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Chan Cham Perou

Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake —  The marvelolus reality of today is that this has become a top quality culinary, wine, eco-tourism and cultural destination. Even if the legend is still alive: yes, there are still thousands of weddings and honeymoons at Niagara Falls every year, just like in John and Yoko’s time, with tourists coming from all over the world… because it is still a natural splendour and a destination unlike any other!

The site is composed of three falls, called “Horseshoe Falls” on the Canadian side and the “American Falls” and “Bridal Veil Falls” on the other side of the border. “Horseshoe Falls” is the most spectacular at 945 meters wide, 53 meters high with an estimated flow rate of 168,000 cubic metres.

Another fact that contributes to the importance and beauty of the Falls is that they fall over a crestline that is 670 meters wide in the Niagara River, linking the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario. No wonder Falls Park is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Let’s give honour where honour is due and begin our tour at the Falls! Once the awe and excitement of gazing at the Falls is over, we will tear ourselves away to taste and enjoy all of the other delicious flavors and qualities offered in the surrounding region.

Getting old and wise while growing young again

At first, we’ll admit that upon setting foot in Niagara, all of our preconceived thoughts quickly disappeared. Many years ago, the Canadian Government expropriated sellers of knick-knacks and cheap hotels that had mushroomed around the site. The government then transformed the place into a magnificent national park, starting with the Table Rock Promenage, from where we could see the three falls in all their majesty in one glance. At the end of the promenade we can almost touch the water that falls at a vertiginous speed into the river.

All around, trees and bushes of all kinds ovewflow with flowers: it is an immense and remarkable landscaped garden surrounded by nice hotels and an immense observation tower: the Skylon Tower, together with the Sky Wheel ferris wheel that reminds us of the famous one in London.

Since it is only human to always want more, let’s take a look at a few adrenaline-fueled activities worth exploring that are quite affordable: a helicopter ride over the falls, jumping aboard the Maid of the Mist to see the falls from their base, walking behind and under the Falls on the Journey Behind the Falls passageway… in summary, to see these wonders from all sides.

Of course, Niagara Falls Park is still a very touristic destination. However, the quality of its organization and services are so well laid out that we always feel at ease during the visit, be it long or a short.

End of the afternoon: a bit of respite

Once the memory card in the camera is full, adults and children can relax and enjoy the most spectacular images immortalized by professional photographers.

Putting on our recyclable raincoats for the 4th time… we entered the Fury, a 360 degree cinema hall, where we will be presented with the beginning and the development of the Falls. Holding on to a rail, the floor moves and shakes while we are travelling from the Ice Age with snow over our heads to the modern era with the falls’ mist and water that splash all around us.

We end the day at the IMAX cinema, where we are told the stories of daredevils, those people who in the last hundred years have challenged the falls: trying to plunge over the falls in a wooden barrel or walk over them on a tight rope. Many of them have lost their lives but others have succeeded. The first to jump in 1901 was a 63 year old teacher, Annie Taylor. The most recent high wire walker, Nik Wallenda, attracted a crown of 800,000 curious spectators in 2012.

A series of artifacts displayed in the hall complete this educational, amusing and fascinating attraction. Even more interesting was reading the answers the daredevils gave to journalists to the question: why?

A very busy second day on the water

At least one other day on the water in the environment of the falls is necessary to fully appreciate another natural attraction: the Niagara Glen & Whirlpool. Carefully walking on the White Water Walk wooden walkway that is very well integrated with the surrounding wilderness, or from up in the air in the Whirlpool Aerocar skylift cabin, we can watch the rushing waters forced into a deep counter-clockwise spin or brave the sometimes 5-meter high waves on board the Whirpool Jet.

At night, we still enjoy looking at the Falls. The rapture begins with the sunset and is fueled by the night illumination while enjoying a cocktail or a fruit liquor from the Niagara South Brook Winery accompanying a delicious dinner at the Elements of the Falls restaurant, whose panoramic windows provide a stunning view. The restaurant’s menu is varied and features many fresh regional products.

From June to September, musical fireworks over the Falls add to the magic every Friday and Saturday night.

Starting in 2014, another experience will be offered: a catamaran cruise on the river.

A third day can always be spent in the Clifton Hill arcades to satisfy the young ones and at the casino for adults who want to try their luck.

