The Ultimate Guide to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Just outside the city of Toronto, Niagara-on-the-lake is the ultimate destination, offering something for the active traveler and the gastronome alike. Located a relatively short drive from the city, Niagara-on-the-lake boasts a series of recreational bike routes and a generous assortment of wineries and restaurants serving up elegant yet approachable fare. Ontario’s most popular—and best—wine region is far enough away to invigorate, but close enough to make for an easy getaway.
581 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0, Canada
Not only is Southbrook certified as an organic and LEED sustainable winemaker in Ontario, it is also a biodynamic winery. This means that it treats the farm as a single living entity. The farm’s soil, plants and animals are able to grow low-impact, vibrant crops, including grapes, which then make great wine. It was a treat to see sheep grazing behind the vineyard. The building is also a great example of fantastic architecture but also adhering to sustainable principles. Diamond & Schmitt Architects created a sleek and modern building—surrounded by lavender—where natural light is ensured and deep roof overhangs give added shade to the building. They even thought where lighting in the building will affect bird migration routes! Native wetland plants break down pollution from stormwater draining off our access road and parking lots. In addition to its great selection of wine, you can dine on the kitchen’s famous pizza on their outdoor patio looking out to the vineyard. Southbrook also hosts Vinyasa in the Vineyard by the famous Wine Ladies, which is a unique way to tour the winery. I recommend having brunch at Trius, which is a ten minute drive from Southbrook and then touring Southbrook for a lively morning in Niagara-on-the-Lake!
1366 York Rd, St. Davids, ON L0S 1P0, Canada
When I asked friends and locals what their favourite winery was in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL), I got a unanimous response on Ravine. Everything here is on point: great wine (and I’m kicking myself for not buying any), phenomenal food, and fun programs. Though most wineries close down around 9 or 10, Ravine is open a bit later and has casual bites so you never feel contrived. The food is refined but the atmosphere is not. The wood-fire oven on their patio churns out toasty pizzas for $18 (a great deal when most meals can be quite pricey here). You can play ping pong in front of the vineyard, chill out with your group on the other side of the patio while listening to live music (bonus points for acoustic versions of the Tragically Hip’s “Bobcaygeon”) or dine inside. They also have a grocery store near their farm. Don’t forget to check out the pigs on-site! Food-wise, menus change seasonally. Friends highly recommend the charcuterie. We were fans of the House Pickled Candy Cane Beet Salad (feta, a sweet salmon and marinated quail’s egg); and the flaky pan seared white fish. Served with a mushroom and goat cheese canneloni, this was a nice punch to the lightness of the fish. We were thoroughly impressed. Throughout the summer, there are fantastic events including oyster nights and even geotracking! This was one of my top three wineries in the area and I need to remind myself to buy some of their wine online. It’s that good.
14778 Niagara Pkwy, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0, Canada
This was definitely a treat in the midst of a 20 km bike tour! It is a bit further down the wine route path but if you like to bike, it may be worth it. If we didn’t have about 10 km to bike back, I think I would have had a bigger portion of the slushie but they do give shots. Made with Northern Ice Vidal Icewine, they are named the N’Ice Slushie and have tasting notes of apricot, peach, pear, lychee, caramel and butterscotch. You can get a variety of iced wines here as well, but the slushie was definitely the highlight and clearly, their marketing tool (it works!).
340 Gate St, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0, Canada
Three Forty Gate (the address name) was a home away from home for us on this excursion and is a short walk away from the main area of Queen and King streets. The owners, Erin and Michael, really took care of the little details we needed on our trip and assisted us with some last minute reservations. They really know the community and area here really well. We really felt like we could unplug here. Our room had no TV but there is a small living room on the top floor with a TV and a few board games and books. The living room downstairs is a nice place to read a book or unwind. Our room had a cozy King-sized bed and a bathroom outfitted with a huge Jacuzzi and shower. The little details did not go unnoticed, like two wine glasses and a corkscrew on our desk table. The breakfast here is such a treat. The table setting could far surpass any of that in a restaurant and it was nice to mingle with the other guests before we started our day. We were spoiled with yogurt-parfaits, frittatas and french toast served with Starbucks coffee and tea over the weekend. I highly recommend Three Forty Gate for your first trip to NOTL or in town for the Shaw Festival! It’s much more intimate than a hotel with owners who really care about their guests and home.
290 John St E, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0, Canada
If there is one dining experience I would splurge on when visiting Niagara On the Lake it would be Peller Estate’s Kitchen Table Dinner. This was definitely the highlight of our trip to the region. As the name suggests, the experience lies in getting to visit the kitchen through our private dining room anytime we want! We get exclusive access to sous-chef Maurice Desharnais (also known as Chef Moe), who showed us around the kitchen and told us we could ask any of the kitchen staff questions while they prepped our meal. Our meal actually started in the kitchen with appetizers and then lead into a 7 course feast, with each dish explained by Moe. Our expert sommelier Katie explained every wine personally paired with our dish and why she picked it. Moe would also tell us really entertaining stories about the chef world. You can tell that Peller really cares about its customers and staff through every little detail. In fact, Peller doesn’t host weddings because they want a serene experience for its guests, especially the majority that visit on weekends. Though we didn’t get to meet head chef, Jason Parsons that night, we came by the next day to buy wine and our sommelier saw us and introduced us. He came over to personally chat with us. It was such a special experience and I will definitely continue to return to Peller for their excellent wine and food. Tip: make sure you get the hostess to pre-call a cab in advance before your meal.