Real talk: Growing up in metro Detroit, we used to cross the border at 19 and go (legally) drink in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I didn’t do this until I was 20 though because I was a cautious rebel. This was way back when you only needed a drivers license to cross the border, too. Oh, those were the sequined halter top days, weren’t they?
Well, I’m happy to tell you that both Canada and I have only grown prettier with age!
Canada has always held a special place in my heart and not just because they are our friendly neighbors to the north. Canada basically seeped into my everyday life when I lived in Michigan. We used to take school trips to Stratford, Ontario and watch wonderful theater performances during the Stratford Festival. Have Canadian change? Doesn’t matter, we’ll treat it as an American quarter or dime. When American news or sports weren’t showing what we wanted, we’d just switch over to CBC. Labatt Blue beer? You’ll find it in the domestic beer section. (No joke!) If *NSYNC concerts sold out in Detroit, we’d just head to Toronto and watch JT pelvic thrust at the Rogers Centre. Even when working in downtown Detroit at General Motors, I had office views of Canada across the Detroit River, and often would pick up Canadian wireless carriers and get charged roaming fees. Crazy, eh? See what I did there?
As I mentioned in our 2017 Travel Plans, the original intent was to go “Up North” Michigan and explore some wineries, something every bonafide Michigander has done expect for me. But that’s forgiven now because I live in Florida, right? Anyway, the hubster took the reigns with planning this long weekend and I’m so glad he did because he was the one who decided on Niagara-on-the-Lake instead of going up north.
Crossing the Border by Car
Crossing the border is a cinch. I flew into Detroit the night before, met up with my Michigan-living hubster and we then drove through the Sarnia border crossing in the morning. It took us about 4 hours to get to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Have your passport ready, don’t bring over any weapons, smile pretty for the border patrol and you’ll most likely get a, “Welcome to Canada.” as you’re waved through.
Tip: Have your passports ready when you pull up to the booth. Don’t be that guy.
We stayed at Abacot Hall bed and breakfast and absolutely fell in love with it and the owners, Ed and Irene. We reserved the Queen Elizabeth’s room with the loveliest canopy bed and traditional decoration that made me feel right at home. Other B&B’s I’ve stayed in had shared bathrooms, but our room had an en suite. Score!
Abacot Hall also has a balcony upstairs on the back that I used one morning as the ER doc hubster caught up on precious sleep. I caught up on emails while sipping on coffee and listening to the birds chirp. Birds don’t really chirp this time of year in Florida. They’re hiding from the sun. Ed and Irene served breakfast each morning, which was a cool time getting to know the other guests. Most visiting were actually from the Midwest while we were there. I never felt pressured to stay and chat longer or that anyone was hovering, which is often the steroetype of a B&B. Irene asked us which wineries we were going to, gave us coupons for them and then sent us off on our merry way. The day we left, they gave us traditional NOTL ice wine as a gift since they heard it was our wedding anniversary. I mean, c’mon, how sweet! Both literally and figuratively as I explain below.
Tip: Choose the Seafood Omelet or Eggs Benedict at breakfast. Don’t turn down the bread either, it’s homemade.
The Olde Angel Inn
We spent our last night at the famous Olde Angel Inn, right in the center of town. The hubster saw that it was historically British and knew I’d love it. There is a pub downstairs that served classic English fare, which is 100% legit, and this is coming from someone who knows. Hello, we got married in England. Plus, their server, Andrea, hand to the heart, made our evening both times we went. Friendly and accommodating, you know, classically Canadian. They also had the best cover band I’ve ever seen, James Blonde (formerly X Prime). On our first evening, went to the Olde Angel Inn for a quick night cap and promised we’d only stay for one drink because I needed to run 4 miles the next day (I’m training for a half marathon again). Famous last words. After James Blonde started playing, we knew that wasn’t going to happen. The funny thing is, the hubster and I tend to not like loud bands, but they were so good we actually found our introvert-selves getting up and dancing. It was great. A really fond memory of mine.
Can we also talk about the Governor’s Room the hubster reserved? I fully appreciated every single Union Jack in the our suite.
Tip: Order the Shepards Pie and peach cider from Mill Street Brewery/Brickworks Ciderhouse. Try out the cheese store next door and the ice cream place across the street. Why are most of my tips about food…?
Food and Drinks
We were told to try The Irish Harp Pub, so we popped in there the first night for dinner and had the best chicken curry I’ve had in a long time. We liked it so much we went back for dinner the second night, too. Creatures of habit, I tell ya’. They had plenty of authentic Irish beer and cider to choose from and our dinner on Saturday night featured a celtic band playing in the pub.
Try Balzac’s Coffee right next door to The Irish Harp Pub for some good, strong coffee.
