The Niagara region of Ontario, Canada is best known for being the home of one of the world's most sought-after tourist destinations: Niagara Falls. However, there's another draw that's largely taken a back seat to the natural wonder.
Just a 30-minute drive north of the Falls, travelers will find the sprawling vineyards and grandiose chateaus of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a pastoral setting that's reminiscent of a country drive through the south of France or Sonoma Valley. There are over 20 wineries within a five-mile radius, making it one of the world's best destinations for wine lovers.
The Historic Old Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is the pinnacle of the region with Queen Street at its heart. The commercial strip runs through the center of town with eateries and cafes, and century-old storefronts selling chocolates and wines to leisurely travelers. Horse-drawn carriages mosey down the quiet streets that are lined with Victorian manors and whimsical cottages. Lush gardens highlight the charming architecture and make for a truly romantic setting that's ideal for quick weekend getaways.
While the shopping at Niagara-on-the-Lake is a must, it's the wine that everyone comes for. There's Château des Charmes, a family-run estate founded by a fifth-generation French winemaker in a lavish country manner. Down the road is Colaneri Winery, reminiscent of a compound of Italian villas. While it looks as if it's been there for centuries, the estate opened in 2010. Both wineries offer extensive varieties of wines, from full-bodied cabernet sauvignon to rich chardonnays, all of which you can sample in their expansive tasting rooms.
In addition to these grand estates and the dozen or so other wineries in the area is Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery. Only a few minutes from town, this winery is housed in a colonial home constructed in 1814. What makes this estate unique is that the home was deconstructed, board by board, and reassembled on site. Guests can sample any of the wines produced on site in the house, or in the adjacent restaurant.
The area is also home to a number of luxury hotels, including the elegantly-styled, second French empire Prince of Wales Hotel. Situated at the center of Queen Street, the hotel is one of the more elaborate buildings in town. It was also voted as one of the best resorts in Canada by Travel + Leisure in their annual World's Best Awards. The hotel has 110 artfully designed rooms, a spa, and three restaurants, making it no surprise that it is one of the best resorts in the country.
Just a few minutes down the road, travelers will find The Charles Hotel, a stately manor built in 1832 that's been well preserved with plenty of original details. Each of the 12 uniquely-designed guest rooms has an original fireplace and many have their own verandas that overlook the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club and Lake Ontario.
While a summertime wine tour may seem like the main draw, there are activities year-round. From April to October, The Shaw Festival puts on a series of theater productions with 14 different shows. And during the holiday season, they have a rendition of A Christmas Carol that's bound to get everyone in the holiday spirit. The town is decorated with festive lights an carolers meander through the streets singing for shoppers on Queen Street.
So while many wine aficionados look to France, Italy, or Chile for their next vacation, it's worth exploring what Niagara has to offer as there's always something to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake.