Niagara-on-the-Lake: Wine, Women & Spa

Lynn Burshtein

Rich with tradition based on in its British heritage, the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario has an old-world charm that has left even the most experienced travelers in awe. While taking a break from official business in 1943, Winston Churchill remarked that the Sunday drive along the Niagara Parkway was “the prettiest Sunday drive in the world”. Apart from its lush, winding roads, however, the area’s renowned attractions have visitors returning year after year. Outdoors-y activities mesh very well here with more sophisticated pursuits. From the world-class theatre of the Shaw Festival, to touring some of the local wineries, a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake makes for the ultimate romantic getaway or a fabulous chance to unwind with friends.

The Wineries:

Taking a tour of the wineries in this picturesque region provides a feast for the senses. Each of the area’s 20+ wineries has its own unique story. All of them include tasting bars where visitors evaluate the products based on their appearance, smell and taste. Helpful attendants will also suggest suitable food and wine pairings.

For an in-depth understanding of the wine-making process, a couple of the larger estates, such as Jackson-Triggs, offer private comprehensive tours, beginning at the vineyard and ending with wine samplings (including one of the region’s most famous exports, ice wine). While state-of-the-art technology is used, many of the age-old wine-making traditions are still respected. The recently-opened amphitheatre on the Jackson Triggs property features Canadian music and theatrical performances, providing for a magical evening.

Of course, in order to enjoy your day at the wineries to its fullest, one needs a designated driver. To that end, local cab companies are available for hire. Better yet, schedule a three-hour guided tour on San Francisco-style trolleys where an affable tour guide named Tony will provide interesting and hilarious anecdotes. (Tours can be arranged through the Vintage Hotels ).

Shaw Festival’s production of The Women

The Shaw Festival Theatre, which runs from May until October each year, showcases its productions in four separate theatres: All theatres are within a short walking distance of each other in the heart of the Heritage District. The 2010 roster at the Shaw’s flagship theatre, the Festival Theatre, features Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, The Doctor’s Dilemma by Bernard Shaw and The Women by Clare Boothe Luce. The latter, under the able direction of Alisa Palmer with sets and costumes designed by William Schmuck, is excellent. True to form, the talented cast is filled out entirely by women (and one young girl whose acting ability belies her youth).

Written by Luce in 1936 (and later made into a film starring Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford), the play provides an unflattering portrayal of the inner sanctum of Manhattan’s elite. Long before there was Gossip Girl and The Real Housewives of New York, there were The Women: catty, disloyal and ruthless in their ambition to attain higher social status. The story’s protagonist, Mary Haines (played very well here by Jenny Young), tries to distance herself from the fray, remaining optimistic even after she discovers her husband of 12 years is having an affair with a department store salesgirl. Only when she learns to play by the “rules of the game” does Mary regain her position in the social hierarchy. Though obviously touching on some dark themes, the script’s endless witticisms suggest the play is merely intended as a send-up of the banal lives led by Ladies Who Lunch (or at least one hopes that is the intent). Either way, the Shaw Festival’s version is a fine production.

The Pillar & Post & 100 Fountain Spa

Ontario’s only five-star country inn, the Pillar and Post offers the busy traveler a comfortable place to rest in between activities. The hotel has a welcoming and relaxed elegance, featuring earth tones, terra cotta tile floors and remnants of its original building frame (it was originally a canning factory in the late 1800s). Guest suites, which are designed with a contemporary flair, are comfortable, with the deluxe and premium suites including cozy fireplaces. The hotel’s main restaurant, The Cannery, features make-your-own pizzas and other Canadian dishes as well as a Sunday brunch buffet. Vintages Wine Bar and Lounge has selections of the region’s favourite wines, single malt scotches and pub fare which can be served inside in the Bar or outdoor by the pool.

Voted #1 spa in North America (Spas of America 2007-8), the hotel’s 100 Fountain Spa spans 13,000 square feet. The area includes a large indoor saltwater pool as well as outdoor heated swimming and hot springs pools. The spa itself has an extensive menu of services, which fittingly, includes a selection of vinotherapy (or wine-based) body treatments, such as the “Purple Feet Pedicure”, a classic pedicure with a foot massage and exfoliation using locally-harvested wine base products, or the “Bamboo and Wine Scrub”, a body scrub made up of fresh ground grape skin harvested from local vineyards as well as bamboo and botanical extracts.

Shopping, etc…

Any trip to Niagara requires at least a few strolls through the town’s pretty shopping district, starting at the corner of King and Queen streets, with visits to the Old Niagara Book Shop, Kurtz’s Culinary Creations, The Prospect clothing shop and many other one-of-a-kind boutiques.

Photos Courtesy of Pillar & Post