Story and Photos by Melanie Votaw, CityRoom Contributor
Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada (just over the border from New York State) is well-known for ice wines, and the village takes full advantage of this notoriety. The main drag, Queen Street, is graced with signs for “ice wine fudge,” “ice wine coffee,” “ice wine tea,” and “ice wine chocolates.” An Icewine Festival is even celebrated there every January. But the village is even more famous for the Shaw Festival every summer, showcasing plays by George Bernard Shaw, as well as other productions.
The Royal George Theatre, a short stroll on Queen Street, is where I took in a performance of Shaw’s comedy, Candida, a play about the wife of a clergyman and the poet who is in love with her. There’s something special about being in one of these old theaters that specializes in Shaw’s work, sitting among other theater lovers in a time-honored tradition.
At one of the many wineries in the area, Peller Estates, I experienced a “Chicks ‘n Chocolate” class. The wines and chocolates were carefully chosen because when we tried to switch them around, the combinations didn’t work nearly as well. In some cases, switching was downright awful. So, I learned what many wine aficionados already know: Pairings are very specific.
I had dinner at Zee’s Patio & Grill inside the Shaw Club Hotel, one of the many local restaurants. The innovative menu included such house specialty drinks as the Razmatazz Cocktail with raspberry vodka and Niagara ice wine and main courses like Fettuccini carbonara with Muscovy duck.
The town’s best known hotel is the Prince of Wales, which serves afternoon tea in one of its opulent, Victorian rooms. We had ham and cheddar sandwiches, as well as cucumber and goat cheese, salmon, and egg salad. Desserts included lemon meringue tart, chocolate mousse tarte, chai tea crème brulee, and cookies with a mandarin orange inside. I chose a delicious Himalayan Vintage Red Roses Tea.
The hotel was named Prince of Wales in 1901 after the prince’s visit, and it contains 110 rooms. On one side of the building, there is a row of horse-drawn carriages, making the building very photogenic. After tea, I took a half-hour carriage ride through the village, which was a very relaxing way to spend the afternoon. My driver was a young woman who knew all about where films had been shot in town, and she had an amazing command over her horse, Curry, who was white with black speckles. When the ride was finished, she dropped me off at my hotel – the Oban Inn & Spa.
Oban is located slightly off the main drag in a quiet area just across the street from the oldest golf course in North America – Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club. Surrounded by beautiful gardens, the property has a spa and restaurant, as well as a variety of rooms. The French doors of my room opened onto a private patio that overlooked the pool, a garden, and a white gazebo. All rooms contain LCD plasma televisions, a BOSE sound system, robes, a safe, and an iron and ironing board (something I always appreciate.) Wi-Fi is free for guests, and room service is also available, as well as a concierge. I also appreciated the complimentary bottled spring water.
To arrive at Niagara-on-the-Lake, I flew into Buffalo, New York airport and was greeted by the Niagara Airbus, which took me across the border into Canada and directly to the Oban Inn.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is also home to Fort George, a historical site where the British Army was headquartered shortly after the American Revolution. The town was a battlefield during the War of 1812, a subject that is illuminated further at the Niagara Historical Society Museum. Of course, the town is just a 15-minute drive from Niagara Falls.
For people in the northeastern U.S., Niagara-on-the-Lake is a great place to spend a weekend. For others who are interested in ice wines, War of 1812 history, or the plays of Shaw, it’s definitely worth traveling a distance for the visit.
Full disclosure: Melanie Votaw was hosted by Tourism Niagara for this visit but is dedicated to complete honesty about her experiences and opinions.