Much more natural richness to share

Our prepaid pass in hand, which provides access to the WeGo shuttle and its 60 stations, we tour the Falls attractions and extend our discoveries to the other riches of the Niagara National Park.

The Park is covered by kilometers of scenic routes called the Niagara Parkway, winding in a very generous natural and laid-out environment. We cannot help being in awe in front of the gigantic Weeping Willows and floral gardens, in particular the Clock, planted with 16,000 plants and flowers and whose design has changed every year for the past 50 years.

How lucky are the few privileged who come from many countries to follow the curriculum of the School of Horticulture, in the heart of the fabulous Botanical Garden?

The Butterlfy Conservatory, where 2,000 butterflies of 40 different species spin around you, keep the magic going on along with the Bird Kingdom, with its multicolored exotic birds, whistling or singing in your ears and even tousling your hair on their way.

Golfing is another pleasure that can be enjoyed in one of the many National Park golf courses.

Growing eco-tourism

Bicycle touring, trekking and horse riding are all activities that are gaining in popularity within the Niagara National Park, be it on its man-made paths or in its natural and wild environment.

140 km of paths with 11 campgrounds are available for cyclists who will also be happy to learn that the Granfondo event, which is very popular in Europe, is coming to Niagara in September 2013 for a memorable tour of the gardens, wineries, the escarpment and the Falls, of course.

The Park offers exceptional conditions to trekkers. Especially in the Niagara Glen, where nature has been untouched for thousands of years. The site has earned its reputation as a result of Wittoria Wikston, the internationally renowned trekker, who unveiled she was training there. Access and parking are free.

The Niagara River Trail welcomes expert trekkers on its 53 km circle around the river and Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.
And for those who care about their ecological imprint, a group of tourists recently planted a first group of trees as part of a program that aims to add 2,000 new trees within the next three years, to be planted by ecological tourists.

Niagara-on-the-Lake: charm and finesse

On the banks of Lake Ontario is the most lovely city there could be: Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Many lovely Victorian B&Bs, with immense verandas from which the luxurious private houses all around can be admired are waiting for guests.

We enjoyed the banks of the lake, Queen Street with boutiques offering traditional creations and new fashions in the region in clothing, jewelry, hats, chocolate, pastries, homemade ice cream and other fresh farm products.

At every step was a historic hotel where afternoon tea is served, another hotel with a most modern design, a coffee shop, a bistro, a wine bar, a fine cuisine restaurant proudly using cold meat, fish, cheese, jams, chutneys and mustards, and local organic fruits and vegetables.

Not to be missed is the Niagara Food Festival, September 6–8, 2013.

Also on Queen Street, there are 4 theaters where, since 1962 between April and October, the prestigious Shaw Theatre Festival has been held. Here, the second largest theater company in North America presents no less than a dozen theater shows starting with George Shaw and his contemporaries.

Wineries, at last!

For our part, we drove to the wineries but more and more guided tours and autoguided bicycle tours can take you to the wineries whose numbers and international reputations are growing. You can even charter a Bell 407 from Niagara Helicopters Tour and land very quietly and safely among the sublime natural decor leaning against the Niagara escarpment, listed on the World Biosphere Reserve of UNESCO. This location, between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, is what makes the soil so generous for the vine.

Worth noting: Niagara wines have increased in quality, recognition and popularity in recent years, mostly due to the addition of European vine stock. White, red, rosé, sparkling and even ice wines are produced and it is possible to visit and taste the production all year round.

Euphoria visited three wineries during its stay in Niagara: : Inniskillin, Jackson-Triggs and Château des Charmes. We tasted cabernet, merlot, pinot noir, gamay, chardonnay, riesling and many types of ice wine. Colors, odors, taste… we could not get enough.

Inniskillin was the first winery to create ice wine and to participate in the production of the Riedel glass, which was especially conceived for ice wine. Small tables with sunbrellas are installed between the vines, ensuring that visitors can taste, learn and take their time when visiting the winery. Its interpretation centre is open for corporate events, and for small groups a lovely and intimate tasting room is available.

Le Château des Charmes does credit to its name. It is a castle “à la française”. Its elegance, indoors as well as outdoors and its immense marquee that offers a view of the rose garden and the winery welcomes many wedding ceremonies. The wine tasting is enriched with finger food tasting, allowing a wine and food pairing experience.

