Before hitting the vineyards, we stopped off in Toronto, the nearest airport to Niagara, after a comfortable seven-and-a-half hour flight.
The cosmopolitan city is a blend of the old and the new. Our hotel, the beautiful art deco Fairmont Royal York, conveniently located opposite the city’s central train station, was the tallest building in the Commonwealth when it was completed in 1929. Now it sits nestled beneath towering skyscrapers, a sign of how much the city has been built upwards in the last century.
The rooms in the grand Fairmont are pristine, the beds are seriously comfortable and a pre-dinner aperitif in the elegant bar with its velvet sofas was just the ticket after the long flight. Dinner in the hotel’s brasserie, Reign, is a fantastic option if venturing out into the freezing cold doesn’t appeal.A signature cocktail followed by the special of scallops and the rack of lamb for mains went down a treat.
But the highlight has to be the breakfast buffet, my eyes were bigger than my belly at the sight of the mountain of delicious food in front of me. There’s also an a la carte menu in the unlikely scenario you can’t find anything to your fancy.
Fuelled up, we set off on a walking tour through Toronto, following fabulous historian and guide Bruce Bell as he spilled out the secrets of the city.
Starting at St Lawrence Market we sampled Carousel Bakery’s signature peameal bacon sandwich, before visiting the famous Anglican Cathedral Church of St James and the iconic redbrick Gooderham Building also known as the Flatiron Building. And we escaped the cold weather heading below street level to explore the labyrinth of shops and restaurants which make up the underground city.
Emerging from the depths of the city we headed 1,151ft above ground for a slap-up lunch at award-winning 360 Restaurant in the CN Tower (inset, right). It’s a little disorientating as the Tower spins slowly round while you eat but the views of Toronto and Lake Ontario are incredible.
Before lunch was over we’d already planned where to go for tea and Eastern Mediterranean restaurant Byblos in uptown Toronto proved a good choice. Sharing dishes make this a sociable meal, helped by a superb wine list.
We ended the evening at Toronto Zoo, a 45-minute drive away, walking off the calories on a 1.5km magical trail through a memorable light show, an immersive experience of dazzling lights and video projections (torontozoo.com/terralumina).
The next day Toronto’s skyline faded away as the landscape transformed into sprawling countryside on the approach to the quaint town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Every year the historic Ontario town plays host to the Niagara Icewine Festival, an annual celebration of the dessert wine produced from grapes frozen on the vine. En route we stopped at two vineyards – first the family-run Westcott Vineyards in the village of Jordan where we were treated to a tasting including their award-winning sparkling wine. And we learned that many of their wines are now stocked in the UK. (westcottvineyards.com)
The Trius Winery, our second stop, is home to the first Canadian wine vintage to be recognized in 1991 as the Best Red Wine in the World.
We tried everything from a sparkling and fruity rosé to full-bodied reds, crisp whites and even pink sparkling wines topped with candy floss in the mirror room decked out with fairy lights (triuswines.com).
In mellow mood, we checked into Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Shaw Club boutique hotel in a great central location, and just off reception discovered a lovely room with a huge selection of complimentary teas, coffees and hot chocolates beside a roaring fire.
For dinner we did justice to a three-course meal whipped up by a top chef, dining in a snow globe overlooking the Niagara Falls – the Snow Globe Soirée experience, complete with faux fur blankets and ambient lighting, is part of the Icewine Festival and needs to be booked in advance (niagarawinefestival.com).
Seeing the famous Niagara Falls is a must and we signed up for a Journey Behind the Falls tour the following day which allows access down the tunnels behind the tumbling waters before emerging onto an observation platform. If it’s cold enough, ice formations can build up to create a stunning scene.
But you don’t have to take a tour to experience the breathtaking force and noise of these remarkable falls. The backdrop of high rise hotels and casinos may feel out of place but the might of the waterfall will keep you distracted (niagaraparks.com).
Returning to Niagara-on-the-Lake, the main road through the town was closed as the Icewine Festival was in full swing, with stall after stall selling Canada’s famous wine.
Make sure to leave enough time to peruse the town’s book shops, sweet gift shops and all-year-round Christmas shop.
On the way back to Toronto we couldn’t resist a visit to the Ravine Vineyard Estate, a fifth-generation family farm with organic vineyards in the historic village of St David’s. Its menu of comforting winter dishes such as braised beef short rib and mushroom ragu pie, each comes with a specially paired wine and be sure to make room for its melt-in-the-mouth hot chocolate pot. (ravinevineyard.com).
There was just time for some last-minute souvenir shopping at the charming independent stores in the Distillery District before departing for the airport for the flight home – a good few (but very pleasurable) pounds heavier.
Rooms at the Fairmont Royal York hotel in Toronto start at around £155 a night. fairmont.com Air Canada flies from Heathrow to Toronto from £357 return. aircanada.com Tourist info: ontariotravel.net niagaraonthelake.com seetorontonow.com niagarafallstourism.com
Source: Read Full Article