Niagara Falls! The world-famous waterfalls are on most travellers' shortlist. It takes very little research to discover that the best viewing of the Falls is from the Canadian side. The Falls are truly spectacular but once you've "ooohed" and "awed", taken the boat ride and hundreds of photos what else do travellers need to know?
The town of Niagara that has grown around the tourism industry has a carnival-like atmosphere. There are luxury hotels with fabulous views of the Falls and restaurants that serve amazing meals but, at street-level, there are erupting neon volcanoes, Ripley's Believe or Not, and wax museums. There are street performers and food carts. It's noisy, chaotic, and full of tourists and over-stimulated children.
That's cool if it's your thing but when I'm asked, I always direct people away from Niagara and instead, point them down the road to the charming Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL).
NOTL was the first capital city of colonial Upper Canada. The original white settlers generally came from England, Scotland, and other western European countries. Following the American Civil War, Loyalists leaving the US greatly expanded the population and wealth of the area. The River and the railway seemed to guarantee a successful community.
There are plenty of shops with fun and funky items.
Interesting objects are shown in historical displays in the Niagara Apothecary. In this one, a coin is inserted. A lady places her handkerchief under the bell for a spritz. This often made living amongst those who rarely bathed much more bearable.
The very popular Shaw Festival runs in the summer featuring the plays of George B Shaw. Reserve your tickets well in advance.
There’s a mix of luxurious architectural eras: Victorian, Georgian, Edwardian, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed wandering about the pretty town just admiring the homes.
Visitors can treat themselves to a little tour of the town in a horse-drawn carriage.
Most of all, NOTL is known for being Canada's oldest and most established wine appellation with more than a dozen wineries, most within walking distance of another. There are many tours available, including tour groups, single establishment tours and tastings, private drivers and curated tasting experiences.
The Inniskillin winery is the oldest of the wineries and is the winery that created the first Canadian ice wine to gain attention from international wine experts. They are particularly proud of their gastronomic pairings.
Peller Estates also believes in providing a full gastronomic experience blending food and wines. Their award-winning restaurant is run by celebrity chef Jason Parson who collaborates closely with chief wine-maker, Katie Dickieson. There is also more casual gourmet food available at their Grill overlooking the vineyards.
Trius Winery is a beautiful winery with the largest sparkling wine cellar in Canada. It also has a celebrated restaurant and a beautiful outdoor patio. They have won several presitigious wine awards and their Trius Red was the first Canadian wine to be recognized as the "best red wine in the world". During the summer, they hold regular movie nights which can be a lot of fun!
From Trius, there is a walking path the Gretzky Winery and Distillery, owned by Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. In addition to wine, Gretzky Estates also serves beer and wine. It also has a restaurant. The patio pool becomes an ice rink in the winter months.
My personal favourite is Château des Charmes and not just because I adore the traditional French estate architecture. Château des Charmes has been in the Bosc family for seven generations, not only as a commercial enterprise but because it is their home. Their wines have received countless prizes and awards. I left with a case of different bottles.
Whether you're a fan of George Bernard Shaw, artisan shops, wineries, or charming little towns, Niagara-on-the-Lake will please most travellers much more than Niagara. Absolutely spend a day admiring everything there is to admire about the magnificent falls but once you've seen the Falls lit up for the night and you need a quiet place to sleep, head down the road and spend the next few days in delightful NOTL.
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