Coming into town via the Niagara Parkway I felt a sense of homecoming and calm as we rounded the corner by the fort and made our way onto Queen Strreet. Home because we’ve been coming to this quaint lake/river-side town for the last several years and I’ve learned more things about it. And home because it is a destination filled with the comforts that bring me back to peace and tranquility that often get away from me in this busy life. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a small town close to Niagara Falls, Ontario (Canada) in distance but miles away in atmosphere. It quaintly sits at the end of the Niagara River where it spills into Lake Ontario.
Niagara-on-the-Lake’s best lodging option is a b&b, in my opinion. You get a cozy room with private bath, a common space, and delicious breakfasts. You can find something in your price point from simple to extravagant. Of course for more money you can stay at one of the Vintage Hotels like the Pillar and Post, Prince of Wales, or Queen’s Landing and buy your own breakfast. And something I’ve always wanted to try is renting our own place entirely. This time we checked into something in between – the Harbour House Hotel. It is a smaller hotel – Nantucket shingled style, overlooking the marina – but also offers a European breakfast (which usually consists of one hot dish, some cold meats/cheeses, and lavish continental options). We actually booked a room this time off of Jetsetter – a sale-based travel site – and booked a deluxe water-view room. It wasn’t very large but was accommodating a sitting area with fireplace, sofa, and chair in addition to a King-sized bed. Some of the little amenities I love about Harbour House, though, are the DVD library (perfect for a night in or a lazy morning), a daily wine and cheese reception (sampling from wineries that you can then visit!), and cookies in the evening (peanut butter, chocolate, etc!) – all included in the room price!
Truth be told, I may have eaten a lot on our last trip to Niagara in the winter. 🙁 There’s nothing like good comfort food to tuck into in a cozy town with quaint surroundings. Because we stay at B&B’s normally and the Harbour includes breakfast, we usually aren’t hungry for a lunch + dinner so we’ll do a “lunner”, ha, I just made that up! And that might mean more of a later lunchtime meal at my favorite place in Niagara – the Epicurean (for homemade quiche, salad, bread- delicious!) or the Irish Tea Room (for scones, soups, Irish fare). Of course we may always supplement with a pint later and maybe some fries with gravy (a Canadian must!) at the Old Angel Inn, the Irish Harp, or the Churchill Lounge. On weekends, the Harp and the Old Angel will often have live music, too – combined with a warm drink or dish, the cold outside becomes a distant memory. But if we truly do “lunner” then we’ll probably have a heartier more formal sit-down meal at one of the nicer restaurants in town like Zee’s. We have also experienced Afternoon Tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel complete with fine china, an elaborate dining room, and delicate sandwiches and pastries – my husband enjoyed it, too! And another great day was discovering a newer winery/restaurant called Ravine Vineyard and whiling away an afternoon eating a wonderful lunch (amazing butternut squash soup!) and drinking their wine.
Speaking of wineries, you must visit at least 1 or 2 or 10 when in town. If you are a California red wine snob, you probably won’t enjoy much. But if you can open your mind to what this region is known for – namely ice wine and various white vintages – you will have a great experience. And if you appreciate architecture, scenery, and beauty, you will be all set. There are many many wineries that extend quite beyond the town and we have been to most! But I’ll highlight a few that are our favorites. 1. Inniskillin – one of the oldest, wonderful wines, beautiful location, very close to town. 2. Jackson Triggs – amazing architecture, offers a great tour, can buy their wine in the U.S., also very close 3. Tawse Winery – if you choose to go further out towards Jordan, Ontario, this is a winery that uses a fascinating gravity flow system to move their grapes from the vine to wine. We did stop at a new winery this year, Two Sisters Vineyard – right next to Peller and close to town. While the property is beautiful and they also have a restaurant that looks great, the wine was quite pricey compared to similar quality in the area, in my opinion.
Because it’s probably really cold and there’s snow on the ground, activities are a little more limited in the wintertime in Niagara. I’m personally fine with curling up with a good book in my B&B room by the fireplace. But a brisk walk through town or along the scenic river trail is always an awesome way to justify more food and wine. 🙂 If it’s warm enough, bring your bike and you can travel all the way from town to the falls on the same trail. I haven’t tried it, but cross-country skiing on the trail would be nice, too! Or take a drive down to the Falls – they are beautiful in winter, too. And even though the Shaw Festival is closed for live theatre, they do have a film series (PDF brochure) that seems like a fun way to spend a day if it coincides with your visit.
I hope you get a chance to visit this magical little town and enjoy it as much as I do!