Posts tagged Ontario Travel
Finding Serenity in Northern Ontario
Finding Serenity in Northern Ontario
When I have a spare minute I often find myself browsing listings on Airbnb, falling in love with places both near and far and daydreaming about waking up in a tropical paradise, or perhaps falling asleep to the meditative lapping of ocean tides coming home.

After exploring Northern Ontario this past summer, I became infatuated with the province’s lush forests, bountiful lakes and crisp air. So I was delighted when this past weekend, I had the opportunity to cross one particular oasis off my Airbnb bucket list: an enchanting 700 acre farm in Northern Ontario, approximately four hours from Toronto. My best friend Erika and I left with the intention to arrive home refreshed and reconnected, but we returned with so much more.

When we arrived we set down our bags and took a long, deep breath. Everything felt wonderfully different – the air was cleaner and crisper; and there was a silence that surrounded us. The nighttime quiet was punctuated only by cries of wolves. It wasn’t eerie, but rather therapeutic, restorative.

The secluded farm is owned by the Gibson family, originally from Toronto. They purchased the property five years years ago and haven’t looked back. Javid, one of three children, spent eight years travelling extensively while working as a freelance documentarian before moving to the farm. He says, however, that he has little desire to travel these days—with so much space, an entire lifetime could be spent exploring the property.

Javid and his brother actually built our home for the weekend, a traditional Mongolian-style yurt nestled amongst slender white birch trees, and only steps away from a river that weaves through the property. Its construction took several years with the majority of materials being found on the farm. 

Finding Serenity in Northern Ontario

Each morning we watched the sunrise in silent awe, sitting on the dock overlooking the still water. It was a perfect opportunity to reflect. One day, after a mid-morning nap, we launched a cedar canoe out on the water. We let the current guide us downstream to pass a white sand beach, one of the many hidden treasures on the farm.

We found ourselves on mother nature’s clock – we didn’t check our phones. We rose and practically went to bed with the sun. The yurt wasn’t equipped with power, one of its many rustic charms. At night, candles - as well as the magnificent stars - were our only source of light.

The yurt, however, is equipped with a wood-burning stove, and we spent countless hours curled up with blankets mesmerized by the flames. We caught up on our reading, wrote Christmas cards to our loved ones, painted with water-colours and had a few lessons on the art of knitting. We fueled the fire every couple of hours and took turns waking up at night to place another log on the burning embers—“it’s like we have a baby!” Erika quipped.

The landscape was monochromatic, many different shades of brown wherever you looked. Snow dusted the ground and lightly covered the treetops.

“Ontario in its rawest form,” was how Javid described it. The farm is also home to 14 beautiful horses, 11 of which are rescued. These horses, says Javid, must have “literally died and gone to heaven,” with copious amounts of hay and the freedom to roam the expansive fields. Javid allows the horses a full year to become accustomed to their new environment before beginning to work with them and attempt to establish unbreakable bonds. 

Eventually, the family would like to create a place for those suffering from PTSD, depression and abuse, amongst other traumas, in order that they might come and benefit from the therapeutic nature of the horses. Visitors are able to spend time with the horses, and any donations are forwarded to the horse sanctuary.

Finding Serenity in Northern Ontario
 

The yurt is only the beginning of a much larger plan – Javid and his brother were beginning construction on a traditional sweat lodge the day we left. The family has plans to open a micro-brewery this spring, later followed by a tree house and a large glass shipping crate that will function as another guest house. 

 
Finding Serenity in Northern Ontario

This winter I invite you to slow down and reconnect with past traditions. Whether it’s an escape up north or at home, putting down your phone for a while and making a batch of your favourite Christmas cookies will do you good. Whatever you decide to do, I promise you will come away feeling better than ever.

WORDS | PHOTOGRAPHY BY HEATHER PEAT

City Guide: Niagara
Niagara Henry of Pelham

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.


Friday

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.

Niagara Creekside Winery 2
Niagara Creekside Winery
Photo courtesy of Tide & Vine

Photo courtesy of Tide & Vine

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!


Saturday

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.

Photo by The Twisted Kitchen

Photo by The Twisted Kitchen

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!

Niagara-on-the-Lake Il Gelato di Carlotta

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.


Sunday

Bundled up in my parka, I strolled over to Balzac's Coffee, a charming neighbourhood cafe in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I simply can’t start the day without a cappuccino and a croissant. A calming retreat followed, with a red wine scrub pedicure at the Shaw Spa.

Niagara Jackson Triggs Winery 2

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.

Niagara Jackson Triggs Winery

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.