Canadian Staycation: Must-See Stops in Ontario’s Niagara-on-the-Lake, Plus a Recipe to Try at Home
Horse-drawn carriages are just part of the charm of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Photo: Pgiam/Getty Images
By all accounts one of Canada’s prettiest towns, with firm roots that date back to the early 19th century, Niagara-on-the-Lake sits just a half-hour drive north of Niagara Falls, where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario. Its charming mix of restored heritage buildings, ice cream parlours, manicured parks and quaint inns draws an international crowd. Visitors wander about the flower-lined streets, giddy up the horse-drawn carriages, taste their way through the region’s wineries and take in a play at a world-renowned theatre.
Poke About the Apothecaries
Ontario’s very first pharmacy is still around — but just as a museum nowadays. In operation from 1820 to 1964, the Georgian-style, Confederation-era Niagara Apothecary looks like it did in the late-1800s — restored walnut cabinetry and glass vials, wood carvings and ornate plasterwork.
5 Queen St.; Niagara-on-the-Lake; 905-468-3845; niagaraapothecary.ca
Back in the now, Maison Apothecare takes its potions and lotions seriously, selling environmentally friendly essential oils and creams, serums and masks, perfumes and more.
126 Queen St.; Niagara-on-the-Lake; 888-232-9468; maisonapothecare.ca
Follow Your Nose!
Deliciousness prevails at Budapest Bakeshop, purveyors of the “chimney cake,” a Hungarian cylindrical confection with origins reaching back more than 300 years. Those with a sweet tooth surrender to the likes of cinnamon sugar, coconut and cheesecake, or Nutella and walnut chimneys, while those favouring savoury go for cheddar or pizza chimneys and more. The shop is like a cooking show, the entire made-from-scratch baking process on full display.
118 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake; 905-468-7778; budapestbakeshop.com
Raise a Glass or Two
Dozens of Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries lure thousands of visitors each year with tours and tastings. Founded in 1978 by fifth-generation French winemaker Paul Bosc, Château des Charmes has a variety of tastings to experience, including one that illuminates wine and food pairing, and another that celebrates sparkling wines. The setting couldn’t be more pastoral, with the tasting tent overlooking the vineyard with the Niagara Escarpment beyond.
1025 York Rd., St. Davids; 905-262-4219; chateaudescharmes.com
Once a small fruit and vegetable farm and market, the family-run Pillitteri Estates Winery stays true to Sicilian roots, offering a tour of the impressive barrel cellar and tasting flights that include its award-winning ice wine. BarrelHead Pizza fires up an outdoor oven right on the premises.
1696 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake; 905-468-3147; pillitteri.com
If you need somebody to ferry you around, The Winery Guys provide a comfortable and informative tour of NOTL wineries, taking in two or three stops.
Catch Some Live Theatre
Despite the small-town feel, NOTL is home to the world-renowned Shaw Festival, now in its 60th year. It celebrates the work of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, while also staging productions of other celebrated dramatists. About a dozen plays are mounted each year across three stages, from May to December.
Stay: 124 on Queen
The newly redone, 72-room 124 on Queen Hotel & Spa is the talk of the town, with 39 rooms added via a series of new buildings stretching back from the brick façade. With blue, grey and neutral tones, big marble bathrooms, cedar-lined closets and mini-kitchens, the bright and modern rooms are well-appointed and comfortable.
The hotel’s destination spa is destined to be popular year-round with locals and tourists alike, offering inventive treatments, full aesthetics and a huge water-therapy circuit comprising hot and warm pools, steam and sauna rooms, wet treatment rooms and a snow room for cooling off.
Your three squares come courtesy of the adjacent Treadwell Cuisine restaurant, a farm-to-table utopia in a region that is chocka-block with farms. The open kitchen is lined with chairs so you can watch the chefs in action.
The dinner menu is one big four-course prix fixe — savour the duck and beef, homemade gnocchi and ravioli, yellowfin tuna and halibut — complete with wine pairings, if you wish, from a massive cellar that focuses on the best of Ontario. This is truly an all-round Canadian dining experience. The chefs are happy to share this crème brûlée recipe below.
124 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake; 905-468-4552; 124queen.com
Recipe: Crème Brûlée
1 litre 35% Cream
1 vanilla bean
150 g Sugar
12 egg yolks
1. Preheat oven to 300º F.
2. Add cream and vanilla bean (including its pulp) to a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil to scald.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together sugar and egg yolks until well-blended. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually.
4. Pour the mixture into six small ramekins and place them in a large cake or roasting pan. Pour enough water into the pan to reach up the sides of the ramekins. Tightly cover the pan with aluminum foil.
5. Bake in a convection oven until set, but still jiggling in the centre, about 30 minutes.
6. Remove ramekins from the pan and refrigerate for at least two hours.
7. Top each one with sugar, then caramelize under the broiler or with a kitchen torch. Serve with fresh berries.