I recently took a weekend trip out to Niagara-on-the-Lake with my good friend Carmy. Niagara-on-the-Lake should not be confused with Niagara Falls – the region is a 20-30 minute drive away from Niagara Falls and the two areas couldn’t be more different. While they both cater to tourists, Niagara-on-the-Lake is more of a quaint residential community and is far more quiet and relaxed than the hustle and bustle found within Niagara Falls. I felt something slower paced and more on the relaxed side was perfect for this weekend.
We arrived Saturday shortly before noon and checked into our hotel. The 124 on Queen is a boutique hotel located on Queen Street which is the main commercial street for Niagara-on-the-Lake. We found the staff friendly and helpful – they were able to accommodate our early check-in and took us to our room. The room itself was on the small side but well-appointed and cozy. The only thing I was disappointed with was that they didn’t have any spa appointments available for the day.
After dropping our things off in the room, we headed out to explore Queen Street. Queen Street is the main thoroughfare in Niagara-on-the-Lake, it contains gift shops, hotels, restaurants, and pubs, as well as a couple of theatres. Below are a couple of pictures I took during our walk – it was a bit of a gloomy day because of the rain.
Queen Street has hundreds of tulips planted on both sides of the streets. Typically tulips blossom at the beginning of May however, many of them remained closed today because of the cold and rainy weather. Tulips generally open during the day when it’s warm and sunny out and close at night or when it’s cool and rainy out.
Queen Street is also known as the “Heritage District” and many of the buildings are reflective of that. I found the architecture in Niagara-on-the-Lake to be quite charming with all the different colored buildings. It felt almost as though we had been transported to a different time period.
We found a number of little gift shops selling everything from baked goods, to clothing to Niagara-on-the-Lake souvenirs.
Greaves has jam and jellies in almost every flavor imaginable along with all the accessories you might need for breakfast or an afternoon tea service.
For those of you who are fans of Cows, there is a location in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was my first visit but hopefully not my last. It was hard deciding amongst the flavours but I selected PEI Apple Pie which had caramel ribbons and pieces of apple pie in the ice cream. The ice cream itself was creamy and rich without being overly sweet. It was delicious! And the staff take ice cream seriously – I noticed all cones were weighed before being given to the customers. I think this was to ensure that everyone had a uniform amount of ice cream.
Rancourt winery was one of the wineries we visited while in Niagara-on-the-Lake. We sampled several of their wines while the owners talked about how the wines were produced.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is probably best known for all the wineries in the region. There are more than 30 wineries in the area and not all of the products can be found at the local LCBO stores. You can visit each winery individually but we opted to take a tour with Grape Escape Wine Tours (http://www.tourniagarawineries.com/).
The tour started in the morning when we were picked up by our tour guide and driver Diane at the hotel and then taken to several different wineries. We weren’t given a list or told of the wineries ahead of time so it was kind of an interesting surprise each time we made a stop. A few guests on our tour made a request to stop at one particular winery but were told it was not possible.
Our first stop was the Jackson-Triggs winery. It was one of the larger wineries in the region. We had a tour of their production facilities and learned how wine is produced. Our guide also explained to us how to do a structured wine tasting which involves several steps.
- Tilt the glass and hold it up to the light. You’re checking for the clarity of the wine, making sure it’s not foggy, bubbly, or containing cork pieces.
- Sniff to check for unpleasant aromas.
- Swirl the glass to add oxygen which helps to bring out flavours.
- Taste! The first sip should be used to cleanse your pallet and the second and third sips are used to taste the wine.
My favorite was an ice wine from Strewn Winery which was a little different from other ice wines in that it was double pressed. Our guide at Strewn explained that the double pressing helped to reduce the sweetness of the ice wine. I found that because it was less sweet, it was easier to drink than some of the other ice wines we had sampled that day.
Our tour also included a lunch stop at the OLiV Tasting Room and Restaurant located in the Strewn Winery. I thought it was a great way to finish off the tour – it was nice to sit down and enjoy a gourmet lunch after spending the morning at all the wineries.
All of the menu items included different types of OLiV olive oil and balsamic vinegars that were available for sale. I was surprised that balsamic vinegar was even used in the panna cotta dessert.
Overall I enjoyed my weekend away at Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was a nice change of scenery and pace compared to life in a big city like Toronto. With the number of different wineries available in the region, I will definitely be back for another weekend.