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Niagara’s Deluge of Delights

FIRST YOU NOTICE A DULL RUMBLE, CONSTANT AND LOW, SENDING A TINGLE DOWN YOUR SPINE. You keep walking, a grassy boulevard on one side and a sheer drop on the other. Around you the crowds grow larger, a multitude of tongues chatter in anticipation. The din is no longer so far off, and the might of its ceaseless roar becomes ever more apparent. A breeze picks up, a fine mist settles on your arms and on your face. You turn to exclaim how refreshing it feels in the summer heat, but your voice is overwhelmed by the thundering torrent. A friend taps you on the shoulder and you pause, mouth hanging open. There it is in front of you, the source of all the excitement: Niagara Falls.

Each year, millions of visitors glimpse Niagara Falls for the first time (and many others for the second, third, fourth or more). The product of centuries of erosion and glacial melting, together the Horseshoe, American and Bridal Veil falls comprise a truly impressive landmark. And in a city that bursts with enticements, from casinos to nature sanctuaries and historical sites, it’s still the main attraction.

THE BEST VIEWS OF THE FALLS

Between the roar of water crashing down from its monumental precipice and the vast swath of prime viewing space running along the Niagara River, the falls are impossible to miss. But there are many different ways to experience their majesty.

One famous option is aboard the Maid of the Mist tour boat. Since 1846, millions have donned raincoats for a close-up view of the Horseshoe Falls, which drops 57 metres into the churning gorge. Equally renowned, Journey Behind the Falls (6650 Niagara Pkwy., 1-905-354-1551) allows visitors to do just that—an elevator descends to the base of the falls and tunnels that provide a view of the cascade from behind.

Of course, the sights are just as thrilling from up high, and at almost 250 metres above the falls, the indoor and outdoor observation deck at Skylon Tower is a perfect vantage point. Niagara Helicopters Limited (3731 Victoria Ave., 1-905-357-5672) has a true aerial view—its photo-friendly tour follows the Niagara River from the Whirlpool Rapids all the way to Niagara Falls itself.

Downriver from the mighty spill, the currents abruptly change and create a mesmerizing, if rather ominous, whirlpool. The Whirlpool Aero Car (3850 Niagara Pkwy., 1-877-642-7275) is an antique cable car that passes over this swirling vortex. The White Water Walk (4330 Niagara Pkwy., 1-877-642-7275) offers another perspective on all that water. Visitors stroll alongside a stretch of the gorge that features some of the most treacherous rapids in North America.

MORE NATURAL WONDERS
Niagara Falls isn’t the only unique natural attraction in the city. A short walk from the water, the popular Niagara Falls Aviary houses more than 35 species of exotic birds in an open jungle setting, complete with an imported and reconstructed 125-year-old Javanese nobleman’s house—the only one remaining in the world.

Airborne creatures of a different kind are found at the Butterfly Conservatory, where more than 2,000 varied and vibrant butterflies flutter about. The Conservatory is situated within the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens (1-905-356-8554), which are composed of nearly 100 acres of beautifully blooming rhododendrons, azaleas, ornamental trees and more than 2,400 roses.

Marineland is literally tons of family fun: its pod of killer whales splash about in Friendship Cove, the world’s largest whale habitat; playful belugas interact with visitors during feeding sessions; and daily live shows feature dolphins, walruses and sea lions.

Across the street at Rapidsview Park, Cirque Niagara presents Avaia, a performance showcasing some of the world’s most rare and ancient horse breeds and thrilling Cossack trick-riders. Performances start June 15. Tickets are $39 to $79 for adults, $19.50 to $39.50 for children nine and under; call 1-877-247-7831 to buy.

CANADA’S LARGEST GAMING FLOOR
Whether you’re a big spender or a people-watcher, casinos in Niagara Falls offer round-the-clock excitement. Along with more than 3,000 slot machines and 150 table games on the country’s biggest gaming floor, Fallsview Casino Resort boasts a five-star hotel, fine dining and the 1,500-seat Avalon Ballroom, which hosts entertainers including Aretha Franklin (June 22) and Peter Frampton (June 27). Casino Niagara offers gaming tables and 1,700 slot machines, plus a Yuks Yuks comedy club.
HISTORICAL NIAGARA

First settled more than 300 years ago on what is now the Canada-US border, the Niagara Falls area has a long history, not only as one of Ontario’s oldest tourist destinations, but also as an important battleground in the War of 1812. The Niagara Heritage Trail winds its way north from the city along scenic Niagara Parkway and features many of the region’s most storied sites.

A towering monument at Queenston Heights Park (off Niagara Parkway, near the village of Queenston) honours Sir Isaac Brock, a British major-general who died in defense of Upper Canada during a decisive 1812 battle. Nearby, the Laura Secord Homestead (29 Queenston St.) offers a glimpse into the exploits of the Canadian heroine who walked more than 30 kilometres to warn of advancing American soldiers. In the restored home of rebel publisher William Lyon Mackenzie, the Mackenzie Printery & Newspaper Museum (1 Queenston St.) displays 500 years of printing technology, including one of the few original wooden printing presses left in the world.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE’S CHARM
Though more than 200 years old, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s age belies its vitality. The entire town is designated a National Historic Site. The tree-lined main streets of this picturesque town are lined with quaint heritage homes and shops, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club (143 Front St., 1-905-468-3424) is North America’s oldest, and Fort George (26 Queen St., 1-905-468-4257) marks yet another important War of 1812 battleground.

