I would say I’m fairly well traveled.
Not overly so, but I’ve been to 5 of 7 continents, climbed the Great Wall, snorkeled the Barrier Reef, surfed in the Pacific and learned a little bit of a lot of languages.
With that said, I’ve seen to an embarrassingly small portion of Canada.
I’ve never been to either coast, never seen the Prairies, or eaten a fresh lobster in the Maritimes. And until last weekend, I’d never seen Niagara Falls.
So when talks began to do something extra special for an extra special friend’s birthday, Kate & I put our heads together and thought of the perfect roadtrip: Niagara for the Falls, and for stumbles.
Stumbles from one winery to the next, that is.
We’d heard all the warnings, “It’s cheesy” – “It’s like Vegas, except 10 times less cool” – “There are so many tacky chapels you’ll probably come back married” – (I didn’t, btw) and as our car pulled into “the strip” Kate & I both chuckled as we whizzed past neon lights, amusement parks and a life-size hooters advertisement.
But, after being upgraded to a falls-view room, I have to say, even at night, I was instantly enamoured by the roaring waters. The nightly fireworks display didn’t hurt, either.
In term of nightlife in Niagara, we have little to no photographic evidence. Come to your own conclusions about that, but after hearing that the go-to spot was a bar called Dragonfly, right next to the Casino, we decided to be ultimate tourists and check it out. A couple of tequila shots later, a tour on the dance floor and an uninvited stay in VIP, I’d have to say that if you’re going to Niagara to GET DOWN this club ain’t half bad.
If you know anything about Kate, you know that she is an expert on wine – this tiny tid-bit came in extra handy when preparing for a day of touring vineyards. Hooked up in all the right ways, Kate had us shaking off our hangovers and gearing up for a day on the vines. We learned from the concierge that Niagara-on-the-Lake is about a 30 minute drive, and much more affordable by cab than by shuttle if you’re splitting it four ways. Coffees in hand, we were getting stoked as we sailed past field after field of pinots, chardonays and cabernets.
Now, KEY POINT about touring the Niagara wine region that is completely out of your control: the weather.
Our spirits were only slightly dimmed by the grey clouds overhead and we forged on with our plan to rent bikes to take us from winery to winery. “It’s just sprinkling,” we scoffed and when the bike rental guy said, “Wow, that’s really far”, of the second winery we were planning on visiting we told him we were, “expert cyclists.”
So off we went to Stratus, a large, modern winery who is soon hosting Kate’s restaurant for an exclusive dinner. Taking us away from the normal tasting bar, for a more intimate experience, we were given four wines to try and a description about each. More on the actual mechanics behind these wines in Kate’s earlier post found here.
What I’m here to talk about is the torrential storm that began as we sipped. Concluding that there was no way we could bike to Southbrook in the downpour, we opted to call a cab. We were warned, however, that there are no cabs in Niagara-on-the-Lake (how is this possible?) and that the wait would likely be lengthy. With time to spare, we took a photo shoot (obviously) and when the skies cleared we bravely decided to call off the cab and continue our biking adventure.
The clouds grew dark once more, and I am not exaggerating when I say we were becoming completely soaked on our venture between Stratus and Southbrook – which we found out, later, has a distance of almost 10 KILOMETRES.
However, it was the overwhelming hospitality at Southbrook that allowed us to forget our dampened clothes, ruined tresses and altogether haggard appearances. Being led to the winery’s Vineyard Bistro, ran by The Yellow Pear – Ontario’s first solar powered gourmet food truck – we warmed up with tomato soup, a mouthwatering charcuterie plate and, of course, wine.
Southbrook went above and beyond, to not only call us a cab, but arrange for the bike rental place to come pick up our bicycles and save us the 10K trek back in the ongoing storm.
We found this was a common thread amongst people in the Niagara region. Locals and tourists alike. People were happy to point out directions, make a helpful suggestion or stop to take a photo.
Our evening rounded out with a sushi dinner at the Casino’s Sushi and Oyster bar, a few quick dice and card games that left me $40 poorer than when I started and a night of singing, jamming and new-friend making at the close-by Spicy Olive bar.
Oh ya, and we ended up on the grounds of the Dinosaur Adventure Golf at 5 a.m. but unfortunately I cannot divulge more on that. What happens in Niagara Falls, stays in Niagara Falls.
Sadly, we parted ways with half of our crew on Day 3. Work schedules got in the way, and it was up to Kate & I to round out the weekend with a few memorable moments.
Up first: Maid of the Mist.
Truth be told, this ultimate tourist trap took some convincing on Kate’s part. I couldn’t wait to be right in the middle of the horseshoe, taking in what I THOUGHT was a natural Wonder of the World (it’s not). But Kate only reluctantly put on her poncho and boarded the boat alongside me.
But, my over-the-top instincts were right and we both had a blast. Wonder of the World or not, it was truly spectacular to be at the base of the immense falls. Wrestling with our ponchos the whole way, we were in stitches by the time we docked. A MUST-DO for any Niagara virgin, like me.
Up next: The REAL wine country
Despite making the most of every situation, and having the most fun you can possibly have with a bicycle and a monsoon, we all agreed that we had pictured biking through Niagara-on-the-Lake as being a little more picturesque. Personally, I thought we’d be trekking down dirt paths, not fearing for our lives on the side of a main road. But it wasn’t until Kate & I ventured on our own to Beamsville, about a 30 minute jaunt from Niagara, that we discovered what we were looking for.
Making a stop at Organized Crime’s much smaller vineyard, we were treated to meeting the owners and even a demand that we must eat the grapes, right off the vine. Truly a unique experience in the most beautiful setting.
We were even handed a map and told where to stop for an early dinner before starting the long drive home – a bistro that, I can honestly say, was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been – IN MY LIFE.
This description of The Good Earth Food & Wine Co. says it all:
“Since 1998, when we opened our farm, home and hearts to our guests, The Good Earth has been a haven for discerning food and wine lovers and an oasis for the senses. Our gardens, orchards and vineyards provide a spectacular backdrop for culinary and wine experiences that reflect all the good things the earth has to offer.”
I may, or may not, have started sending pictures to my friends with the caption “future wedding venue”.
Gobbling up a beet salad, lobster burger and to-die-for cheesecake bomb, Kate and I left with filled tummies and happy hearts.
The perfect end, to a perfect weekend.
So, the next time someone tells you Niagara is “tacky”, “overpriced” and “not worth it” – all you need to say is, “I think you’re mistaken… in a nutshell.”