Jackson-Triggs adds musical performance to guided tours of its installations and to the sampling. The performance takes place in an outdoor theater whose grass and stone benches are a reminder of Grecian and Roman theaters. The music as well as the the sound system and acoustics are modern and high tech. Bruce Cockburn will be performing on August 30th.
The welcome is warm and delicious in all three wineries, in French as well as in English. Informative, while leaving enough time to sample the nectars, the scenery and the temperate Niagara climate, just like in the wine regions of Europe.

The secret has been shared!

Their respective web sites provide all of the details about the wines, the visits, the tastings, events and the products sold on line or at the boutiques.

For wine lovers only!

The Niagara Wine Festival: September 14 - 29, 2013.

The Ice Wine Festival: January 10 – 26, 2014.

And next year every weekend in July: Shakespeare in the Vineyard.

The Niagara Fruit Belt: a juicy trail

Do we need to highlight the fact that Niagara is the largest of the three fruit regions in Canada and that our grocery stores are filled with its fruit almost year round?  One should take advantage of a visit to the region to taste them when they are ripe and still warm from the sun and offered for sale in the 65 orchards or small stalls next to the road along the Niagara Culinary Trail.

Where to stay? Depending on your interests…

There are enough activities to fill one full week in Niagara Falls and another at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Hotels of all categories, many of them luxurious, should meet your needs. A long and busy weekend can also be planned.

If you are looking for action, single, married or with the family, it is preferable to book a room in Niagara Falls and to travel to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the day.

If you are single or married and over 35 years old, and interested in gastronomy, wine and culture, you will want to do the opposite, be based at Niagara-on-the-Lake and travel to Niagara Falls.

To get the most from both sides… stay in the middle!

If the two sides of this memorable trip attract you and you have a car at your disposal, we recommend you stay at mid-point between the two cities. All you will need to do is drive 15 minutes to reach either side. We stayed at the White Oaks Resort and were quite satisfied.

This hotel is the perfect example of “it is what’s inside that counts”. The outside is not particularly attractive, with its standard suburban hotel look. Once you cross the threshold, you will be staggered! And the rooms are very comfortable.

Many amenities and installations make it a cut above the rest. A huge garden-court full of trees and flowers. A sports centre - yes a real sports centre - not only a hotel gym! Dozens of exercise machines, four tennis courts overlooked by a panoramic lounge and many squash courts. This is very popular with the local sports community as well as with travelers.

Even more stunning is the new restaurant area. On the menu: avant-garde and refinement, at the Play Bar with its long list of cocktails, as well as in the dining room LIV with its extensive wine list from Niagara and elsewhere, including the famous Clos Jordanne that won many international awards and that we proudly tasted.

The white, cloudy décor, the purple orchids on all tables, the personnel who are always polite and gracious. And overall, the originality, the taste and harmony in the dishes presentation prepared by the chef, Michael Price. Moments of pure delight!

One detail to illustrate the care that is taken in doing things well: every table is draped with three white linen tablecloths and when the table is cleaned to welcome new guests, the waiter irons the new tablecloth to ensure there are no creases.
"Bliss" is the word that best describes how you will feel in this restaurant!

Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake are “musts” for all Canadians, sure to bring back a renewed pride and for all foodies from anywhere in the world.

Sylvie Berthiaume

Translation: Christiane Théberge

Our thanks to the Niagara Tourism office, to the Niagara National Park Commission and to their partners mentionned in this reportage, as well as to the White Oaks Resort where we were welcomed with generosity and professionalism.

www.niagarafallstourism.com
www.niagaraparks.com
www.niagaraculinarytrail.com
www.niagarahelicopters.com
www.inniskillin.com
www.chateaudescharmes.com
www.jacksontriggswinery.com
www.whiteoaksresort.com
http://niagarafalls.granfondocanada.com/about-event/welcome-granfondo

On the promenade

Sky Wheel

Niagara Helicopters

Maid of the Mist

Whirlpool Aerocar

Whirlpool Jet

Botanical garden - the newly-wed

At the Bird Kingdom

At Niagara-on-the-Lake

The Shaw Hotel terrace

George Bernard Shaw Café

Lake Ontario

Inniskillin winery

Château-des-Charmes winery

Jackson-Triggs's winery theater

Chocolate folly

Local products

White Oaks Resort dining room LIV

Tennis at the White Oaks Resort

High wire walker

A local B&B  

 

 

 

 

 


  

 

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