When my husband and I received vouchers for an overnight stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake, right away the wheels in my head started turning. After all, a weekend away in Canada is a big deal with you have limited vacation time and you have to dish out $800 for 48 hours of bliss. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally worth it but with a monopoly on airline prices, embarking on a weekend getaway takes a lot of cash and a serious commitment to spending some quality time with your partner.
Clearly gift certificates help, especially when the destination requires no air travel! So, excited as I was, I immediately started to look at the options. The voucher we received was for a one nights stay at a Vintage Hotel, a line of accommodations that offer five unique hotels, each with their own feel:
- Moffat Inn: Cozy, with a cottage feel located right downtown (Niagara-on-the-Lake)
- Queen’s Landing: Georgian style elegance on the waterfront (Niagara-on-the-Lake)
- Prince of Wales: Historic British charm nestled in the heart of Old Town (Niagara-on-the-Lake)
- Pillar and Post: Country charm meets elegance, a few blocks away from the center of the city (Niagara-on-the-Lake)
- Millcroft Inn and Spa: Country Retreat (Caledon, Ontario)
Immediately, our options were taking down to four since Caledon was out. After trying my best to navigate the Vintage Hotel website, I finally called the central number, explained that we were a young couple looking to spend the night in Niagara-on-the-Lake and touring the nearby sights: which hotel would she recommend? After working through what we liked and what we didn’t, I settled on Pillar and Post as a host for our mini-break. Pillar and Post has an indoor and outdoor pool and well as hot springs open to all guests! Given the high temperatures we’d been experiencing, I thought it best to choose a hotel that allowed for us to cool-down after (or before) a day of walking around under the sun.
So, I made the reservations at Pillar and Post and surprised my husband by paying a bit extra for the “Bed and Breakfast” package that included access to the breakfast buffet served in the famous Canary Restaurant. After diving into “things to do” in and around Niagara, I made what I believed to be the perfect itinerary; starting the trip with a drive through the wineries, checking-in at the Pillar and Post and continuing onward for a view of Niagara Falls by night. Of course, even the best made plans never quite turn out as expected.
All roads lead to… Fashion Outlets?
We left Saturday morning under an umbrella of rain showers. Unfortunately the rain showers turned into torrential rain that had me seriously questioning my choice of dates for this particular outing. Deciding to forego the vineyards – although we somehow passed the beautiful Colaneri Estate Winery en route and for a moment I was sure we had wound up in Tuscany (see below) - until the rain let up, we made a pit stop at the Niagara Fashion Outlets ; what a gold mine that turned out to be!
The Adidas store alone offered such incredible prices that we left the store paying $150 for two pairs of soccer cleats, a T-shirt, soccer socks and jogging pants! One pair of cleats alone is normally upwards of $200 – I was stunned (and ecstatic!) To celebrate out shopping success, we headed to a local Sports bar called “Hoops” (a recommendation from one of the sales clerks). Why didn’t we continue our journey onward towards Niagara-on-the-Lake despite the weather you might ask? Because Germany was playing Portugal in the Euro Cup 2012 and we both wanted to watch what promised to be an exciting game. So, there we grabbed a bite to eat and a pint (I enjoyed a Carlsberg in a secret tribute to England, my favoured team) and when we came out of the bar: the clouds had cleared up! I’m not sure if the German victory had anything to do with that but we counted our lucky stars (Neuer, Mueller, Gomez) and continued our journey.
Checking-in before heading-out
We pulled into the Pillar and Post late afternoon and were greeted cordially by an extraordinarily polite man at the concierge desk. I may have slipped into the booking the fact that my husband and I were celebrating our 9 month wedding anniversary and, as a result, we were presented with a lovely chocolate sampler on behalf of the hotel – aw! Corny I know, but I love free stuff, don’t you? The interior of the hotel itself is beyond charming; the mix of wood, brick and stone, coupled with plants and natural sunlight form a beautiful blend of elegance with just the right amount of rustic touch.
We were given a room near the indoor pool (which did, admittedly, smell heavily of chlorine) and promptly dropped off our bags, freshened up and took to the road for dinner at Niagara Falls. The room was lovely and the bed was ridiculously comfortable. That thin layer of dust that had settled on the top of lamp shades and side tables did make it seem as if no one had used the room for quite a while, but the fireplace that turned on and off at the flick of a switch more than made up for it.
Discovering Niagara Falls
The drive to Niagara Falls from Niagara-on-the-Lake is not a long one by any means. It takes about half an hour or so to get from A to B, but the problem is trying not to stop at every beautiful view, vineyard, estate or parkette en route; impossible. So we took a leisurely drive into Niagara-on-the-Falls, braking every five minutes or so to snap some pictures of the falls and see what the Americans were up to on the other side. Eventually we rolled into downtown Niagara Falls and found a parking spot for five bucks, all-in! Travelers note: Don’t overpay for parking in Niagara, there are tons of options a walking distance away from downtown. You’ll need the exercise after indulging in the culinary treats to come, trust me.
After taking a leisurely stroll next to the river (we walked just about as far as we could without getting totally drenched by the mist surrounding the falls), we both realized that it was just about time to grab a bite.
Let me just say that up until this point, my experiences in Niagara Falls were limited to one bachelorette party and the odd stroll from a parking lot down to the falls via Clifton Hill. Whenever I’d ventured to the falls with my family, we’d largely bypassed Niagara Falls, the city, and gone straight onward to Niagara-on-the-Lake for brunch or what have you. The reason for this is pretty simple: Clifton Hill is kind of a dump. It’s like a magnet for trailer trash on both sides of the border; I don’t mean to sound judgmental so I’ll stop here – just take my word on this one. That being said, what I didn’t know is that farther down the street, nearer the casino, the restaurants get a little nicer, the crowd gets a little older and the atmosphere gives off less of that “let’s get wasted in Niagara” vibe and more of a” dinner and a show” type feel; perfect for a weekend retreat.
