Close to Toronto and Niagara Falls, pretty Niagara-on-the-Lake warrants a trip all itself. This is Ontario’s wine central, a fertile region of award-winning whites, reds, and world leader in Icewine production.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is easygoing, charming, and inviting. You’ll want to reserve plenty of time to sit on your B&B veranda after days filled with touring and tasting. Here’s your guide to enjoying it.
Slow wine touring
Explore the area’s 35 wineries the leisurely way: By bicycle. Grape Escapes Wine Tours takes you all over the Niagara Peninsula and through the gastro-paradise of Prince Edward County. Pedal between places or ride in a passenger van if your legs need a break. Favorites include the cycle-and-lunch and half-day tasting paired with artisan cheeses. Cheers!
Boat to the iconic falls
It would be just plain wrong not to visit the fabled Niagara Falls 25 minutes away. Here’s the fun way to do it: Take a Hornblower boat tour — catamaran or smaller jet-boat — right into the spraying mist and roaring rush of the falls’ base 165 feet below.
Green, rural, and relatively flat with gentle, rolling hills, the Niagara-on-the-Lake area is ideal for two-wheelers. Check out popular biking routes, plan your cycle tour, and find anything related at the Niagara Cycling Tourism Centre. The most popular are the paved Greater Niagara Circle Route, or portions of the 87-mile pathway, and 35-mile Niagara River Recreation Trail. This riverside ride has it all: Views, restaurants, historic sites, attractions, and of course, wine tasting stops.
The historical town
A highlight is the lovely 19th century village. Well-preserved brick heritage buildings and turreted Victorians with ornate facades complement the leafy streets, well-manicured gardens, and overflowing flower baskets. The first capital city of Upper Canada (known today as Ontario), the town’s history dates back to 1781 and Niagara-on-the-Lake also played a leading role in the War of 1812. Stroll the graceful avenues, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, or set out on an Old Town walking tour.
Theater: The Shaw Festival
Internationally renowned, the Shaw Festival puts on theater performances by playwright George Bernard Shaw and others from the late 1800s in three venues from April to November each year. The world’s leading directors — both resident and visiting — stage the acclaimed productions. Artistic director Tim Carroll, a Brit who took the helm in 2016, has injected new excitement — and more Canadian plays and contemporary North American theater — into the long-running festival. Plays vary by season, but the line-up usually includes one masterpiece — such as Shaw’s revered Saint Joan, one adaptation of a famous work — for example, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and one musical.
The Niagara Peninsula is home to globally recognized vintners, such as Icewine pioneer Inniskillin and Peller Estates, but also boutique labels like Small Talk Vineyards, many whose wines you can only sample in Canada. Visit as many as you can. Most wineries offer tours and tastings — from small-batch to rare vintages — plus seminars on winemaking and growing. They also make a picturesque spot for a gourmet picnic.
Niagara Icewine Festival
Trip Advisor ranks Niagara-on-the-Lake Canada’s #11 food and wine destination. Time to indulge! Visit during January’s annual Icewine Festival — in winter, when the frozen grapes are harvested — to eat and drink to your heart’s content during the 17-day extravaganza of grand tastings, chef’s long tables and winemakers’ dinners, VIP parties, and classes. How often do you get to toast the season at an ice bar?
British-style afternoon tea
Lavish afternoon tea in the ornate Prince of Wales Hotel drawing room with all the trappings is a requisite ritual in town. Picture decadent Devonshire cream, warm scones, candelabras, fine china, and silver. Don’t miss the Icewine jelly and Himalayan Vintage Black tea.
Hit the town
It may be a village, but this one boasts cosmopolitan top-notch dining. Try Ravine Vineyard Restaurant set in a historic farmhouse. The seasonal farm-to-table menu spotlights Niagara producers, and you won’t want to miss the outstanding house charcuterie. Splurge at manor house Charles Hotel with a meal-to-remember under the sparkling chandeliers to the tune of live big-band entertainment. Foodies praise the high-caliber kitchen, noting the fresh diver scallops and succulent short ribs. Tuck into anything, really, at celebrated locals’ hot spot Backhouse, a celebration of everything homegrown and sustainable.
Prince of Wales Hotel
It’s hard to imagine anything with more vintage appeal than this stately 1864 hotel: swanky, elegant, and meticulously appointed with handsome period antiques. Enjoy feeling like English nobility for a while.
Lakelands Bed and Breakfast
Theater, shopping and galleries, biking, walking, and wine country are minutes away from this cheery, garden B&B. In modern designer style, this intimate place is tranquil and centrally located. Guests rave about the bright and spacious rooms and sunny breakfast area.
Riverbend Inn & Vineyard
If you’re imagining reclining in a gazebo with a view of vineyards, this 17-acre Georgian manor estate is for you. Stroll the gardens and vines, sip a glass of local red on your balcony, or just sit and watch the sunset.
Niagara-on-the-Lake makes a well-rounded vacation getaway, in any season. Just be sure to leave room in your suitcase for all the wine.
Originally published by Destination Canada.