Year after year, one of the town’s biggest draws is the Shaw Festival, which stages the many plays of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, as well as those set within the Irish playwright’s lifetime. The renowned festival runs from April to November in three theatres: the flagship Festival Theatre, and the more intimate Royal George and Court House theatres. This summer’s slate includes Shaw’s celebrated Saint Joan, Somerset Maugham’s The Circle, and Mack and Mabel—a musical composed by Jerry Herman, the man behind Hello Dolly!

Fancy a pre- or post-theatre bite? A number of restaurants in the area combine elegant ambiance and classic cuisine. Within walking distance of the theatres, the tony Escabèche (6 Picton St., 1-905-468-3246) and Tiara (155 Byron St., 1-905-468-2195) offer seasonal menus made with local ingredients, while diners at the more relaxed Cannery and Carriages (48 John St. W., 1-905-468-2123) are treated to North American classics and family fare. Nearby, Restaurant Tony de Luca (160 Front St., 1-905-468-7900) boasts an ever-changing tasting menu and chef’s table among its exceptional dining options. Out of town, the Queenston Heights Restaurant (14184 Niagara Pkwy., Queenston, 1-905-262-4274) has panoramic views of the Niagara River and a menu paired with selections from its “Best of Niagara” wine cellar, and estate-winery restaurant On the Twenty (3845 Main St., Jordan, 1-905-562-7313) champions the flavours of the region’s bountiful harvest.

AWARD-WINNING WINERIES

Niagara’s most abundant crops are the grapes that become some of Canada’s best-loved wines. Blessed with an ideal combination of climate, topography and fertile soil, the country’s largest wine region came to prominence in the early 1990s for its award-winning icewines. Today, seasoned connoisseurs and novices alike imbibe renowned Rieslings, Pinots, Chardonnays and more, from Niagara’s top wineries.

More than 50 vineyards are found along the scenic (and well marked) Niagara Wine Route, stretching from the town of Grimsby to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Throughout the summer, Reif Estate Winery (15608 Niagara Pkwy., 1-905-468-7738) has a daily artisan wine and cheese seminar. Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate (2145 R.R. #55, 1-866-589-4637) hosts live concerts in its open-air amphitheatre, including performances by the Barenaked Ladies’ Steven Page, The Philosopher Kings and others. Vineland Estates Winery (3260 Moyer Rd., Vineland, 1-888-846-3526) not only produces award-winning wines, it’s also one of Niagara’s most esteemed dining locations.

Many more wineries—from intimate estates to large-scale modern producers—offer tours, tastings and the opportunity to purchase their vintages; call ahead to verify hours.

Cave Springs Cellars (3836 Main St., Jordan, 1-905-562-3581)

Château des Charmes Wines (1025 York Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-905-262-4219)

Frogpond Farm Organic Winery (1385 Larkin Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-877-989-0165)

Hillebrand Winery (1249 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-800-582-8412)

Inniskillin Wines (Line 3 at Niagara Parkway, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-905-468-3554)

Magnotta Cellars (4701 Ontario St., Beamsville, 1-905-563-5313)

Peller Estates Winery (290 John St. E., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-888-673-5537)

Pillitteri Estates Winery (1696 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-905-468-3147)

Strewn Winery (1339 Lakeshore Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-905-468-1229)

Don’t miss…

From June 9 to 17, more than 30 of the best-known wine makers from across the region showcase their 2005 and 2006 vintages during the 12th annual Niagara New Vintage Festival (1-905-688-0212). Participating wineries welcome visitors with tours, wine and cheese tastings and more.

GETTING THERE IS EASY!
Niagara Falls is less than a two-hour drive from Toronto, and there’s no shortage of ways to get there from the big city.
TAKE A TOUR

Toronto Tours Ltd. (416-869-1372) has year-round coach trips to Niagara Falls, departing from downtown hotels. Tours include a ride on the Maid of the Mist, a buffet meal overlooking the falls, and more.

The award-winning package offered by Niagara and Toronto Tours is a full-day guided tour featuring the Maid of the Mist, Niagara-on-the-Lake and visits to a winery, local attractions and the falls.

Gray Line‘s tours to Niagara depart from the Toronto Coach Terminal (610 Bay St.) in the morning and afternoon, and include scenic stops, a meal and the Maid of the Mist.

Day trips from Chariots of Fire Niagara Falls Tours include a number of scenic picture-stops, the Maid of the Mist boat ride, and free time at the falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Pillitteri Estates Winery.

RIDE THE RAILS

During summer, VIA Rail has daily departures to Niagara Falls from Toronto’s Union Station (65 Front St. W.). VIA also offers Niagara Wine Experience trips aboard its luxurious Glenfraser lounge car; travellers pass the time sampling wines provided by Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate.

BY CAR

Driving to Niagara Falls is a straightforward venture. The quickest route is via the Gardiner Expressway from downtown Toronto, which becomes the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) outside the city. This major highway stretches all the way to Niagara Falls, and well-marked signs will direct you to major attractions.

TIP! On the western edge of Niagara Falls, Canada One Factory Outlets is a shopper’s paradise. Forty brand-name stores, including Guess, Nike and Roots, offer discounts of up to 75 per cent.

WEB EXCLUSIVE! Check out more of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s wineries in 10 Award-Winning Wineries.

—Craig Moy

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