This post is brought to you by Niagara Canada and The Co.
If you’re playing one of those word association games and you hear the word “Niagara”, I’m going to guess that your response might be “Falls”.
Niagara Falls. For someone who grew up on another continent, the Falls always sounded so exotic. I’d seen images in magazines and was enchanted by the thought of this magnificent natural wonder at a young age by films like “Niagara.” It was on my “must visit” list a long time ago!
If you’ve visited Toronto for more than a few days, chances are your itinerary included a day trip to Niagara Falls. It’s on everyone’s “Must See” list yet many visitors don’t spend longer than a day, focusing their visit on the Falls themselves and (maybe not realizing that they are) barely scratching the surface of all there is to do, see, eat and drink in the region.
On my very first trip to Toronto in 2000, that was me! I did the typical tourist thing, leaving the city early to head to Niagara Falls, arriving mid-morning, taking the classic boat ride (today called the Hornblower Niagara Cruises) and exploring “Behind the Falls.” They were everything I expected. Spectacular. Neil grew up in Niagara-on-the-Lake so we swung by there for a pub lunch before heading home. The perfect day trip.
These days, however, when we visit, we’re much more likely to focus on all that surrounds the Falls (though we do make sure to take out-of town visitors to see them!). Because there is so much more to Niagara Canada than just the Falls. A day trip just doesn’t do it justice so we try to spend at least one night and two full days to take advantage of everything the area has to offer.
As Niagara Canada prepares to stake their claim as the 8th Wonder of the World, it’s time for more people to stop thinking about this area as just a day trip destination and focus more on the wide variety of experiences the region offers. So that when people play that word association game, their response to “Niagara” might just be “Canada”.
There are a few reasons I think the region deserves more than a day trip, none more so than the fact that over the past couple of decades, Niagara Canada has really come into its own as a wine, food and arts destination – and it’s right here in Toronto’s back yard! A really great way to sample all the region has to offer is to check out a wine festival.
Being along the scenic Niagara escarpment, Niagara Canada is home to some truly breathtaking views that make for the perfect backdrop for all of the fun celebrations and events that go on throughout the area’s many festivals. The Niagara Wine Festival, for example, is coming up in September 2016 and is the perfect excuse to take a visit! Coming from out of town? Don’t forget to take advantage of the “touring passes” that are available from most wineries year-round; which give you access to different wineries where you can sample the wine with a bite to eat.
Niagara Canada’s world-class wines
Niagara Canada is only about 90 minutes away from Toronto. It is a beautiful wine destination made up of multiple sub-regions: Twenty Valley and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Over the past 30 years, tourism in the region has changed significantly and, today, the wineries of Niagara are just as much a reason to visit the area as the Falls, and they definitely present some solid arguments for staying overnight. With over 85 wineries, ranging from small family affairs to well-established larger enterprises, there’s so much to explore – year round!
Niagara Peninsula’s wine region is a pretty drive down the Niagara Parkway from the Falls. Here, the sub-region of Niagara-on-the-Lake has always been a major fruit-growing region. Wineries like Inniskillin (the granddaddy of them all, having brought Canada onto the world stage with their award-winning Icewine in 1986), Colaneri Estate Winery (in Niagara-on-the-Lake) who is focusing on amarone-style production, Two Sisters Vineyard (a newer addition, featuring the well-regarded Kitchen 76 restaurant), Southbrook Vineyards (Canada’s first biodynamic vineyard) and Stratus Vineyards which produces some of the most cellar-worthy wines of the area – to name but a few – are all “must visits” for wine lovers.
Slightly up the escarpment you’ll find the sub-region of St. David’s Bench. One of my favourite wineries has to be Ravine Vineyard. Not only do they produce some stunning wines, but the restaurant serves excellent food in a beautiful setting overlooking the escarpment. Enjoy the food in the restaurant or buy some supplies from the on-site grocery for your own picnic on the grounds. Close by, Coyote’s Run Estate Winery is a worthy detour for those who enjoy Pinot Noir.
As the escarpment continues west, you’ll find Twenty Valley – an area that’s really started to explore the concept of terroir on a site-by-site basis. Among the standouts are Hidden Bench Vineyards & Winery for Pinot Noir, Angels Gate Winery for Riesling and Thirty Bench Wine Makers for Bordeaux blends and age-worthy Riesling. Award-winning Tawse Winery, Creekside Estate Winery, Fielding Estate Winery (who focus on grapes such as Riesling and Cabernet Franc which are ideally situated to the climate), Malivoire Wine (making a name for itself with ‘cool-climate varietals’) and Rosewood Estates Winery which is also a Meadery where you can explore this ancient honey-based wine, should be on every wine-lover’s list for the region.
Though many people might think the region is not as picturesque in the cooler weather, I actually find that visiting in the winter holds its own special charm. Check out the Wine Country Ontario website for a complete listing of the wineries in Niagara and don’t forget to check the dates of the various festivals taking place. The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake website includes suggested touring itineraries and details on member wineries, while the Twenty Valley Tourism Association website and Niagara Canada website both guide you through winery tour options in the Twenty Valley.
Art and entertainment and so much more!
If you’re an arts lover visiting Niagara Canada, you’ll find plenty to see and do as well. Take the time to explore the works of the area’s artists and fine artisans (you’ll find privately owned galleries as well as public spaces celebrating local art). Theatre more your thing? Niagara Canada is home to the Shaw Festival Theatre where you can check out new takes on the works of George Bernard Shaw as well as plays from and about his era. In St Catharines you’ll find the FirstOntario Performing Arts Center housing loads of offerings in the areas of dance and professional theatre. If music, magic, comedy or fashion are more your style, Niagara Canada has you covered too with year-round shows and festivals catering to all tastes.
So, next time you visit Niagara Canada, by all means, check out the Falls but plan your trip to also include an overnight stay, grab a map and plot a route through some of the world’s best wineries and incredible summer festivals that combine theatre, music, wine and food!
Check out Niagara Canada on social media!
Be sure to follow along with Niagara Canada’s claim on the title of 8th Wonder of the World by checking out #claimthe8th, visit www.visitniagaracanada.com or find Niagara Canada on social media with the hashtags: #Claimthe8th and #visitniagara.
This post was produced in partnership with The Tourism Partnership of Niagara but all opinions expressed are my own.