We spent last weekend across the border, exploring Niagara-on-the-Lake before all of the Christmas madness set in. Niagara-on-the-Lake is situated in Ontario, Canada right where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario, and directly across the river from Youngstown, NY. This historic town is home to 88 different wineries, along with several breweries, countless restaurants, and lots of shopping. It’s about an hour drive from our home in Buffalo and makes for a perfect romantic getaway or overnight trip. The quaint town is a popular tourist destination in the summertime, so we usually opt to visit in the winter months, when it feels as though we’ve got the whole town to ourselves. And the lodging prices are by far, much, much more reasonable.
We started off in the early afternoon by grabbing lunch at The Garrison House. Sister restaurant to Chef David Watt’s Zest, the Garrison House is casual and inviting, a great place to grab a beer at the bar or have a nice casual meal by the fire. Reservations are not required.
This gastropub is the perfect place to grab a little bite to eat before tackling all of those wineries. They focus on good food and quality spirits and it really shows in their menu. I couldn’t resist ordering the Prime Rib sandwich which was one of the daily specials and came with fresh cut fries. It was absolutely out of this world. My hubby ordered the Garrison Burger, which was also exceptional, and we swapped out halves, so we could each try a little of both! Good call!! I highly recommend!
Afterwards be sure to stop in next door at Refuge Antiques & Giftery. The store owner, Liz, hand picks and carefully curates every item in the store and her attention to detail does not go unnoticed. The store is beautifully decorated and has a wide array of unique and eclectic gifts and home decor. It’s a must stop for a one of a kind shopping experience!
The next stop on our list was Wayne Gretzky Estates, just a short 7 minute drive down the road. Even if you’re not a hockey fan, I know, sacrilege to say in Canada, this place is truly impressive. The 23,000 sq ft facility is the first of it’s kind in the region, boasting a winery AND distillery onsite. Oh and did I mention they have their own ice rink?!? Ice skating is available in the winter, and in the summer the space doubles as a beautiful water feature, alongside their outdoor whiskey bar. If the whiskey’s not enough to keep you warm, no worries, they also have outdoor heaters pumping full force to keep you toasty.
But wait….there’s more!! Stop inside for a wine or whiskey tour, take their Cocktails 101 bartending class, or learn some wine and food pairing tips while you’re there. My hubby and I split a tasting and left with a bottle of their 2015 Riesling in hand, along with a 3 pack of Ice Wine Truffles and a 3 pack of Whiskey Truffles from the gift shops. OMG!! YUM!! We’re headed back here in February and I am beyond excited to sample from the distillery on our next trip. Like really really excited!!!
Konzelmann Estate Winery was next, and I’m not going to lie, the 8 year old little girl inside of me wanted to visit this place because it kinda looks like a castle. Konzelmann is just a 7 minute drive from Gretzky Estates, yet almost has an off the beaten path type of feel to it. Opened in Canada in 1984, they’ve actually been established in Germany since 1894.
With history comes experience obviously, because as far as wine tasting goes, this place was probably my favorite! We did two tastings here, tried 6 wines in total, and concluded that their 2016 Peach wine is the obvious winner! We also left with a bottle of their 2015 Riesling. But what stood out the most to me, was their extremely reasonable pricing. They offer $5 off a bottle with each tasting purchased, meaning we left with 2 bottles of wine for under $20….Canadian! Next time I’ve gotta try their Junk Food Pairing, where they pair holiday junk food along with their wines for a small fee. This place is located right on the water too, and I bet it’s even more fabulous in the summertime!
Our next stop was Pillitteri Estates Winery, just 6 minutes away, back on the main drag. Pillitteri is a family owned and operated winery, with three generations involved in the wine making process. Their dual showcases boast just a few of their many prestigious awards (they’ve won 700+ internationally and domestically for both their table and ice wines). In fact, they are the world’s largest estate producer of Icewine! And guess what….they really do live up to all that hype!! I’m a sucker for ice wine…and ice wine truffles apparently, because I could not leave here without a bottle of their 2013 Vintage Reserve or a 5 pack of truffles. Both are must buys!!!
Two minutes down the road, you’ll find Niagara Oast House Brewers. You can’t miss the big red barn! Oast house is Niagara’s premium craft brewery with a focus on Farmhouse-style brews. The barn was originally raised in the late 1800s, and now boasts the Beer Shed (a beer tasting room), the Hayloft (a super cool event space), the Kitchen, which serves up Tide & Vine Oyster Co. oysters along with other small plates to snack on, and the coolest looking outdoor patio! Remind me to swing by this summer!! This place gives off such a chill vibe. It’s everything you want a brewery to be. They even have a sweet ping pong table tucked away in the back room. Game. On.
Here you can basically build your own beer flight and pick as many samples as you’d like. We tried the Biere de Noel, the Pumpkin & Squash Spiced Ale, and the Olde Tyme Gingerbread Porter. This place is a must do for any craft beer enthusiast, or anyone who needs a pit stop from all the wine! It was a nice change of pace and our last stop before checking into our hotel.
We checked into our room at the Prince of Wales Hotel, a member of the Vintage Hotels group. The room was fit for a Queen, decked out in all of it’s Victorian elegance, yet equipped with fully modern features. The gas fireplace was the perfect place to warm up after a cold winter’s day spent gallivanting around town. The Prince of Wales is located in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake and is arguably the best located hotel in town, just steps from the most popular restaurants, bars, and shopping. We booked with an amazing deal through Travelzoo.com. For just $159 (plus taxes) we were able to stay in these stunning accommodations and received complimentary breakfast, as well as complimentary tastings to two of the local wineries. Last year we purchased a similar deal for their sister hotel, Pillar & Post, and will also be returning in February to their third location at Queens Landing. You really can’t beat the price! I’ll let you know which is my favorite!
After we settled in, we headed to The Irish Harp Pub for a round of pre dinner drinks and an appetizer. The Irish Harp is literally steps away from the Prince of Wales and just a blocks worth of walking. Owner Trevor Smyth has taken attention to detail to the next level, and in 2005 he meticulously restored the building, having it’s whole contents shipped straight from Ireland. The quintessential Irish pub, The Irish Harp serves up great food, cold drinks, and live bands on the weekends, establishing itself as a Niagara-on-the-Lake landmark destination.
Sit at the bar, or grab a table by the fireplace, just grab a seat! This place fills up fast on the weekends. Don’t miss the pull apart garlic loaf in all of it’s cheesy glory!!!
From there, we headed just around the block to the Olde Angel Inn. The Angel Inn boasts a pub, a large English style restaurant, as well as 5 guest rooms. The Olde Angel Inn was established in 1789 and rebuilt in 1815, after being badly burned during the War of 1812-1814. It’s said to be haunted, of course, the ghost remains harmless as long as the British flag flies over the inn. The food is hearty and the portions are HUGE! Just take a look at this roast beef sandwich, piled high with tender, juicy beef. And I’m not saying the ghost was there, but I did take a video of my water glass sliding across the table all by itself….sooooo……there’s that.
The holiday cocktail, a mix of spiced rum and eggnog, topped with whipped cream, cinnamon and nutmeg, was EVERYTHING and just what I needed before braving the cold walk back to our hotel. Lucky for me it was a short one!
Of course I couldn’t walk through Churchill Lounge (located at the Prince of Wales) without having one more drink. I am so in love with the woodwork in this bar. We warmed ourselves by the fireplace, and listened to the piano player sing few Christmas songs while sipping on sangria and martinis to end the night. I can’t think of a better way to unwind before Christmas, can you?
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