When a friend and I found ourselves approaching a few days off at the same time, we decided it was a found opportunity for a girls’ getaway. We set our sights on Niagara-on-the-Lake, a beautiful village with a wealth of wineries and restaurants, boutique shops, art galleries, scenic walking paths along the water, the Shaw Festival, Fort George … we were determined to take in much as we could!
I can sometimes be “directionally challenged”, so it was not surprising — and rather fortuitous — that we ended up taking a wrong turn. To our delight we spied a Tuscan-style villa, surrounded by acres of vineyards. As we approached we were impressed with the architectural details — brick and plastered walls, red tiled roof, shutters on windows, and even a few picturesque broken panes here and there.
We had stumbled upon Colaneri Estate Winery, a family-owned winery with roots in Frosolone, Italy. Most wines are made appassimento style, which involves drying the grapes after they are harvested — some as long as six months — resulting in intense, bold flavours. Aside from the amazing wines it produces, Colaneri’s is worth a stop just because the building is so impressive!
On to the Shaw Festival box office, where we picked up some wine tasting passes along with our play tickets. Before indulging in the wine, we figured we should grab a bite to eat. Corks Restaurant & Wine Bar caught our eye. Our table by the front porch window was a delightful place to have lunch and watch the world go by. Corks is known for its fish and chips, and we saw quite a few people tucking into plates of golden-battered wild cod, but the chicken Caesar wraps were tasty too!
Back to the wineries! We traded our tasting passes for samples at Peller Estates Winery and Trius Winery at Hillebrand. All of the wines were so good we had a hard time deciding which we liked the most. I personally loved the icewine — not something I drink often but a real treat when I do indulge.
We were surprised to learn that all of Peller’s wines are produced at Trius, under the direction of Peller’s winemaker. “We’re both owned by the same company,” explained our very helpful wine pourer. It turns out that Peller Estates, Trius Winery at Hillebrand, Wayne Gretzky Estates and Thirty Bench Wine Makers all operate under Andrew Peller Limited’s corporate umbrella. Trius focuses on winemaking, and for the past 30 years this vintner has crafted wines from grapes grown in each of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s distinct growing regions.
When checking in at the King George III Inn, just a short walk from the Festival Theatre, we saw that the people ahead of us at the front desk were purchasing tickets to go rafting down the rapids the next morning. What, we wondered, was that all about? It turns out the inn also runs whirlpool jet boat tours on the Niagara River … and offers a discounted price to hotel guests. A spur-of-the-moment decision … Yes! Let’s do it!
We had only a short time for dinner before heading off to the play that night. When in unfamiliar territory, it’s helpful to ask the residents where they like to eat, which is how we ended up at the Stage Coach, a fast and friendly family diner. We never did get to try out the hotel clerk’s other suggestions — The Irish Harp Pub and The Olde Angel Inn — which both seem like the kind of places you would want to sit and savour the atmosphere, over a pint and some pub food.
I love live theatre, and the opportunity to attend a play at the Shaw Festival had cemented our choice of destination. We chose Light Up the Sky because we wanted a comedy, and were rewarded with an entertaining look at what goes on behind the scenes for a play’s writer, director, producer and actors.
Next morning, we started our day with a walk alongside the water and discovered the national historic site Fort Mississauga, which was built during the War of 1812. It is not as large or as impressive as Fort George, but is still worth a look. A golf course established nearby in the late 1870s now surrounds the site of the abandoned fort, so when we ventured down the path to explore we took heed of the posted notice to watch for golfers. Up on the bluff overlooking the river, we were surprised to see how close the U.S. is, and could imagine cannonballs flying back and forth between the British and the upstart American colonials!
We hurried back to get ready for our jet boat adventure, which involved donning layers that didn’t protect us from getting soaked anyway. It’s hard to stay dry when you are running the rapids…even the small ones. Clearly it would be unsafe to take on the level-six rapids or the whirlpool, but it was very cool to get within spitting distance of those as we rode by. The jet boat ride was definitely a highlight of the trip!
By noon we were dried off and ready to lunch and shop. We discovered another local favourite, The Epicurean — a lunch café and dinner bistro that features made-fresh, local-flavour foods. We loved the courtyard patio, tucked away just outside the back door and across the laneway.
We did a walk-through of the Prince of Wales Hotel, a gorgeous old building that dates back to 1864 and simply exudes Victorian charm. We peeked into the Drawing Room where afternoon tea was being served — an indulgence that requires time that, sadly, we did not have to spare.
There are number of interesting shops along the main street, and we managed to visit quite a few. I gravitated to BeauChapeau which sells nothing but hats, and discovered that Tilley Endurables now makes very stylish raffia models (and have done since 2007) — you’ve got to love it when form meets function!
We also stopped at the Niagara Apothecary shop, one of the oldest and longest continuously operating pharmaceutical practices in Canada (1866-1964) and now a museum. Looking at the rows of beautifully made druggist jars and finely tuned weigh scales, we realized just how much knowledge an apothecarist would need to master!
We ended the afternoon at Il Gelato di Carlotta. Online reviewers claim the gelato here is as authentic as any you would find in Italy. It may have been the heat, or the fact that it was now late in the day, or the melancholy of knowing this would be our last stop … but it certainly was delicious and we savoured every bite.
Then it was time to head back to London, having enjoyed a very full and very fabulous two-day getaway. This is definitely a town I would visit again!
Kym Wolfe is a London-based writer who always manages to come across interesting places and people, wherever her road trips take her. Visit her at kymwolfe.com.