Spin the globe and plant your finger somewhere for a getaway trip. You would be lucky to hit Niagara-on-the-Lake. Often dubbed as Canada’s prettiest town, this historic hamlet that straddles the border of Canada and the U.S. might seem all Downtown Abbey-ish with its caleche rides transporting canoodling couples past pretty gingerbread gabled mansions.
The heritage buildings are mostly 19th century originals and the town itself predates Canada as a nation. But on this getaway it’s all the pampering, local shops and divine culinary sensations that tickled the imaginations of two gals, as my friend and I ventured to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a short country retreat. Here is my Niagara-on-the-Lake girls getaway guide.
High Tea Afternoon
Nothing beats civility and yes, Downtown Abbey tones (we are big fans of the Crawley family) than afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel.
Inside the fabled Drawing Room, amid polished silver tea settings and frilly laced accessories with fabulous splashes of roses we escaped to the solarium overlooking the manicured gardens to participate in the age-old tea ritual.
Find a rich tea menu created by Canada’s first certified tea sommelier, Sloane Fine Tea Merchants. Mine was the Persian Palace with hints of Jaipur roses that was presented in fine porcelain china. I chose it because the Victorians had a love-in with Persian elements so it rekindled that vibe.
The highlight: The gift of the gab and experiencing a collection of delectable bite-sized sandwiches alongside the decadent Devonshire clotted creamed, butter and jam scones.
For gals who want to feel like a princess
What better way than to overnight with, I mean at, the Prince of Wales? The historic hotel has rich elements of bold Victorian accents. The lobby is lined with a big statue, stained glass and inlaid parquet flooring that beautifully meshes with the vast array of vases teeming with red trimmed white roses alongside a glorious collection of royal portraits (albeit these are reproductions).
For the W.C.
Normally one doesn’t discuss les toilettes, but in Niagara-on-the-Lake one woman’s washroom has garnered the best restroom in Canada award. Located at the Shaw Club Hotel and Spa it’s a great spot for touch-ups and refreshers. The other fun discovery goes to the Prince of Wales Hotel. The love of porcelain and ceramic is so obvious the women’s loo is styled in a matching floral print ceramic sink and the uh-hum.
For culinary aficionados
When there’s a cheese plate accompanied by local fruit preserves as an appetizer and a wine list that celebrates Niagara’s rich vineyards, you suspect the dining scene can’t be too shabby.
At Zee’s Grill we were pleasantly surprised by the quality in service and selection. The wait staff promptly seat you at this bustling eatery located directly across from Niagara-on-the-Lake’s mainstay, the Shaw Festival Theatre where the plays of playwright George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries are performed.
Being girlfriends we ordered the same entree, seasoned beef tenderloin triple A in a whisky shallot jus that floated over our carmelized onion potato mash, heavenly! Jackson Triggs Cab-Shiraz and Coyote Run Estate Winery’s Pinot Noir perfectly finished off the evening.
The highlight: The gift of the gab while sharing the cheese tray in a bistro packed with quirky statues.
No you will not smell like a wine bottle was poured on you when you visit Niagara’s first spa devoted to the grape. At the Shaw Spa you won’t be doing any acting but you will be doing a lot of reclining and catching some R and R as the spa therapist douses your body in its acclaimed vino remedies. I went for the Divine facial. The vine skin care from France is anti-oxidant rich with its bio organic ingredients.
The highlight: the fuss-free removal of the grape jelly-like mask that came off in one clean swoop.
For retail therapy
Niagara-on-the-Lake is compact and blessed by one main stretch of shops on Queen Street. Within a few short blocks you get your fix for shoes, bling, apparel, and retro candy (yes the Olde Tyme Candy Shoppe specializes in nostalgic candy from your youth.) The store owner scoured the earth to find specific brands you didn’t think existed anymore.
Some shops unique to Niagara-on-the-Lake include Kurtz Culinary Creations, local third generation orchard farm purveyors, and the Niagara Apothecary. While the drug store isn’t open for business anymore the location is now a museum and makes a fascinating drop-in to see what the old-fashioned miracle cure-alls were.
Gallery lovers will definitely need to make a detour to explore the local celebrated artist Trisha Romance whose art is highly collected in Canada and around the world. Her painting subjects take inspiration from the Victorian past.
Highlight: buying a winter coat when you least expect it … at the end of summer.
For that walk in a park
The entire Niagara-on-the-Lake looks like a garden. The garden beds are exploding in colours with pretty picture boxes cascading in petunias and coleus plants. Meanwhile the rows upon rows of tall Cana lilies along the sidewalk can have you lose your friend if you’re not watching.
Nice heart to hearts and even quiet contemplation between two friends can easily be done at a few locales. There’s a popular park for the stroller crowd and pet owners but Simcoe Park also has nicely appointed benches under the old oak trees.
The lakeshore is fabulous. There’s a nice scenic lookout at the end of Queen Street as the road takes a sharp turn left. Convenient benches are well appointed making it a great spot to reflect on great Lake Ontario.
Ilona Kauremszky was a guest of the Prince of Wales Hotel, which is part of the Vintage Hotels Collection.
The Prince of Wales Hotel is part of the Vintage Hotels Collection that includes the Pillar and Post, and Queen’s Landing. There are complimentary shuttles (enquire at the front desk) between properties so guests at any of the three hotels can enjoy the outdoor hot springs, saunas and hot tubs at the Pillar and Post or bask in the dining scene at Queen’s Landing, home of the Tiara Restaurant.