By KAREN CLEVELAND
If you’re going to invest 90 minutes of driving for a getaway from Toronto, fewer places net a higher return than a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The charming town is home to breathtaking views, excellent restaurants, amazing vineyards and some of Canada’s most treasured heritage sites. Whether you fall in love with Niagara-on-the-Lake for a long affair, or just a fleeting tryst, be sure to consider these 10 tips when making your getaway plan.
1. LEAVE EARLY
Brave your alarm clock or brave sitting in traffic. The 90-minute drive from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake can easily double in heavy traffic. Leave Toronto by 8 a.m. for the most efficient drive.
2. BRING YOUR WALKING SHOES
Niagara-on-the-Lake is walkable—sort of. The nearby wineries warrant car or bike trips, but the downtown hub is best explored on foot. Street parking is in abundance, so ditch your car and fuel up for your stroll with a coffee from Balzac. The Toronto-based café makes a fine Americano, and its Niagara-on-the-Lake outpost has more charm and less bustle than its city counterparts.
3. WATCH THE SUNSET OVER THE LAKE
For cocktail hour, get a seat on the patio at Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf and Country Club, North America’s oldest standing golf club. The setting is unpretentious with gorgeous views of the lake and Fort Niagara, built in the 1700’s. This is the perfect place to watch the sun set while sampling a glass of local wine from the small but well-curated list of local bottles.
4. EAT DINNER AT A WINERY
While there is no shortage of good restaurants in the Niagara-on-the-Lake’s core (check out the new Treadwell location), some of the best meals are served at the wineries. At Good Earth Winery—one of the area’s original farm-to-table restaurants—the setting, food and wine are all wonderful. The lobster and shrimp burger is as good, if not better, than you’d imagine.
5. GET TO THE THEATRE
For more than 50 years, the Shaw Theatre Festival has been its own getaway from Toronto. It’s long anchored Niagara’s art’s scene, producing plays from George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. The Edwardian-style Royal George Theatre is impossibly beautiful and located on downtown Queen Street.
6. DRINK WITH HISTORY
After #5, grab a night cap at the Olde Angel Inn , the oldest operating inn in Ontario. The pub was built in 1789 and rebuilt in 1815 after the War of 1812. Exposed beams and thick plank floors make for a cozy environment. Be sure to ask the warm staffers about the resident ghost and the flag they fly above the Inn.
7. ATTEND AN OUTDOOR CONCERT
Jackson-Triggs Winery hosts fantastic outdoor concerts at its open-air amphitheatre. Performances range from classical to folk, and often have the option of pairing a concert with dinner and wine in the stunning on-site cellar.
8. SLEEP AT A B&B
The bed and breakfast is Niagara-on-the-Lake’s signature accommodation type. There are dozens, and each has its own charms. We love The Darlington House, located a short stroll from the town centre and across the street from the historic Butler’s Barracks. The house is quaint, the breakfast excellent and Julie and Mark are the consummate hosts.
9. TOUR A WINERY
Grape vines pour over the benches and rich terroir that surround Niagara-on-the-Lake thanks to the region’s 27 wineries. You shouldn’t leave without touring at least a few of them, or even stopping in for lunch. We love Marynissen Winery , home to the oldest commercial plot of Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Canada, and Ravine Vineyard , which has a casual-but-elegant restaurant, organic farm and canning shop.
10. STOP AT A FARMER’S MARKET
Before jumping on the highway, take a few leisurely back country roads and you’re bound to happen upon a farmer’s market or two. Stock up on produce, preserves or fresh baked goods for the drive back. The annual Niagara Wine Festival, held in mid-September is the perfect excuse to plan a visit—not that you need one.
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