Road Trip Reminiscing, Part II: St. Catharines & Niagara-on-the-Lake

This article is Part II of a three-part series. To read Part I, please click here.

On the road again…or dreaming about being on the road again! I’ve been reminiscing about the road trip my college roommates and I took last summer, telling the tale through this series on my blog. Where I left off last post, we had seen Niagara Falls and traveled into Canada. Next on our itinerary was Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catharines.

The Prince of Wales Hotel

Only 20 minutes from Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake is nestled at the point where the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario. During the American Revolution, British Loyalists fled to the region and eventually settled, contributing to Niagara-on-the-Lake’s extremely British culture. Originally named Newark, the town was the first capital of Upper Canada. Around fifteen years later Fort George was built by the lake, and became a battle site between the Americans and the British during the War of 1812. Now, Niagara-on-the-Lake is known for its historic buildings, The Shaw Festival, and its wineries. St. Catharines, just on the other side of the Welland Canal, is a small city known for its parks and trails, earning it the nickname The Garden City.

While we only spent one and half days in Canada, we packed enough in that it felt like several days! We stayed in St. Catharines and saw a few things in the small city, but the majority of time was spent in Niagara-on-the-Lake, exploring its quaint and historic downtown and visiting a couple of its many — many — wineries. When I think back on the trip, it’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite part, as each piece was different and unique in its own way. But I can say with certainty that I would love to go back to Niagara-on-the-Lake and spend a few more days there! There is just so much to see and do, between the wineries, bike rentals, tearooms, ghost tours, and more, it felt like we only had a small taste of all that you could experience there.

A statue of George Bernard Shaw at Shaw Cafe

We spent the first morning exploring the little town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, souvenir shopping and grabbing lunch at The Shaw Cafe and Wine Bar, a picturesque restaurant/wine bar named after playwright George Bernard Shaw (Niagara-on-the-Lake also has an annual Shaw Festival, though we had just missed it by a few weeks). Filled with flowers and gardens and historic buildings now serving as shops and restaurants, Niagara-on-the-Lake clearly has a thriving tourist industry. Everywhere you looked there were people and horse-drawn carriage rides, adding to the town’s historic charm. After lunch, we walked along the shore of Lake Ontario at Queen’s Royal Park, taking in the gorgeous view of the water and Fort George across the way. These two days were perhaps the hottest of our whole vacation, and taking our shoes off to wade in the lake was very refreshing!

Next, it was time to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake’s most popular destination – the wineries. The first was Inniskillin, known for their world-famous icewine, a dessert wine made from frozen grapes harvested during the cold Canadian winter. The winery itself was gorgeous, with a rustic barn-house aesthetic. We took an hour-long tour followed by a tasting, where I had icewine for the first time. To be honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about it! It was extremely sweet and strong, a unique flavor I’ve never tasted before, and though I’m not sure I would drink a whole (dessert) glass of it, I bought a bottle to bring home anyway. When in Rome — or, Niagara-on-the-Lake!

After Inniskillin, we went to Château des Charmes. Founded in 1978 by French winegrower Paul Bosc, Château des Charmes has earned worldwide recognition for its European-style wines. When we pulled up to the picturesque mansion and walked into the grand foyer, we did not know the treat that was in store for us. My one roommate, Meghann, had called ahead to reserve a spot for us on their Four-for-Four tour, a tour that included a tasting/pairing of four different wines and food. This tour ended up being especially special because it was a Tuesday afternoon when they weren’t very busy, so our tour became a private one! After a very in-depth, personalized tour, we had a private tasting in a room that felt like a comfy living room. We drank two reds and two whites, each paired with a different snack: popcorn, prosciutto, cheese and chocolate. Each wine was amazing, and I bought a bottle of their Brut Sparkling wine to bring home.

After a long day of tasting wine and exploring, we began traveling back to our hotel in St. Catharines. We took a different route back, traveling through Niagara-on-the-Lake’s wine country along Lake Ontario’s shore. As the sun began to set, we stopped in the neighborhood of Port Dalhousie, a ritzy little hamlet overlooking Lake Ontario and Toronto’s (distant and hazy) skyline. We parked by the port’s marina to look at the tiny lighthouses and watch the sunset over the lake. As sailboats passed by, coming in for the night, we took in the warm and peaceful summer evening.

The next day, we went back to Niagara-on-the-Lake, grabbed brunch and continued to relax, shop, and explore. On the way to Niagara-on-the-Lake we stopped at the Welland Canal, a canal separating St. Catharines from Niagara-on-the-Lake, and took in the view. We first parked in a little park where I took pictures through a chain-link fence like a sketchy person, while Mayra and Meghann slept in the car. As I was snapping away, a police officer approached me, and I was suddenly frozen with the fear that I just did something illegal in another country. To my surprise, the officer kindly gave me directions to a lookout of the canal by the Welland Canal Centre where I could get even better pictures. And he was right — it was much easier to get better photos and a better view from here!

Something that struck me about our time in Canada was the drastically different culture from the United States. The officer was only one example of how polite and helpful people in Canada are to complete strangers. Canada also has a much safer culture than the U.S. — at least I felt that way with traffic safety. The speed limits were significantly slower than they would be in the U.S.; in spots that might normally be 45-50 mph in the U.S., for example, the speed limit converted to only 30-35 mph in Canada! It was pretty refreshing to see this different culture and norms.

We wrapped up our time in Canada enjoying brunch at Il Gelato di Carlotta, tried ice cream at Cows (an adorable and popular cow-obsessed ice cream place, where I had the delicious “Messie Bessie”!), and spent a few more hours wading in Lake Ontario at Queen’s Royal Park. After relaxing by the lake we made our way back to the car to continue on our journey. It was bittersweet leaving Canada; its beauty and kind people warmed my heart, while leaving made my heart break.

I took a deep breath and took in all the historic houses, the clear blue lake, and the bright green grass one last time, before we piled into the car and drove along the Niagara River before eventually crossing it into the States. We stopped at an overlook of the river for one last look at the Niagara region of Canada before continuing on to our final stops — Geneseo, New York and Letchworth State Park.

Photo Gallery: St. Catharines & Niagara-on-the-Lake

Click the first picture and then the arrows to click through each photo in the gallery.

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This article is Part II of a three-part series. To read Part III, please click here.

This article originally appeared on the Wix site.

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