City Guide: Niagara
In early January I packed my Sorels and Canadian Goose parka and headed out with Ontario Travel for a weekend in wine country. We met with bloggers, writers and photographers from all around North America. From the adventurous Pola, to charismatic Carri, I knew I was in great company for our getaway. With a thoughtful itinerary ahead of us, we left the hustle and bustle of the city behind to take in the beauty of the snowcapped vineyards of Niagara region. Our weekend, complete with tours of quaint street villages, marshmallow roasting on an open fire along the wine route and incredible Icewine and local food, was enough to show just what a wintry wonder Niagara really is.
A break from the city buzz isn't far away at all. Just an hour from Hamilton (two from Toronto), Niagara's lush landscape is lined with winter wonders from the famed wine route to the breathtaking waterfalls. After devouring a delicious packed lunch from Hawthorne Food & Drink, our group ventured out to Henry of Pelham Winery. I loved exploring Wine Country during the annual Icewine Festival. The snow-capped vineyards were particularly stunning. And just as I was snapping some photos, a dusting of snowflakes fell from the sky. It was a magical winter moment. And one of many to come. At Creekside Estate Winery we sipped on Icewine and snacked on local charcuterie while watching the sun set over the vineyard. The sunlight cast a warm glow on the grapes and reflected on the untouched snow. It was a beautiful time of day to do a wine tasting.
Dinner at the recently opened Tide & Vine Oyster House is a must in Niagara Falls. On Fridays the feature is fresh cracked lobster served with hot butter and smashed potatoes. Oyster selections are posted on the daily board. And the menu offers shareable small plates with seasonal ingredients. Like Icewine nuts sprinkled on a cider dressed arugula, roasted root vegetable and quinoa salad. Or the maple pudding -- a must for a sweet finish!
It was an early rise to walk the tunnels behind the Falls on Saturday morning. Niagara Falls is peacefully quiet this time of year. It was incredible to see the natural beauty of this iconic landmark during the winter season. The rushing water and mist creates stunning natural ice formations. And what a picture perfect perspective we had. A birds eye view of the Falls from the Niagara Hilton where we stayed for the night. And an up-close experience where you could hear the roar of the rushing Falls echo through the tunnels all around you.
While our stay in Niagara Falls was short, there was still plenty to see in the region. We shuttled over to Twenty Valley to the Winter WineFest taking place in Jordan Village. The village itself is lovely to explore, with its antique shops, galleries and culinary delights. And the festival was full of local flavour. Red, white, sparkling wines and Icewines from over twenty local wineries were perfect for pairing with dishes from local eateries and food trucks. I couldn't get enough of the Icewine grilled cheese from The Yellow Pear. The clothespin pockets were incredible too. Ontario rainbow trout, new potatoes, green beans, citrus and fennel -- cooked in an open parchment bag and topped with tomatoes and herbs. Delicious!
It may have been bone chillingly cold out, but that didn't stop me from having gelato when we arrived in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Especially at a place as darling as Il Gelato di Carlotto. Using seasonal fruit from local Niagara farms, you get a true taste of local flavour. Plus, the gelato is sweetened with grapes to retain the taste and texture of the fruits and nuts that are used. After exploring the town a bit more, I headed back to the Harbour House Hotel to lounge for a couple hours. We capped off the night with dinner at Peller Estates Winery and marshmallow roasting on an open fire for dessert.
Visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake during the Niagara Icewine Festival was a treat. With a Discovery Pass, we could adventure from winery to winery, sipping and savouring along the way. I will say, it was especially nice to warm up by the fire with a glass of Icewine at Jackson Triggs Winery. After touring the production facility, I was impressed with how sustainable and architecturally stunning it was. It offered a beautiful birds eye view of the vineyards, too. For the Icewine Festival, Jackson Triggs was pairing their Cabernet Franc Icewine with chicken mole enchiladas and Ontario hot house rhubarb. Let's just say, I may have had more than one or two helpings.
After a wonderful day, it was time to head home to Hamilton. And it was then I realized this wintery wonderland in Niagara is just a short car or bus ride away. So often we forget the beauty in our own backyards. It was lovely to discover this part of Ontario in the winter season. Share your favourite spots in Ontario! And be sure to check out the Ontario Travel Blog for more winter adventure ideas.