10 Things to Do on a Winter Weekend Away in Niagara on the Lake

Luxury travellers looking to sip themselves silly on a road trip of Ontario wine country find happiness in postcard-perfect Niagara on the Lake. Located just a stones throw from the infamous Falls, Niagara on the Lake’s high season is traditionally in the Summer and Autumn, when carefree cyclists peddle past award winning wineries, music festivals offer al fresco entertainment, and pretty patio’s buzz long after the sun has set.

After recently enjoying a weekend away this January, I learned there are plenty of reasons to visit the region in the winter. Boutique hotels offer great off season deals, last minute reservations can be nabbed at buzz-worthy restaurants, winery staff have more time to give you one-on-one attention, and the annual Icewine Festival offers a seriously sweet program…not to mention the sublime landscape is blanketed in soft white snow.

Looking for a well appointed home sweet home for your holiday located smack dab in the middle of all the action? Queen’s Landing is a grand Georgian-style mansion with elegant decor, attentive service, and a breathtaking waterfront setting. Located at the meeting point of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, Queen’s Landing offers luxury travellers 140 bright, spacious rooms and suites, featuring contemporary furnishings, fabrics and colours. Recently redecorated, each of the hotel’s rooms feature plush hypoallergenic duvets, two-inch mattress pads and 300 thread count sheets. Splurge on a suite and you’ll find a spacious jetted tub and booming fireplace perfect for curling up and keeping warm after a day spent marching through the snow. 

If you’re keen to avoid a bitter cold blizzard and in need of a slice of R&R head to The Oban Inn’s petite OSpa. The boutique hotel’s tranquil, personalized, full-service spa is a unique facility dedicated to the health, well-being and vitality of each guest where the philosophy and décor are in harmony, forming a peaceful mood of sun, moon, earth and water. The spa offers four treatment rooms where friendly therapists use Aveda products to nourish the body and inspire the soul. After your treatment liven the senses with a visit to the spa’s steam room or relax on a comfy couch while sipping luxurious loose leaf by Harney & Sons Fine Teas.

Since 1989 Sentineal Carriage has offered visitors horse drawn carriage rides through Niagara on the Lake’s historic downtown. The informative narrated tours pick up in front of the historic Prince of Wales Hotel and last 30 min, 45 min or an hour. Throw a blanket over your lap, hold your sweetie tight, and enjoy a truly unique experience as you trot through one of Ontario’s most picturesque high streets.

After your carriage ride skip into the lobby of the Prince of Wales Hotel and warm up over a dainty mid-afternoon sip and nibble. Treat yourself to Victorian elegance in the hotel’s glamorous Drawing Room for Afternoon Tea, where ornately decorated tea sets are poured alongside traditional three tiered service featuring petite sandwiches, freshly baked scones accompanied by cream and jam, and a selection of sweet pastries.

One of the newest additions to Niagara on the Lake’s happening beverage scene, Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery has crafted an innovative winter program which has the property bustling all hours of the day and night. From 12-6pm hockey fans can be found lacing up their skates at the winery’s al fresco rink.

I arrived during the middle of the day on a weekend and was impressed to see a packed cocktail bar (take the time to enjoy a whisky tasting) and wine lovers lining up for a splash of Wayne’s fave Pinot Grigio. All the while a local DJ played 90s pop hits and a giant screen was erected to stream the hockey game later that evening. Let the kids zip around the rink and watch from the sidelines while sipping a duo of cool cocktails: the cherry hibiscus and Red Cask Whisky muddled Rusty Skate or Triple-Spiced Mulled Wine featuring Gretzky’s own Chardonnay and Ice Cask Whisky.

Craft beer fans looking to find entertainment on a cold winters eve should pop by Oast House Brewers for a pint and ping pong play. Oast House offers a drool-worthy collection of premium farmhouse ales (the Saison and Dark’ass Ale are my faves) which are best enjoyed while paddling back and forth with a friend at the brewery’s lone ping pong table. Oast House also has a tiny kitchen which features a rotating pop up concept which on my visit featured freshly shucked oysters and crunchy polenta fries.

If you’re visiting Niagara with your sweetheart for a romantic Valentines Day getaway head to Château des Charmes and indulge in a sparkling wine tasting. You’ll enjoy a trilogy of celebratory sips featuring a pétillant pour of Brut Sparkling, Blac de Blancs, and sweet Rose. The trio of sparkling sips is served with a perfectly sweet-meets-salty bowl of popcorn.

There’s nothing more enjoyable than sleeping in after indulging in a wine sloshed feast and then slowly sauntering over to a restorative brunch. Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery offers one of Niagara on the Lake’s best brunches, packing out on weekends as local families keep cozy in a sun-soaked dining room that overlooks soft snow covered vines. Brunch highlights include a recently launched craft cocktail program (candied bacon adorned Caesar for the win!), an Ontario cheese board featuring house made jam and relish, and a fun twist on the classic eggs bennie.

For three weekends in January the Niagara region is transformed into a wintry wonderland, in celebration of one of Canada’s most cherished products, Ontario Icewine. Celebrating its 23rd year, the 2018 Niagara Icewine Festival offered every pleasure and indulgence including a glamorous Gala, unique wine and food pairings at over 35 wineries, and vibrant outdoor street festivals.

On weekends during the month of January a stretch of Niagara on the Lake’s main street is closed off to traffic and becomes the centre of a pedestrian friendly festival zone where Icewine fans can exchange tokens to sample through Niagara’s finest sweet syrup. Local restaurants, hotels and winery’s offer a serious selection of snacks (we devoured bacon and cream muddled gnocchi, salmon sashimi topped salad, and spicy seafood chowder) while clowns on stilts and local five piece band entertained the crowd as they tip toed around epic ice sculptures. 

If you’re planning your winter wine getaway specifically around the Icewine Festival several of the regions top restaurants and wineries offer specialty menus and exclusive culinary events in celebration of the sweet stuff. One of the hottest tickets in town is Peller Estate Winery’s annual Icewine Maker’s Dinner hosted by Winemaker Katie Dickieson and Winery Chef Jason Parsons.

At this years event guests gathered at 7pm on a heated outdoor patio to sip Icewine muddled cocktails and nibble on freshly shucked oysters and piping hot Maple Bacon Fritters. The group was then escorted through two massive doors where they skipped through a dramatic chandelier lit alley covered in a cloud of dry ice. Guests were seated in a dramatic candelabra-lit cellar featuring a massive feasting table surrounded by a choir of sweet smelling wine barrels.

Chef Parsons 4-course menu was infused and inspired by the winery’s award winning Icewine, each course complimented by a perfectly paired Peller wine. After dinner, guests huddled around booming fires to toast ooey gooey Icewine marshmallows.

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