Quaint. Cozy. Cultural. That’s the alliteration that comes to mind when I think of our Niagara-on-the-Lake escapes. Having just completed our third jaunt to NOTL, I figured it was time to write about it. One disclaimer: all of my experiences at NOTL have been in the Winter months. Though I hear lovely things about it in the warmer weather, for me it will always be a Wintery destination.
I’m not sure what it is about this cute little Canadian town, but something about it transports you in time and location. There is a definite old-fashioned, European vibe. The crisp lake air, the toasty fireplaces you’ll find in most accommodations, and the warm and inviting pubs, make this the ultimate Winter getaway. If that’s not enough to convince you, the unique Ice Wine festival in January adds some extra spice to the snowy-town backdrop.
Wintery Things to Do
During he Ice Wine Festival, Queen Street is closed down to traffic and replaced by elaborate ice sculptures, open fire pits, and food and wine vendors. For a a fee, you buy an ice wine glass and wooden tokens that you can exchange for a pour of wine into your glass.
On top of this easy-access option that you can walk to from most inns and b&bs, most of the wineries open their doors with special tasting options. We lucked out and our b&b host giving us all his leftover tickets because it was the last day of the festival, so I’m unsure on how costly this is. However, both wineries we went to were so much fun and delicious that even my amateur wine-drinking-husband (some Spaniard he is) agreed that he would be willing to pay for the food and drink portions we were served. We went to both Pellar Estates Winery and Rief Estate Winery .We chose these based on on-line reviews and their culinary pairing options. The Niagara-on-the-Lake Ice Wine Festival Guide was very informative in assisting all our decision-making.
What’s that? You missed the two-week window to attend the festival? Don’t worry, the wineries are open year- round. And we have been on two other Winter occasions sans Ice Wine Festival, there is still plenty to do in the Winter! And if wine isn’t your thing, as it’s not my husband’s, there are now three breweries in town to check out. The one right directly in the town is The Exchange Brewery. There was plenty of variety in beer options. We were really hoping to make it to the other two breweries- Oast House Brewers and Silversmith Brewing Company but our timeline was brief this trip.
If you can handle the cold, strolling through town to peruse the boutique shops or making greater strides up to the lake, are two great options. The Queen’s Royal Park has a small walking path. Though NOTL gets chilly, it’s not always snowy. The bigger challenge is the ice. The path boasts perfect sunset views with a distant glimpse of the Toronto skyline in one direction, and the old Niagara Fort across on the American side of the river. It’s flat and short, but often laden with ice. This past week, the waves had completely frozen over the path. The cold didn’t stop some Canada geese from paddling around. Even on a cloudy day, the views were worth the frigid air and the slippery path.
After freezing our ears off, we walked back to town in search of sustenance and warmth. We headed towards something called the Chocolate Factory but found it closed at 5pm. Serendipitously there was a bakery still opened right next door, the Niagara Home Bakery, where we found homemade hot cocoa and warm chocolate chip cookies. We brought them back to enjoy in front of the fireplace at our b&b.
For some casual fare, The Irish Harp Pub and more British option, The Angel Inn, are our favorites for grabbing some lunch, or for late night brews and camaraderie. Both have great live music and friendly crowds at night, and both promise to European soccer on during the day.
For some fancier dinner options, the world is your oyster. NOTL is full of upscale gourmet options, most with suggested wine pairings. Two of our favorites have been the Hob Nob Restaurant & Wine Bar as well as Pillar and Post’s Cannery. All the boutique inns offer elegant dining options as well.
When looking for a place to stay, be mindful of its proximity to town. Some of the fancier inns are out aways around the vineyards. But there are plenty of options right in town, and being able to walk to your bed, especially in the cooler Winter months, has its perks. Also be aware that many of the swanky inns have a two-night minimum on weekends, especially during event weekends. And adding that jacuzzi tub and fireplace to your room (a real must in a place like NOTL in the Winter) will really tack on a pretty penny to your bill. This is why I’m hesitant to share the little slice of heaven we have found just one block away from The Angel Inn, Copper Dreams Bed and Breakfast. Steps away from the Irish Harp Pub down on Johnson Street, an adorable little home with a large front porch awaits with luscious sheets, top amenities, a soulful host, and the world’s friendliest Samoyed. At a portion of the rate of many of the nearby lush Inns, Copper Dreams offers everything you need to stay cozy and warm after stumbling back from a night of debauchery. I highly recommend the Newark Room.
One more note, before leaving NOTL, be sure to check out my favorite little store: Cheese Secrets. Be sure to check the regulations for how much of this you’re allowed to bring back over the border….if any. Or just eat it all before you cross over!