When your second full day of a trip starts at a winery, you just know it’s going to be a good one.
It would be crazy to visit Toronto and not do a day trip out to Niagara Falls. Sure, it’s a pretty long ride in a bus, but didn’t you just hear me say that the day begins with wine?
I had no idea before we took this tour that the area on the southern shores of Lake Ontario is famed for its fruit and wine. But I was certainly happy to be educated at Pillitteri Winery.
The trophy room speaks for itself.
But if you need more convincing, just ask the lovely ladies behind the counter for a tasting of their wine.
Try and look like you do this all the time and you’re a total wine buff.
Alternatively, just drink up those samples and be grateful. After all, it’s 10.30am and someone is giving you wine.
The wine-producing area near Niagara Falls is particularly well known for its ice wines. I’d never come across this before, but as our host explained, these are wines produced using grapes that have been allowed to stay on the vines until they freeze in Canada’s cold winters. They’re then picked and pressed at night to make sure they remain frozen (which, as you can imagine, means the fruit produces a lot less juice), and the result is a very sweet, and quite expensive, dessert wine.
Of course I picked up a bottle.
Just the one, honest.
I had a good look around the rest of the shop, too.
Avoiding the overpriced maple-syrup-everything …
… and making a beeline for some other local produce.
Apparently this part of the world is also famed for its peaches and other orchard fruits. And I was starting to feel peckish.
There was just time to go and inspect the vines in the vineyard …
… before we had to hop back on the bus and head towards our next stop on the tour.
Niagara-on-the-Lake has a well-deserved reputation as Canada’s prettiest town. It looks like something out of a movie.
Honestly, have you ever seen anywhere more adorable?
There are clearly some things aimed entirely at tourists, like the abundance of ice cream shops …
Well, it would be rude not to take advantage.
If you’re planning a visit, go in late summer when you can enjoy ice cream made with fresh local fruit. I can personally recommend the peach gelato at Il Gelato di Carlotta.
I quality checked it, just for you.
All in the name of research, obviously.
If you take one of the tours that only gives you half an hour in Niagara-on-the-Lake, you’re going to have to walk and eat gelato at the same time. It’s a skill. Practice.
Because you’ll want to see as much of the prettiness as you can.
And if, while you’re wandering around, you think to yourself, ‘This seems like the kind of town that would have a year-round Christmas shop’, you’d be right.
And a bonus cheese shop, too.
The other kind of shop that Niagara-on-the-Lake has in abundance?
Don’t try and resist the temptation to buy a bag of snacks. You might get hungry on the bus. And we wouldn’t want that.
I wish I could remember the name of the place where we picked up our hot, spicy sausage rolls. Because they were amazing and you should go there.
Make sure you stop and tip your hat to this chap before you head back to the bus.
George Bernard Shaw has an entire theatre festival dedicated to him in Niagara-on-the-Lake. If you’re lucky enough to be in town during the Shaw Festival, try and see a play at the Court House Theatre.
We weren’t so fortunate, sadly, so back to the bus we went, and away from the prettiness of the town – with a quick drive-by the shores of Lake Ontario to catch a glimpse of the hazy Toronto skyline, way over the other side.
A quick stop for posing in front of the Niagara Parks Floral Clock …
… before an unforgettable experience.
For an extra $100 or so, you can take a helicopter flight over the Niagara Falls and see this natural wonder of the world in all its majesty with uninterrupted views. And if you ask me, it’s well worth doing.
I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves …
When that rainbow appeared in the mist as we passed overhead, I burst into tears. Not even kidding. It was so beautiful I just couldn’t keep it in.
As spectacular as the view was from the helicopter, nothing prepares you for seeing the Falls up close.
So after we landed, we jumped back in the bus and headed for our final stop of the tour.
I hadn’t realised before visiting that the Niagara Falls is actually a group of three waterfalls separated by islands in the Niagara River.
The gigantic one, probably the most familiar to the majority of us, is the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.
And its smaller neighbours are the American Falls and the skinny little Bridal Veil Falls there on the right.
The Niagara River is the boundary line between the USA and Canada, so on each side of the river there is a different boat service getting tourists up close and personal with the Falls. On the American side, blue-ponchoed people take the Maid of the Mist, while on on the Canadian side, we donned red plastic ponchos to set sail aboard the Hornblower.
I put my camera away for this part (you get pretty wet on the boat, and I felt certain my trusty RX100 mkII would not appreciate a shower), but since I had a little waterproof jacket for my phone, I managed to snap a couple of shots while we were enveloped by the mist.
Nothing can really prepare you for what this feels like. Even though you’re on the deck of the boat surrounded by hundreds of people, the deafening roar of millions of gallons of water tumbling into the river drowns out all other sounds and you feel very small and very humble.
But that’s ok, because it was lunchtime. So with one last look at the Falls from the deck of the boat, we disembarked and headed off in search of something to quell our rumbling tummies.
And we found somewhere with a pretty special view (and a frickin’ amazing steak sandwich that was so good I didn’t wait to snap it before I tucked in).
We enjoyed a bottle of the local fizz with lunch. Rude not to, really.
And walked it off along the river – catching a rainbow along the way.
And then it was time to head back to the city. I won’t pretend that most of us didn’t have a nap on the bus.
By the time we were back in downtown Toronto, it was definitely cocktail hour. And handily, our driver dropped us right outside a bar claiming to offer the Perfect Manhattan.
Perfect? Well, I’m not sure about that. But definitely much needed after a long day.
The sky was darkening by the time we left, and the Toronto sign was lit up in all its glory as we crossed Nathan Phillips Square.
We stopped in at The Rex on the way home for a pint of Double Trouble and to enjoy the live band.
Dinner was a civilised affair …
… although had we made it to The Burger’s Priest before closing time, it would have been even messier (the Vatican City is a beast we were eager to tame, but didn’t manage to on this trip).
But since rumour has it that Fancy Franks serves some of the best poutine in Toronto and, I can add, a damn fine gourmet hot dog too, we didn’t do too badly.
After a nightcap a couple of blocks down at the decidedly-hipster-but-actually-still-cool Rush Lane, we succumbed to the jet lag and headed home to sleep.
Ready for more exploring tomorrow.