Thursday, July 22, 2010

No Baseball Here, But Plenty to Like: Niagara on the Lake, The Falls, Ice Wine and More

I described the town of Niagara on the Lake (NOTL) as "enchanting" and it was definitely my favorite part of our recent trip.

We stayed in a private apartment, found through the Chamber of Commerce. I did a lot of research online and debated over several accommodation options. I was surprised to find the chamber's accommodations booking site and the variety of options they had--that's a first for me and I'll be checking out Chambers of Commerce more often now. NOTL has many bed and breakfasts...but sometimes, a B &B is a little too cozy for our tastes. My husband isn't big on the breakfast part, either, and I'm just as happy with a bagel and coffee (or a delicious blueberry scone which I enjoyed each morning from the bakery in NOTL). I really wanted to be right in the center of town...and not having been there before, my instincts and choices turned out great. It's worth checking out alternative options like this. It made a nice change from hotels and gave us room to spread out and feel like temporary residents. And, the best part is that we were right in the middle of the town, above the stores (a Cows Ice Cream store! Wow--that would be bad for my waistline if I lived there!).

NOTL is pretty well known and so it gets pretty crowded with tourists, but not being there on the weekend, we didn't find the crowds to be a problem. You can definitely spend a lot of money there too--between the shops, the restaurants and the ice wine!

We did a wine country tour, with Jeff Sanderson (Wine Country Escapes). Found him online as well--there are several tour options you can find online, but his smaller operation was personable and worked great for us. Jeff was our personal tour guide and it was just us on the tour so we had complete flexibility. We made it around to several wineries and Jeff took us to some of the lesser known spots. We started with a tour at Jackson Triggs and went to about 6 wineries for tastings. The region is known for ice wine and we got our fill! Made some great purchases and discovered some pretty good bargains at the lesser known places. My recommendations: the "wine sticks" from Dr. Joseph (like pretzels made with grape flour), any wine from 2007 (apparently the best season in a long time--we heard about, and tasted it, over and over again), and ice wine martinis--yum!

Our tour ended with dinner at Epicurian, which was right near our apartment in NOTL. Great food (and if the weather's good, check out the beautiful courtyard)! The only down side was that it was a fixed menu for the wine tour (a few entree choices).

I could have moved in to our little apartment. I got up every day and walked for about an hour all around the town. The homes and the grounds are amazing. But, I realized on my early morning walks--it takes a lot of could see the "behind the scenes" work early in the morning, when yard men, roofers, painters, street cleaners, trash removal, and all natures of repairmen were at work. And, the street cleaning and trash removal made ear plugs a must in the apartment (there are pros and cons to being in the middle of things).

On the way in to town, we made the requisite stop at the Falls. It was packed, but we were lucky to get there late in the day. If you want to do the Maid of the Mist ride, I'd recommend getting there late(in summer, it's open until around 7) as the wait was short. And, what a great thing to do on a hot day. I loved it! The Falls are undeniably amazing and the rainbows were incredible that day. There's plenty to do there, from Imax movies to various rides and tours, but I don't know how much of that (and waiting in the lines) is necessary. Definitely go to the Canadian Falls if you're visiting--well worth the border crossing. The American Falls don't compare.

I'd highly recommend a visit to the area. There are so many wineries and different little towns to check out in addition to NOTL and the falls. Great restaurants, farmers markets, and it's the kind of area that inspired strolling the shops, taking a picnic, or having a leisurely dinner (followed by ice wine!)...

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