as a tourist attraction and since then several million dollars have been spent on restoring Heart Island and its accompanying properties.
The Thousand Islands bridge is split into five sections connecting Interstate 81 in the U.S to Highways 137 and 401 in Canada
Thousand Islands is located on the Saint Lawrence River, which straddles Ontario and New York State on the U.S-Canada border. It consists of a staggering 1,864 islets
Along with his impressive home, Boldt is also said to be responsible for the invention of the now-famed Thousand Island dressing.
According to one legend detailed by the Thousand Islands official tourism website, Boldt’s steward concocted the condiment while out sailing, improvising with the ingredients he had. The hotelier was so impressed that he added the recipe to the Waldorf Astoria menu.
Another grandiose property that still stands within the Thousand Islands archipelago is Singer Castle on Dark Island.
The Gothic revival property was commissioned by Frederick Bourne, who was the fifth President of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, hence the castle’s present-day name.
Boldt is said to be responsible for the invention of the now-famed Thousand Island dressing. According to one legend his steward concocted the condiment while out sailing, improvising with the ingredients he had. The hotelier was so impressed that he added the recipe to the Waldorf Astoria menu
Standout Thousand Island fans in years gone by include George Pullman, the inventor of the railway Pullman sleeping cars, American businessman John Jacob Astor IV (co-founder of Waldorf Astoria hotels), and Helena Rubenstein, who became one of the world’s richest women with her eponymous cosmetics line
It was originally christened The Towers, by its architect Ernest Flagg, whose design was inspired by Woodstock Castle in Scotland.
On Singer Castle’s website, details around its elaborate construction methods are revealed.
It notes how ‘tons of granite were quarried from nearby Oak Island [and] brought over ice and water’ from 1903 to 1905 to construct the property and ‘over 2,000 loads of topsoil were brought from Canada to cover the eight seven acres of rock’.
The region can be explored from the air by helicopter, on water via boat tours and using kayaks and from beneath the surface on scuba diving tours, which guide guests to some of the area’s many shipwrecks
A 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours flight pictured over Singer Castle on Dark Island
Charming names of islands in the chain include Honey Bee Island, Chimney Island, Friendly Island and Comfort Island
The project cost $500,000 at the time, around $14.7million (£11.3million) in today’s money.
The finished castle featured 28 rooms, an elaborate boathouse, secret passageways, dungeons, turrets, tunnels and a two-storey ice house – ‘essential for fine entertaining at the turn of the century’.
Dark Island and Singer Castle remained in the possession of the Bourne family until the mid-1960s.
It has changed hands several times over the years and opened for public tours, weddings and events in the early 2000s.
There is now also a ‘royal suite’ sleeping six that can be booked for overnight stays.
Just one of thousands of reasons to pay the area a visit.
Always consult official coronavirus travel advice before sightseeing and booking holidays.
9 PLACES TO STAY IN THE THOUSAND ISLANDS
1. Singer Castle on Dark Island: This 28-room Scottish-inspired castle, commissioned by Frederick Bourne, the fifth President of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, and built in 1905 has a one-bedroom suite available for visitors and serves as a wedding venue (www.singercastle.com).
2. Captain Jerry’s Cottage on the St. Lawrence: A private home that sleeps six located on Wellesley Island in New York State. Accessible by vehicle and boat. There is a ferry service to Boldt Castle and other nearby attractions include a state park, golf course, shops and restaurants (www.vrbo.com).
3. 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel: Nestled on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in New York State, the AAA Four Diamond hotel has 105 rooms with many boasting panoramic river views and balconies. Amenities include an indoor swimming pool, hot tub, fitness centre, Seaway Grille restaurant and 1000 Islands Bar (www.1000islandsharborhotel.com).
4. Absolute 1000 Islands Suites: A Victorian mansion in Gananoque, Ontario, has been restored and converted into self-contained, fully furnished apartments so holidaymakers can ‘live like a local’. There are two apartments available to rent for a minimum of 30 days with a range of amenities including shops and restaurants close by (absolutelocations.net).
5. All Suites Whitney Manor: Located on the doorstep of the Thousand Islands in Kingston, Ontario, at the mouth of the Cataraqui and St. Lawrence rivers this former manor house built in 1817 has been converted into five luxury suites. The private apartments range from one to two bedrooms and all have kitchens, spacious living and dining areas, private balconies or patios, and laundry facilities (www.allsuiteswhitneymanor.com).
6. Belle Island: Located in New York State minutes away from the Canadian-U.S. border, this private island has ‘ample space’ for ten guests. Highlights include a spacious terrace, hot tub, state-of-the-art kitchen and a master bedroom, with an in-bed massage facility, that looks out on to Boldt Castle (www.vladi-private-islands.de).
7. Thousand Islands Country Club: The private golf resort on Wellesley Island in New York State upgraded its villas and suites last year to mark its 125th anniversary. Along with an 18-hole golf course, other prime attractions on the site include a marina with a protected harbor and a ‘pub and grill’ restaurant (ticountryclub.com).
8. Island Escape Cottage: Located on Round Island in New York State, this holiday rental is only accessible by boat. It includes a six-bedroom cottage with a two-bedroom bungalow overlooking a channel. The property listing notes that the island has ‘scenic paths for walking and trail running’ and the small post office hosts weekend yoga classes (www.vrbo.com).
9. Quadkin Island: This private island includes a spacious eight-bedroom house with ‘ample space’ for parking on the mainland just a quick boat ride away. The property is located just down river from Boldt Castle in New York State and described as being ‘best suited for those seeking a quintessential island experience who enjoy the outdoors, appreciate historic river homes and is comfortable being in nature’ (www.vrbo.com).