GETTING THERE: Two hours by car, bus or train. Take the Gardiner Expressway westbound out of Toronto, which turns into the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW). Follow the signs to Niagara.
CLAIM TO FAME: A full range of experiences, from the in-your-face weirdness of Clifton Hill’s wax museums and souvenir shops in the centre of downtown, to the magnificence of the falls—the seventh wonder of the world—to the bling-bling and flash of the casinos to the beautiful green expanses of the Niagara Parkway. And more motels than you’ve ever seen (it was the honeymoon capital of the world for years, after all).
WHAT TO DO: Go to the falls first. You can see it from the banks, from above on the Skylon Tower Observation Deck (1-905-356-2651), from the water on The Maid of the Mist (1-905-358-5781)—but be forewarned, there’s plenty of mist. Explore even more by taking the Table Rock House elevator down to the Journey Behind the Falls, which brings you through clammy tunnels and then out to where the water drops right in front of you (it’s very wet but hooded yellow raincoats are provided). If you want to be above it all, take in the view from the sky in a somewhat pricey but unmatchable swoop with Niagara Helicopters (1-905-357-5672). At night the falls are lit up by coloured lights around 9 p.m.; on Fridays there’s a fireworks show at 11 p.m. The Niagara Parkway is a model of how to keep the landscape green—you can drive, bike or walk any portion of its 56-kilometre length. Along the way you can visit the floral clock at the School of Horticulture, with 25,000 flowering plants covering its 40-foot face. At the same location find the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, where you can wander quietly among 2,000 butterflies. Nature tours finished? Head to Casino Niagara and clutch that rabbit’s foot for luck at countless tables, slot machines and video poker terminals, open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
For more information, contact the Niagara Falls Canada Visitor and Convention Bureau (1-905-356-6061), or visit www.discoverniagara.com, www.niagarafallslive.com and www.niagara.com.MUSKOKA
GETTING THERE: Two hours by car. Take Hwy. 401 west out of Toronto to Hwy. 400, then head north to Hwy. 11.
CLAIM TO FAME: Canada’s own version of the posh Hamptons, the Muskoka region is the much beloved summer playground of the city’s elite.
WHAT TO DO: Covering 2,500 square miles, Muskoka consists of six municipalities: Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Georgian Bay, Huntsville, Lake of Bays and Muskoka Lakes Township. The region is graciously situated between two of the province’s natural attractions, Algonquin Provincial Park and Georgian Bay. No slouch in the natural beauty department, Muskoka boasts more than 1,600 lakes, rivers and waterfalls, as well as picturesque hiking trails, beaches and parks. Explore this summer fun mecca and take advantage of the endless recreational opportunities to bike, swim, canoe, kayak, paddle or climb. A good number of artists and artisans also call the region home, ensuring countless opportunities for buying art and antiques (there is an art sale or show almost every weekend during the summer).
Some events to look out for are the annual Festival of the Sound (July 16 to August 8)—the highly regarded music festival presents more than 50 performances—and the Muskoka Lakes Music Festival (to August 11). Don’t forget to stop by and pick up a calendar of events at the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts (2 Bay St., Parry Sound, 1-705-764-4466 or 1-877-746-4466; www.stockeycentre.com) and The Gravenhurst Opera House (295 Muskoka Rd. S., Gravenhurst, 1-705-687-5550 or 1-888-495-8888), both venues produce a varied summer concert and performance season.
Aside from its lovely beaches and busy social scene, Muskoka also houses an impressive selection of golf courses including Deerhurst Highlands (1235 Deerhurst Dr., Huntsville, 1-705-789-7878), Taboo (Muskoka Beach Road, Taboo Resort, Gravenhurst, 1-705-687-2233) The Rock (1185 Juddhaven Rd., Minett, 1-866-765-ROCK), and the Mark O’Meara Course at Grandview Golf Club (939 Hwy. 60, Delta Grandview Resort, Huntsville, 1-877-472-6388).
For details about Muskoka’s attractions see www.where.ca/muskoka or www.discovermuskoka.ca or call 1-800-267-9700.
GETING THERE: Ninety minutes by car. Take Hwy. 401 west out of Toronto to Hwy. 400, head north to Hwy. 11, then take Hwy. 26 west from Barrie.