So, we headed in the direction of the casino and before I could say “slot machine”, I had a Caesar in one hand and a five dollar bill in the other. I’d been in a casino twice in my life and both times I’d managed to escape the slots with more in my pocket than I’d taken out of it, so I thought why not? My husband however, was not too keen, so I asked him to hold my drink while I tried my luck! $25 dollars richer, I walked out of that casino, head held high and tummy rumbling at full volume. Come on honey, I said, throwing a wink in his direction and waving my winnings around the room, “I’ll treat you to a nice dinner”. He just rolled his eyes and laughed.
My hunger for gambling satisfied, we sauntered into The Keg and enjoyed a lovely meal (and some great steaks) and some great conversation, overlooking the falls. It’s amazing how slowly the time can pass when you have as much as you want of it to just sit back, relax and enjoy. After dinner, we took a drive by the falls at night, which are lit up nightly in various hues of red and green, and then drove back to our hotel.
Exploring the Vineyards
Sunday morning, we got up and headed straight to breakfast, which, in all honesty, was a huge disappointment. Despite my extreme excitement at having signed up for the bed and breakfast package in order to sample the renown offerings of the Canary Restaurant, the buffet was completely lacking and offered such a small selection of hot and cold items that it seriously paled in comparison to any other five (I would venture to say four) star hotel I’ve stayed at, or dined in. A little bummed out after having such high expectations dashed by food that was, by far, less than extraordinary, we decided to take a dip in the pool(s) before checking-out and starting our second day in the Niagara region. Both the indoor and outdoor pools are quite small and very shallow which was a bit unfortunate but there is definitely something to be said about the decoration above the indoor pool; it was beautiful. We then decided to explore these hot springs we’d heard so much about and tip toed barefoot through the hallways (in robes that were both broken and unable to tie-up) until we reached the spa. The hot springs were rather small but fortunately we were the only ones in the pool (for the most part) and enjoyed solitude in the open air as we let our worries escape us, thinking of anything except for the return trip home and the responsibilities that await on Monday morning.
Upon checking-out, we decided to make head-way for the vineyards. It was seriously hot outside so a drive in the air conditioned car was welcomed relief! The first winery we visited was Konzelmann, an estate we had looked at when hunting down venues for our wedding last year! Owned by a German family and inclusive of a German street sign welcoming visitors on-site, this was a highlight of the trip. The view was spectacular and while there may not have been room for a full-on wedding reception, it was definitely worth the stop. Just as we arrived, a tour bus pulled in so we nipped inside and sampled three delicious wines, two of which, including a Riesling and a Gewurztraminer, we sampled for free! Score!
After visiting Konzelmann, we started driving around and soon realized we simply couldn’t stop everywhere. Breathing in the magnificent scenery offered at vineyards like Pillitteri, Ravine, Stratus and Peller Wine Estates, we decided we should pick one more vineyard and sample some of my favourite Niagara wine. Can you guess what it was? If you guessed Ice Wine, you were bang on. I absolutely love Ice Wine! I tried it for the very first time in Germany and was thrilled to learn that some of the best Ice Wine is actually produced in Ontario!
With this in mind, the last vineyard we visited was Trius Winery at Hillebrand, and it was stunning. If we hadn’t indulged in that less than satisfactory breakfast at the Pillar and Post, this would have made the perfect place to enjoy a bite of lunch outside on the terrace.
At Hillebrand, we enjoyed a tasting flight that consisted of 3 (possibly 4) samples, for the price of $7. The charge was dropped however if you purchased a bottle of wine at the end of the trip! What a deal! For the two of us to sample some delicious wine (including Ice Wine which was to die for), we paid $14 which was negated by the $14 bottle of wine we purchased upon leaving. A great way to end our tour of the wineries.
Visiting the old town of Niagara-on-the-Lake
Last, but definitely not lease, we decided to grab a coffee in Niagara-on-the-Lake. After all, we’d stayed the night at Pillar and Post but hadn’t really enjoyed anything the old town had to offer. Niagara-on-the-Lake is much quieter than its counterpart near the falls and is sometimes thought to be targeted at an older crowd. While this may be true, NOTL also offers some great festivals that draw crowds of literary figures, artists, theater buffs and visitors from overseas. The most famous of these festivals is the Shaw Festival that takes place during the summer months and offers up great theater performances from Shaw and other notable writers. Niagara-on-the-Lake also offers up some of the most delicious food in Ontario with a focus on local produce and regional specialties. The absolute best way to enjoy Niagara-on-the-Lake is to schedule a brunch/lunch with family, take in the history of old town, explore the quaint stores that still line the main street, and then grab yourself an ice cream cone (or a slice of fresh fudge) and head down to the water for a moment of absolute serenity. It may seem dull to those looking for stimulation, excitement and fast paced entertainment but an afternoon spent at Niagara-on-the-Lake is seriously worth trying, at least once.
Our romantic weekend in Niagara was full of unexpected twists but as it turned out, the combination of city fun at the falls, tantalizing wines at the vineyard and old town charm at Niagara-on-the-Lake was the perfect concoction for an incredible getaway we’re sure to remember for years to come. Check out all Niagara wineries online at the Wineries of Niagara website and discover great places to grab a bite at in Niagara-on-the-Lake here!
Travelers tip! You don’t have to spend ridiculous amounts of money to enjoy Niagara on the Falls/Niagara-on-the-Lake; there are countless bed and breakfasts waiting to be booked that offer hot meals for seriously reasonable prices. Check out booking.com or trip advisor for more details!