“Oh, Canada. Eh!”
Reaching Niagara Falls, just about an hour’s drive south from Toronto, in the wake of my 33rd birthday has me sigh with delight. By now, I would have spent almost six weeks travelling in the fantastic land of great poets, adventurous spirits and naturally warm-hearted people. Oh Canada. Eh! And it’s not just me who says that. Repeatedly, the one-of-a-kind dinner & theatre show “Oh Canada. Eh!” has been voted the #1 activity on TripAdvisor by travellers to Niagara Falls, and I am glad I got a chance to attend and see the fab team perform. What a way to spend your birthday in style, and be introduced to all the Niagara Falls region has to offer …
There is so much more to beautiful Niagara Falls, and Niagara-on-the-Lake though, than meets the (immediate) eye of a visitor to one of the most iconic tourism spots in Canada. Consider soaring through the skies, for instance …
… and take a once-in-a-lifetime flight with Niagara Helicopters that stretches your views across a seemingly endless horizon – and right down and into the famous Falls. WOW. Niagara Falls are actually comprised of “two falls”, both of them clearly visible from the air and as you take a cruise on the Niagara River. At the local IMAX theatre, we learn that “Niagara” means “Thundering Waters” in the tongue of the indigenous people, and that ever since human settlement took place, the Falls commanded respect and encouraged daredevil endeavours to control and/or pass them. Yes, some people (have been able to) survive a “fall off the Falls”, but I wouldn’t take the stories too lightly … After all, flying over, zip lining next to the Falls as well as cruising right up to them still commands a lot of respect, and awe, for this natural wonder of a kind today. Check this out.
If after all this initial excitement you feel (just as) hungry as we do, here are some nice little #foodlover stops on the way.
What do you do in a place with less than 24 hours at your hands, but still with an appetite to experience the best you can possibly eat? That’s right: You ask the local people for tips. Lindsay Di Cosimo, at WildPlay Niagara for instance, recommends us to head out for Paris Crepes Café, as do our friends from Toronto recommend us to go & eat at Detour Café in Dundas, about halfway between Toronto & Niagara Falls. Ready to sink your teeth into delicious, healthy food options? Here they come …
Speaking of local tips: Where would you go & stay in a region as beautiful as, and with as many options offered as Niagara Falls?
Although we only stayed in Niagara Falls for two nights, we decided to try two accommodation options quite different in type and style so as to experience the most of what this area has to offer to international wine & food lovers as ourselves.
Ready, set, go, for the “Grand Finale” in all my recommendations about Niagara Falls for you: A handpicked selection of interesting wineries to go to for a tour on the local area history, geography, climate, pioneer spirit & WINES, of course!
The Niagara Falls wine region, one out of three wine growing regions in the whole of the Ontario province, includes about 10.000 acres of grape plantations and sits at about 43° latitude North (hence much further south than for instance the equally large wine growing area of the Okanagan, in British Columbia). There are six main varieties grown here: Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris as well as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Gamay Noir (known as Beaujolais in France). Just as with the VQA label in British Columbia, the (wine) province of Ontario focuses on quality wine production distinguished by the “Ontario VQA – Vintner Quality Association” label for all of its three wine growing regions Niagara, Prince Edward County, and Windsor South, or Lake Erie. (Must make a point of visiting them at some stage, too!).
“Château des Charmes“, where we start off our exploration of the Niagara wine growing area, is the second oldest wine estate in the area. It produces 60.000 cases, or roughly half a million litres, a year on a growing area of about 280 acres. And that is (just) four large vineyards we are talking: Very much a “New World phenomenon”, if you ask me!
Altogether, 14 different grape varieties are turned into 32 wines, out of which two are really outstanding: The Aligoté white wine as well as the so-called Gamay Noir Doix, which corresponds to a type of Beaujolais grape. For the latter, Château des Charmes is the largest supplier in North America! Overall, the wine estate produces a lot more red than white wine due to a little greenhouse effect from the nearby lake and Niagara Escarpment hill. For ageing their red wines, the winery imports 2000 gallon casks from France as well as natural cork from Portugal. Over the past two years, there have also been successful sales with three different types of sparkling wines.
The Inniskillin Niagara Estate Winery especially, is famous for their ice wine, which they produce mostly of Riesling grapes. Almost half of their ice wine production is sold in 70 different countries, and 40 different airlines: You are bound to see them somewhere on your trips! Compared to other wineries, they have “just” 20 acres of vineyards onsite, but purchase grapes from up to 100 producers more.
Reif & Konzelmann Estates, again some of the oldest wineries established in Niagara, are definitely a must-see (and taste) for all those of you with an inclination for German/Austrian wine growing, as in my case being from the Kamptal wine growing valley in Lower Austria.
Reif estate, for instance, is the largest estate winery in the Niagara region, covering more than 100 acres of “backyard vineyards” alone. They have helped to create the first ice wines, as well as to establish the VQA Quality label for Ontario after the AOC label in France. When you go, definitely opt for their “Terroir & Cheese Tasting“, focusing on a lavish expanse of beautiful wine & cheese pairings. There is Meritage (a Sauvignon Blanc & Sémillon blend) served with nettle Gouda, Pinot Noir paired with a more spicy Gouda in order to reel back in the roundedness of the traditional Pinot noir wine, Merlot offered with a three-year-old Gouda, ice wine (vanilla, spice, smoke & honey toffee flavours) paired with blue cheese. Mmmh! I’ve got all the flavours back on my palate and in my nose as we speak – and you? 🙂
More travel photos & recommendations on what to see & do around Niagara Falls can be found looking here:
I have also produced a travel video that highlights some of my travel adventures in Western Canada, all the way from Vancouver to the vast open plains east of the Rocky Mountains. A fascinating, funky take on what has truly been a life-changing journey. Enjoy with sound & smile 🙂
Disclaimer: I have been supported on this trip to Niagara Falls by Niagara Falls Tourism & partners. All opinions are my own.