It's hard to image a town with more joie de vivre than Niagara-On-The-Lake in Ontario, Canada. Hugged by water on three sides, this tranquil settlement has emerged as one of the world's most respected wine-growing regions, yet remains largely undiscovered by oenophiles.
With a rich history dating back to the first Loyalist settlement in pre-revolutionary days, the region has been lovingly cultivated and manicured for generations. Mile upon mile of orchards that once yielded sweet crops of strawberries, peaches, plums and cherries, now produce some of the most sophisticated and complex wines this side of Bordeaux (which shares it's same latitude). A unique micro-climate influenced by Lake Ontario and the mist swirling into the air from nearby Niagara Falls, warms the air keeping the area more temperate than most northern farming regions.
Today Niagara-On-The-Lake boasts 22 innovative and distinctive wineries which produce exceptional estate vintages, sparkling wines and Icewines that have won worldwide acclaim as "liquid gold". To sample the world's premier Icewines is reason enough to plan a visit to Ontario wine-country, but fine wines are just the beginning of the delights that await.
The village of Niagara-On-The-Lake is often considered to be the loveliest town in Canada. It exudes quaint Victorian charm. Streets are dotted with stately inns, charismatic bed and breakfasts and elegant historic hotels. The Prince of Wales Hotel which holds center stage on King Street, is a prime example with its regal "Place des Vosges" red brick facade and playful white latticework frills. Flower plantings fill your every glance and invite you to stroll along the streets to discover artist boutiques, antique shops, delectable bakeries and cozy restaurants.
Niagara-On-The-Lake is also known for their wonderful summer theater performances. The highly acclaimed Shaw Festival is celebrating it's 50th year. The festival stages performances from June until November, in three theaters that celebrate the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. This year's playbill includes My Fair Lady, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, On the Rocks, and many others.
Your days will be filled with visits to unique and impressive vineyards, from historic homesteads, to grand chateaus, to Leed Certified Eco-designed wineries. Half the fun is learning about each maverick vintner and discovering how they have carefully crafted their individual low yield - high quality wines. And as you might expect, a region that is so passionate about its' harvest of grapes, is equally as devoted to cultivating the highest quality organic produce. This abundance of exceptional local ingredients has attracted celebrated chefs, artisanal fromageries, and food craftsmen of every description. This region is a foodies paradise!
Should you need a bit of exercise to work off your sumptuous meals and wine tastings, you'll find the Greater Niagara Circle Route a perfect choice. The wide, paved, and mainly traffic free, scenic route is designed for hiking, cycling or even rollerblading. It winds its way past the Welland Canal, Lake Ontario shoreline, Fort Erie, and numerous vineyards. Companies like Zoom Leisure will set you up with equipment and gear, and even provide an entertaining guided tour if you wish.
All in all, Niagara-On-The-Lake makes a spectacular destination for a romantic getaway, girlfriend weekend or nature lovers escape. If you have more time to spend, immerse yourself in Ontario Wine Country where you'll find over 100 charming wineries in 5 distinct growing regions. All this abundance is just a 30 minute drive from Buffalo NY. For more information visit Wine Country Ontario and read my full trip report of restaurants and vineyards to visit.
Photo Credit: Ontario Wine Country and WickedGoodTravelTips.com