1. Where to Stay
Relax in varnished Victorian splendor at the Prince of Wales (from $227), a turn-of-last-century landmark at the center of Niagara-on-the-Lake, where fresh-cut roses grace the pillow tops and frescoes of Queen Victoria stand guard over an indoor pool.
Enjoy a chilled Riesling in your bathrobe while staring at the stately grounds of Riverbend Inn and Vineyard (from $232), a Georgian mansion along the Niagara River Parkway. The inn’s guestrooms exude old-time elegance, with ornately carved fireplace mantles, original wood flooring, and framed renderings of sea battles.
For something decidedly more modern (iPod docks, free wi-fi, a complimentary DVD library), check into the Shaw Club (from $205). The hotel’s swish lounge is geared toward Toronto’s luxury-condo dwellers, who want the historic charm of Niagara-on-the-Lake without giving up their flat-screens.
2. Where to Eat
At Restaurant Tony de Luca, housed in a bright solarium in the Oban Inn & Spa, all manner of fromagerie (from Canadian Cheddars to imported Reggiano) weave their way onto chef De Luca’s impressive tasting menus.
Pork belly poached in 7-Up is one of the more inventive creations at Treadwell Farm to Table Cuisine, a waterfront perch on Twelve Mile Creek a dozen miles from Niagara-on-the-Lake. Chef Stephen Treadwell has a distinctly farm-fresh philosophy, using only grass-fed meats and radicchio grown within walking distance.
Follow the new bike trail (found just off Mississagua Street) to Stone Road Grille, a casual bistro loved by neighboring winemakers for its fresh baked breads, local produce, and house-cured charcuterie. Its cellar houses bottles from lesser-known regional wineries, like the 2005 Cab Merlot from PGA golfer Mike Weir’s private label.
Have an à la carte vineyard lunch, or reserve a spot at one of the tasting dinners served in the garden at Peller Estates Winery. You can also dine in the winery’s barrel cellar (bring a sweater), noshing on ice-wine foie gras amid an army of oak.
3. What to Do
The quality of Canadian wines has improved much over the past two decades, thanks in large part to the Niagara area’s burgeoning ice-wine industry. Taste some of this bounty by renting a two-seat bicycle from Zoom Leisure, which will deliver your wheels right to your hotel. Then head toward Stratus, a chic little tasting room just a mile southwest of Niagara. Tour the sustainable facilities then try out a few of the bold blends, sold simply as “Stratus Red,” “Stratus White,” and “Wildass Red.”
Pedal—carefully—twelve miles down the road to Henry of Pelham for another tasting (try the citrus-packed 2004 Riesling Icewine), and a selection of artisanal cheeses at the winery’s Coach House Café. Ten miles northwest is Cave Spring, the oldest wine cellar in Niagara, which boasts some of the best dry Riesling in the region. For a late, boozy meal, head to nearby Jordan Village where you should try the Ontario Lamb Trio—liver, roast rack, and seared sirloin—at On the Twenty. Then burn off those meaty calories by biking back to your hotel.
Alternatively, outfitters such as Niagara World Wine Tours sell packages that include lodging, tastings, and meals—though it’s hardly a chore to go solo.
4. Insider’s Tip
The big talk among Toronto sommeliers this season has been the first release from Le Clos Jordanne, a joint venture between Ontario’s winemaking giant Vincor and French Burgundy house Boisset. The winery isn’t even built (the wine is currently made in a industrial “garagiste,” though Toronto-born Frank Gehry has designed a breathtaking Bilbao-esque structure), so the only place to buy it locally is the LCBO provincial liquor shop in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Look for a bottle of 2004 Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir ($60).
5. An Oddball Day
Temper the lush life with a dose of drama at the Shaw Festival. Even though the Irish-born playwright George Bernard Shaw never stepped foot in Niagara-on-the-Lake, his plays run daily in three theaters from April until October. This summer, social mores and sexual politics are cleverly reversed at the historic Royal George Theatre (85 Queen St.; 800-511-7429) in Shaw’s The Philanderer. Afterward, head to the Shaw Café & Wine Bar’s street-side patio and drown those heavy thoughts under a bronzed likeness of G.B.S.
6. Related Links
The Vintners Quality Alliance links to wineries throughout the Niagara region.
The splashy Wine Council of Ontario Website has a great interactive guide with maps and day-trip ideas along Canada’s wine route.
Canada’s premier wine magazine, Wine Access, gives advice on picking the perfect bottles to take home.