CLAIM TO FAME: A four-season, full-throttle, family friendly recreational wonderland.
WHAT TO DO: Journey into the past at the Scenic Caves Nature Preserve (RR 3, Scenic Caves Rd., 1-705-446-0256), one of Canada’s six UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves and home to countless rare and exotic plants. For pontoon boats, jet boats, canoes, kayaks and paddle boats, call Southwinds Marine Inc. (1 Harbour St. W., 1-705-444-1251) and see the Georgian Triangle from the water. Get down to ground level at the Adventure Mountain Bike Centre (Blue Mountain Resort, RR 3, 1-705-445-0231) and experience Blue Mountain’s renowned biking trails. Other area attractions include the Creemore Springs Brewery (139 Mill St., Creemore, 1-705-466-2240), The Nancy Island Historic Site (1900 Mosley St., Wasaga Beach, 1-705-429-2728) and Wasaga Beach, featuring eight beaches and 14 kilometres of Georgian Bay shoreline.
Antiques collectors will love Art Moderne Antiques and Curios (48 Pine St., 1-705-444-5004). Blue Mountain Pottery(2 Old Mountain Rd., 1-705-445-3000) has a large selection of pottery, as well as a gift shop. If you really want to stick around, stay at the Blue Mountain Resort (RR 3 Collingwood, 1-705-445-0231), Ontario’s largest mountain resort.
For something special, dust off your white jumpsuit and put on your best sultry pout at the tenth annual Collingwood Elvis Festival (1-866-444-1162), a celebration of the singer’s life and music, which shimmies into a frenzy July 21 to 25. Or enjoy such diverse musical acts as Anton Kuerti, The Nylons and Pavlo at the Collingwood Summer Music Festival (1-519-599-5461) from July 12 to August 6.
For more information, call 1-866-351-4597 or visit www.tourismcollingwood.com.NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE
GETTING THERE: Ninety minutes southwest of Toronto. Take the QEW towards Niagara to Hwy. 55 and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
CLAIM TO FAME: A historic and picturesque township nestled between the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, home to the Shaw Festival and many internationally-recognized wineries.
WHAT TO DO: The area is an important part of Canadian history: in 1792 it was named the capital of what was then considered Upper Canada. During the War of 1812 the town burned to the ground but was later rebuilt into a viable commercial area with a thriving ship and ship-building industry. The historic Fort George (26 Queen St., 1-905-468-4257), was an important British garrison during the war, and today, costumed staff re-create life as it was in the early 19th century.
Known today for the delicious chocolates that bear her name, Laura Secord played a pivotal role during the War of 1812 by hiking 32 kilometres through American lines to warn the British garrison of an impending attack. The Laura Secord Homestead (29 Queenston St., 1-905-262-4851) pays homage to the heroine by giving a glimpse of life during the early 1800s through her refurbished cottage. History buffs should also visit the Niagara Historical Society Museum (43 Castlereagh St., 1-905-468-3912), which showcases a chronological history of the area, a gallery of the War of 1812 and special exhibits. Want to really experience history? Step back in time with a horse and buggy ride through the charming, tree-lined streets of Old Town.
The internationally-acclaimed Shaw Festival stages the plays of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, presented in three intimate theatres, the Festival Theatre, Royal George Theatre and Court House Theatre.
The natural climate and soil of the Niagara region have also led to the creation of a successful fruit and wine industry, with an abundance of apricot, nectarine, pear, plum, peach and cherry orchards. The Kurtz Orchards Country Market & Orchard Tours (16006 Niagara Parkway, 1-905-468-2937) offers orchard tours and lunch in a renovated barn. Golfers can improve their par at several courses, including Peach Trees Executive Golf (221 Niven Rd., 1-905-468-1811) or Royal Niagara Golf Course (1 Niagara-on-the-Green Blvd., 1-905-685-9501), which offers three nine-hole courses.
Antiques lovers are sure to find numerous treasures from jewellery to furniture at several shops, including Europa Antiques (1523 Niagara Stone Rd., 1-905-468-3130) and Lakeshore Antiques & Treasures (855 Lakeshore Rd., 1-905-646-1965).