Across the street from both Balzac’s Coffee and The Irish Harb Pub is the famous Prince of Wales Hotel. Much to my chagrin, I did not get a break from the heat by leaving Florida, as it was incredibly hot in Canada the weekend we were there. We popped into the Prince of Wales lounge for a reprieve from the sun and to enjoy a cold beverage. It did not disappoint. It was a cool, old lounge-type of atmosphere with big comfy leather chairs. Our server, Eric, friendly again as all get out, spent some time talking to us and pointed us in the right direction to get local cider on our way of town the next day.
Tip: When paying with your American credit card, you should almost always choose to pay in local currency if given the choice. Why? You’re charged around 3% of the purchase price to convert to your home currency. Obviously, you should always use a credit card that has no international fees, but this fee is in addition to that.
Zoom Leisure Bike Rental and Tours
We rented bikes for 3 days from Zoom Leisure. We both got cruisers, but they have plenty of options. Hubster joked with a straight face that he got us a tandem bike. NOT FUNNY. I have to say, I’m a huge fan of cruisers, especially when they are literally used for cruising between wineries.
Tip: Get there right when they open. We barely beat the crowd by getting there around 10am on the weekend. Lots of friends come here in groups since it’s such a fun time, but you’ll need to wait a bit when they start rolling in. We needed to drop off our bikes around 6:30am on our last day, so we could go on a run (remember that run I didn’t get in the first morning). They let us leave the bikes out back as long as they were locked. Canadian trust and friendliness wins again. Oh yeah, and every winery we went to had a bike rack!
I mean, where does one begin when talking about the wineries in NOTL? I had no idea Niagara-on-the-Lake was known for their many, many wineries. Truth be told, I really hadn’t even heard of Niagara-on-the-Lake before. There are a whopping 88 wineries that span the town.
Like I mentioned above, they are known for their ice wine, which is basically a process that involves harvesting grapes in the winter, making the wine extra sweet because the grape juice is essentially frozen when the grapes are crushed. I initially thought it meant the wine was cold so upon arrival, after we had been in the car for 4 hours, I asked to have a glass at the first winery we stopped at. The waiter must have sensed my newbie-ness and asked if I had ever tried ice wine before; he then explained it’s incredibly sweet and I may not want to try a whole glass straight out the gate. Bless his heart – he was so right. It certainly wasn’t bad, but there’s a time and place for that sort of sweetness.
There are so many different types of wineries in NOTL: organic, family owned, corporate, known for their whites, known for their reds, on hundreds of acres far from town or on small plots close by. With so many options, you’re sure to fall in love with one that is probably different than my favorites. Honestly, there are so many that it deserves it’s own post, which is coming up next week.
Tip: Listen to what people suggest, but don’t feel obligated to follow it to a tee. Every person has their own opinion about wine, but like most things in life, it’s subjective. If you’re on a bike and a winery looks nice, just go in and give it a whirl!
NOTL is full of parks and miles upon miles of vineyards, so it’s definitely a space to go on a nice walk, run or bike ride. Our favorite was the Niagara Parkway Recreational Trail, and Queen’s Royal Park where we sat on the edge by the rocks and looked out onto both Toronto, Ontario in Canada and Youngstown, New York in the US. So cool, right? Hubster and I didn’t realize it at first and noted that Fort Niagara, across the way in the US, had very colonial looking buildings. *light bulb moment* Oh hey, that’s the US! We knew we would be able to see the US at from certain vantage points, but didn’t realize we’d be able to see so much. I checked off another country on my run list (up to 10 so far) and even dipped my feet in the cold Niagara River. That warm Florida water year-round has spoiled me.
Tip: Plan out a morning stroll to see how the small town slowly comes alive. NOTL is so full of character that you feel you could be Belle strolling through the village in Beauty and the Beast. (Minus the part with everyone singing that you’re a nutjob.) If you’re not a morning person, the sunsets in the evening over Niagara River and Lake Ontario are lovely as well. Take a bottle of wine you got at winery that day and sit in Queen’s Royal Park to take in the sky changing colors.
You absolutely cannot visit this region of Canada without visiting Niagara Falls. Both the hubster and I had been there separately with our families as kids, so we didn’t spend more than an hour taking in the magnificent power of it all, but you could certainly make an afternoon of it. We both talked about how so many memories you have of your childhood don’t live up to the way you remembered when you visit the same places as an adult. Things seem smaller, or less spectacular than the memory itself. Not Niagara Falls. It’s just as immense and powerful as I remembered.
Tip: It’s barely even a 20-minute drive to get there from NOTL, but get there early. The busloads starts arriving around 10am. The Canadian side has the better view of the falls in my opinion, but you could hop over to the US (bring your passport) if you want that vantage point as well.
Overall, Niagara-on-the-Lake, is a small town full of character, the arts (it has a huge theater scene that I didn’t even dive into), wineries and friendly people. In what may seem to go against the “small town” mentality, it’s full of culture and diversity. Maybe, that’s what made is so special for me. Friendliness and open minds, imagine that?
So, when are you planning your trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake? The hubster and I loved it so much, we may make it a summer tradition. Heck, this Midwesterner-turned-Floridian may even go back in the winter, that’s how much I loved it!