In 1860, thousands watched as Charles Blondin walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls for the third time. Midway, he paused to cook an omelette on a portable grill, and then had a marksman shoot a hole through his hat from the Maid of the Mist boat, fifty metres below. As attested by Blondin – and the innumerable lunatics and publicity seekers who have gone over the Falls in every craft imaginable – the Falls simply can’t be beat as a theatrical setting. Yet, in truth, the stupendous first impression doesn’t last long and to prevent the thirteen million visitors who arrive each year from getting bored by the sight of a load of water crashing over a 52m cliff, the Niagarans have ensured that the Falls can be seen from every angle imaginable – from boats, viewing towers, helicopters, cable cars and even tunnels in the rock face behind the cascade. The tunnels and the boats are the most exciting, with the entrance to the former right next to the Falls at Table Rock House and the latter leaving from the foot of the cliff at the end of Clifton Hill, 1100m downriver. Both give a real sense of the extraordinary force of the waterfall, a perpetual white-crested thundering pile-up that had Mahler bawling “At last, fortissimo” over the din. After the Falls themselves, be sure to allow enough time to explore the Niagara River along either the Niagara Parkway road or the Niagara River Recreation Trail, an easy-to-follow jogging and cycle path. Both road and trail stretch the length of the Niagara River from Fort Erie, 32km upstream from the Falls, to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
A day is more than enough time to see the Falls and its immediate surroundings, but if you do decide to spend the night hereabouts, quaint Niagara-on-the-Lake, 26km downstream beside Lake Ontario, is a much better option than the crassly commercialized town of Niagara Falls itself. That said, Niagara-on-the-Lake gets very crowded in high season, so try to book at least a couple of days in advance.Read More
Until the 1980s, Canadian wine was something of a joke. The industry’s most popular product was a sticky, fizzy concoction called “Baby Duck”, and other varieties were commonly called “block-and-tackle” wines, after a widely reported witticism of a member of the Ontario legislature: “If you drink a bottle and walk a block, you can tackle anyone.” This sorry state of affairs was transformed by the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA; w vqaontario.com), who have, since 1989, come to exercise tight control over wine production in Ontario, which produces around eighty percent of Canadian wine. The VQA’s appellation system distinguishes between – and supervises the quality control of – two broad types of wine. Those wines carrying the Provincial Designation on their labels must be made from one hundred percent Ontario-grown grapes from an approved list of European grape varieties and selected hybrids; those bearing the Geographic Designation (eg Niagara Peninsula, Pelee Island) can only use Vitis vinifera, the classic European grape varieties, such as Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. As you might expect from a developing wine area, the results are rather inconsistent, but the Rieslings have a refreshingly crisp, almost tart flavour with a mellow, warming aftertaste – and are perhaps the best of the present range, white or red.
More than twenty wineries are clustered in the vicinity of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Most of them have showrooms, others offer guided tours and just about all of them have tastings. The town’s tourist office carries a full list with opening times and prices.
Vineyards and shops
Peller Estates Winery 290 John St East, 2.5km from Queen St 905 468 4678, peller.com. With a vineyard and a large modern showroom on the edge of town, Peller has produced a clutch of much-praised vintages. They also do a good line in one of Canada’s specialities, ice wine, a sweet dessert wine made from grapes that are left on the vine till December or January, when they are hand-picked at night while frozen. The picking and the crushing of the frozen grapes is a time-consuming business and this is reflected in the price – from about $50 per 375ml bottle of either sparkling or regular. Daily 10am–9pm.
Stratus winery 2059 Niagara Stone Rd, just southwest of town 905 468 1806, stratuswines.com. Handily located not far from the centre of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Stratus winery has pioneered a more environmentally friendly approach to wine production. May–Dec daily 11am–5pm; Jan–April Wed–Sun noon–5pm.
Wine Country Vintners 27 Queen St 905 468 1881, niagaraonthelake.com. The best wine shop in town, specializing in premium Niagara vintages and offering shuttle tours to the Peller winery as well. Mon–Sat 10am–8pm, Sun 11am–6pm.