For more information, call 1-905-468-1950 or visit www.niagaraonthelake.com.
GETTING THERE: Ninety minutes southwest of Toronto. Take the QEW towards Niagara to Hwy. 55 and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
CLAIM TO FAME: Rich soil and mild temperatures make this area one of the finest wine regions in the world.
WHAT TO DO: Picturesque and award-winning wineries can be found throughout the area, producing a variety of chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, riesling and ice wine. Some of the notable wineries in the region are, Hillebrand Estates Winery (Hwy. 55, 1-800-582-8412), Inniskillin Wines (Line 3 at the Niagara Parkway, 1-905-468-3554), Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery (2145 RR 55, 1-866-589-4637), Peller Estates Winery (290 John St. E., 1-905-468-4678), Pillitteri Estates Winery (1696 Niagara Stone Rd., 1-905-468-3147), and Strewn Estate Winery (1339 Lakeshore Rd., RR 3 at Four-Mile Creek Road, 1-905-468-1229).
Many of the wineries offer tours of their grounds as well as tastings of their wines; call ahead for tour and event schedules. Health-conscious wine buffs can take a biking tour of select wineries, orchards, parks and the Niagara Escarpment, most notably with Steve Bauer Bike Tours, (4979 King St., Beamsville, 1-905-563-8787). Bauer, a Tour de France participant, together with his team, leads cyclists through a leisurely tour of the region, visiting orchards, vineyards and historical sites before enjoying a gourmet feast from a local winery restaurant.
Local dining establishments often serve regional wines, and will happily recommend the perfect tipple to compliment your meal. The elegant (155 Byron St., 1-905-468-4637), located in the Queen’s Landing Inn, matches contemporary European cuisine with local wines. Other dining options include The Epicurean (84 Queen St., 1-905-468-3408), Carriage Inn Restaurant (245 King St., 1-905-468-4038), or Oban Inn Restaurant (160 Front St., 1-888-669-5566).
Another option is to dine right on vineyard premises: Hillebrand’s Vineyard Café (1249 Niagara Stone Rd., 1-905-468-7123) and Peller Estates Winery Restaurant (290 John St. E., 1-905-468-6878) are both popular spots. The Hillebrand Jazz & Blues at the Winery are festive weekends featuring live entertainment by Canadian artists, enjoyed on the grounds of the winery (July 10 & 11 and August 14). The entertaining Twilight in the Vineyard season at Jackson-Triggs runs July 3 to August 29, with a line up that includes live music, films with live accompaniment and readings (see box on page 38 for more information).
For more information, visit www.winesofontario.ca.STRATFORD
HOW TO GET THERE: Two hours west of Toronto. Take Hwy. 401 west to Hwy. 8 and head northwest to Stratford.
CLAIM TO FAME: A popular destination best known for the annual Stratford Theatre Festival, its charming restaurants and the picturesque Avon River.
WHAT TO DO: Stratford’s proximity to the quaint farmlands of Perth County and its vibrant artistic community—many of the residents are involved in the festival’s productions—makes it a pleasing mix of city and country. Ontario street, the main drag, is abuzz with visitors and locals alike during the summer and fall seasons browsing the local clothing and sweet shops. For dining, try Rundles (9 Cobourg St., 1-519-271-6442), The Old Prune (151 Albert St., 1-519-271-5052), The Church Restaurant and Belfry (70 Brunswick St., 1-519-273-3424) and Bijou Restaurant (105 Erie St., 1-519-273-5000).
Stratford’s beloved swans can be found (and fed) by the banks of the Avon River. Residents since 1918, the swans are cared for by the town and make an annual march down to the river when the weather warms up.
Stratford simply brims with creative enthusiasm. After touring the galleries and shops, catch a concert courtesy of The Stratford Summer Music series. From July 21 to August 1 the festival puts on more than 40 concerts featuring performances by Ashley MacIsaac, the Stradivarius String Quartet and the After-Theatre Cabaret. (Call 1-800-567-1600 for information or visit www.stratfordsummermusic.ca).
For more information, call Tourism Stratford at 1-800-561-7926 or visit www.city.stratford.on.ca.