This weekend Wayne and I went on a much-needed weekend sojourn to Niagara on the Lake. It’s about a four-hour drive from where we live, so it’s super accessible distance-wise and fairly cost effective to get to. It takes about three tanks of gas to get there round-trip, so about $75.00 compared to about $700.00 round-trip for both of us by plane.
Typically, we go to downtown Niagara, near the falls because it’s where we took our first trip together (it was a very similar drive distance-wise from where we went to college) and it’s also where we had our joint bachelor/bachelorette party, so it holds a bit of sentimental value for us as a couple. Additionally, we honeymooned in Québec City and Canada as a whole holds a special place in our hearts.
All that said, when all of our friends are venturing south, we’re usually heading north and, in some ways, that decision feels like a best kept secret. The crowds are so minimal and what’s available to us is always amazing.
Canada has exceptional wine country and the areas where vineyards can be found are ample and varying. Everywhere we’ve gone is exceptionally walkable and commuter friendly and as a couple who enjoys sampling local beers and wines, that’s an amenity we really enjoy.
Back to this weekend. Niagara on the Lake is a charming town that’s fairly small and therefore pretty easily walkable. Big check mark on our list. We’ve also been told by several friends and family members that it was worth a visit, so we finally decided to make it happen. In February. Because why not?
Well, aside from nearly freezing some of my unmentionables off in the name of vanity, it was a pretty fun trip. We stayed at the Prince of Wales Hotel, a centrally located and very opulently styled hotel. I’ll be honest, the style of the hotel (think canopied beds, lavish wallpaper and dark carpets) isn’t what we’d normally go for – we usually shoot for something much more contemporary, but we booked this trip six weeks out, over a holiday weekend both here and in Canada and I am apparently the least romantic person ever, because I forgot it was also Valentine’s day weekend.
Needless to say, most hotels were booked by the time we decided to get serious about looking and this one sold us on location and customer reviews. I have to say; the service was excellent, and we learned to look past all of the people in portraits on the wall staring down rather imperiously at us and the fact that the path to our room was somewhat of a labyrinth. At one point, Wayne joked we should make sure we had a golden string tied to our door to lead us back to our room and avoid capture by a Minotaur. All these very minor details aside, the pictures on the hotel website are fairly accurate and we knew what we were getting ourselves into at the time of booking, but the reality of it all once we were there was still a bit startling. Totally an us thing and not a them thing.
We arrived to find a set of four chocolates on the desk in the room along with a note congratulating us on our wedding. Not sure where that miscommunication came from, but it made us smile and was a super thoughtful gesture on the part of the hotel given what they thought were the circumstances. Similarly, we also arrived “home” each of the two nights we stayed, to find pale pink/cream roses on the bed and it was lovely. Celebrating our wedding two and a half years later with pink roses and chocolate? You won’t hear me complaining.
We arrived a bit early for check-in on the first day and though we checked with the front desk, our room wasn’t yet available. They were super accommodating, made sure that we had a parking space, confirmed our spa appointments for the following morning and asked if they could hold our bags. We declined since we drove, but their graciousness was very much appreciated. They also made dinner reservations for us at a local restaurant, which was awesome, because any phone call I don’t have to make while out of the country is a good one.
We left our bags packed in the trunk and decided to check out the town and find a spot to grab lunch. We saw an Irish pub on the way-in (always a weakness of ours) and decided to stop in and get a bite. Let me tell you, the Irish Harp did not disappoint. Childless, we giddily sat at the bar; our bartender Peter was friendly and knowledgeable, always a winning combo because I tend to have a gazillion questions. Wayne would argue a gazillion and one at a minimum. He answered every one of my queries with a smile and if he was dying inside (Wayne insists he was) he hid it remarkably well. He joked with another bartender who’d managed to accumulate orders for ten glasses of water in the time we sat down, but no beer. She was in on the joke as well and it made for a jovial and entertaining experience.
I ordered the shepherd’s pie and Wayne ordered the corned beef and cabbage. Both were yummy, but my dish was an experience. The mashed potatoes were magic and though some may consider is sacrilege, I love cheese so much that it can never insult any dish it’s in/on, except some fish or seafood things – in those rare instances I must decline, and the moon turns blue.
After lunch we went back to the hotel and checked-in to our room and did a little bit of exploring around our hotel. If you love an excess of Tiffany style glass, wallpaper, and opulent drapery the décor would be right up your alley. They were under a bit of construction too, so there were some plastic coverings along some of the hallways that made it a bit drafty and weren’t the most fun to walk next to considering the freezing temperatures. Again, we knew the décor wouldn’t exactly be our style and that it would be cold (it’s Canada in February) but I thought I’d include some description for reference. To each their own and we did love some aspects of the hotel, such as the service.
After checking in we walked into town and stopped in some of the local boutiques and shops along Picton street, the first of which, was a store that sold clothes that included a bit of a children’s selection (we went in because Liam), but the folks working there seemed more attuned to their phones and when I said “Hello” seemed as though I was inconveniencing them, so we took a quick once-around to be polite and left rather quickly – I’m not sure they noticed as they never acknowledged our “Goodbye.”
We continued down the street and wandered into Le Beau Chapeau. This awesome milliner’s shop was filled with an amazing assortment of hats for both men and women and even included a selection of steampunk headwear. It was a definite hit and I came home with a wool felt, wide brimmed hat with grommets along the right side. A departure from what I’d usually pick for sure, but a risk I’m glad I took.
We took a detour across the street and popped into a store called Brims and Things that sold hats, a really neat selection of ponchos and capes, and an array of Made in Italy clothing, as well as a little bit of home décor and some jewelry. Wayne found an awesome Gatsby hat with ear flaps and I walked away with a beret that the shop attendant had me try on due to it’s “very small” size. It fit, and Wayne giggled.
After that we went to a brewery called “The Exchange” that had very minimalist black and white décor and where all of the beers came in super classy looking, sleek black bottles. We sampled a flight that had their eight beers and thoroughly luxuriated in being able to sit at the bar. This was a theme of the weekend.
We left to change and get ready for dinner and encountered an awesome surprise when the water pressure and temperature were the best we’d encountered in forever. It was almost worth making that an evening plan. I also almost flooded the bathroom because I didn’t realize the drain was closed when I turned the shower on and the closure was a twist of the emergency outlet. Took me a minute or two to figure that out as Wayne laughed and pointed out that we had to be smarter than the drain. It was funnier as the water was releasing.
We got ready and still had some time to burn so we stopped in the hotel’s Churchill lounge for a drink. I got my favorite Oban to start and Wayne got a Stillwater Black Lager. Both were delicious and as we sat there waiting to go to dinner, we checked out the menu where our reservation was and the menu where we were currently sitting and decided to just stay put. I had the boxty and I regret nothing. Wayne had a burger because he’s Wayne, but there was an aioli, a cheese he doesn’t eat often and arugula on it, so there’s that. Consistent with our experience at the Prince of Wales, our waiter was phenomenal, and the service was awesome. We ended our night there and turned in relatively early since we had massages booked fairly early the following morning.
We started day two off with massages and it was my first. The gasps could be heard round the province as this fact was shared with staff. I’m not a tactile person and the concept has always made me a little uneasy if I’m honest, but the knots in my shoulders and lower back, as well as Wayne, decided it was time I got over that sentiment. Our masseuse (we had back-to-back massages and the same masseuse) Alicia was incredible and I’m now trying to figure out how it took me so long to have such a religious experience. To be repeated ASAP.
After massages, we did probably the worst thing for our bodies ever and went on a wine tour with Winery Tours of Niagara. I booked this company for a private wine tour as part of my bachelorette party in 2016 and had such a great experience on the actual tour, we decided to try it again. Our bus driver and tour guide, Rob, was incredible – super knowledgeable, amazing sense of humor and made sure none of us had to carry our purchases at any point on the tour – they were all placed into cases he loaded by the order he picked us up in for easy take-away when the tour was over.
The first stop was Pilliterri Winery, a large family-owned winery with naturally climate-controlled wine cellars twenty feet underground, the funniest tour guide Andrew, whose repertoire even included magic tricks and the longest table in Canada with chairs on the wall that only come down once a year when the family tastes the year’s wine production and decide what will be released to the public.
Next up was Konzelmann Estate Winery and funnily enough, our guide there was the same one we had two years ago. We tried several wines paired with various meats, cheeses and chocolates. I had ice wine over blue cheese on a cracker and it was magical. I was reminded that I love their peach wine (it’s on the direr side) we bought four bottles (two for us and one for each MIL) and it was on to the next one, with a brief stop for lunch in between.
The third stop was Caroline Cellars, where instead of a structured tasting, they allow each guest to taste four wines of their choosing. This was also a winery I’d visited on my last trip and that I remembered not being my favorite. As I gave it another go, I did recall that I really enjoy their plum wine (it tastes just like biting into a fresh plum) and bought two bottles (one for us and one for my mom). We also bought a bottle of their cherry pinot – I have a recipe in mind for porkchops and one for steaks where it’s going to win the best supporting role.
Last on our adventure was PondView Estate Winery where for us, the ice wine was the clear star, specifically their take on ways to creatively interpret the ways ice wine is used. We had an amazing ice wine hot chocolate, an ice wine martini and also ice wine shooters. The makings for all three came home with us.
After our tour we took our fist Uber ride into downtown Niagara Falls to meet my cousins. Our Uber driver Javaid was THE best. I know, I know, the competition he had was fierce…but seriously, he was great. After learning we were from out of town, he gave us little bits of history as we drove, waited patiently in between stories as I put out a small fire at work from my phone and took our picture at the whirlpool, which in all of our visits, we’ve never managed to make it to. He was awesome.
We met my cousins for dinner, it was our first time meeting our new cousin Janet and I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. The smiles were endless, the stories plentiful and I think Janet still loves us, so aside from the fact she’s clearly awesome, she’s definitely a keeper. We then headed to a super quiet lounge called R5 that I’m sure is packed in the summer, but not so much in the winter, and took in awesome views. The laughs continued until we finally called it a night and took a second, less inspiring, but still solid Uber ride back to our hotel.
We left the following morning and while it was a really great and very much needed weekend away, the hug and smile I got from Liam when I walked into my parents’ house, was an awesome reminder of why I also love being home. Time away is a must sometimes. So is time as two adults and life partners. Time with all of us together though is epic and sometimes taken for granted. I’m grateful that I could go away and even more grateful to come home.
Niagara on the Lake would be great for a quiet bachelorette party, a quick romantic getaway, an experience for an enophile, or for a history buff. If it makes or made your list travel of destinations, let me know what you did there and what you thought of your visit!