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Why NOTL should be on your bucket list

Niagara on the Lake (or NOTL for those in the know) is probably one of my favourite spots in Canada. You’d be crazy not to put it on your bucket list and if you do decide to go – there are a few things you’ll want to know.   The Darlington House is my favourite spot to stay so I’ve asked owner Julie Taylor to tell you how to visit NOTL and how to B&B it while you’re there.

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A place like no other

Niagara-on- the- Lake is an Empire Loyalist town steeped in history. Forts were erected to defend Upper Canada from the US armed forces, the oldest longest running Golf course, the oldest Inn in North America and famously said to be the “prettiest drive in Canada” by the esteemed Winston Churchill.

What to pack

Essentially what you need to bring are personal attributes as opposed to “things”. Wherever you’re going you need to pack the basics such as a change of undies, deodorant, fancy clothes, simple clothes, high heels and flats and layers for all weather eventualities. Or you can be daring and pack nothing at all and simply stop at the Outlet Collection at Niagara and treat yourself.

What to pack really depends on your itinerary. Sensible shoes are advisable so you can pedal a bike and walk the town and explore the wineries. One glam outfit if you are going to a fine dining location or the theatre. If you plan ahead you can book a table at the “The White Effect Dinner” in June of each year.

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A bit about NOTL

Since the early 1960’s NOTL has been the home of the George Bernard Shaw Festival. The area is known as the fruit belt thus there are numerous wineries, fruit farms, stalls and farmers markets as well as historic buildings, and fine dining establishments. You can find lots of interesting and unusual treasures in antique stores both in town, and along Lakeshore heading towards St. Catherines. There are even a couple of nut farms. Kurtz Orchards offers both a small retail store on Queen Street the main shopping area of old town NOTL and the farm location on the Parkway. If you go to the farm location you can stroll through the grounds and cross the Koi pond via a wooden bridge and feed the fish. Children in particular would enjoy feeding the fish and also the wading pool at Simcoe Park located at the intersection of King and Queen. The park is large and a great place to picnic as is the many rest stops along the Niagara Parkway.

A magical garden

NOTL is known for its floral decorations, the neighbourhoods for their outstanding gardens and the horticultural college located on the parkway is a beautiful place to walk and enjoy a wide variety of gardens including the rose and herb gardens. Beside the college is the Butterfly conservatory – a pretty magical place that feels like you have stepped into a rain forest. NEOB is a local lavender farm with a retail store show casing their lavender lotions, soaps, and edible delicacies including lavender ice cream and shortbread.

Architecture and wine!

The architecture in NOTL is predominately Empire loyalist and traditional. The wineries are varied in their architecture, Colaneri Winery looks like a spaghetti western movie set, Chateau Decharmes a French chateau, Peller Estates a country estate and 2 Sisters imposing grandeur. Because of the wine and food emphasis culinary experts with international training are attracted to the wineries and hotel kitchens providing delicacies with a focus on local grown produce.

Smaller establishments such as the McFarland House on the Niagara Parkway are only open in peak season (May to September). The McFarland house has a conservatory tea room that offers approximately 32 varieties of teas and home baked savoury and sweet treats. In June their strawberry shortcakes are a must and in August the peach shortcakes.

What’s a girl to do in NOTL?

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Even in the off season there are many reasons to return to NOTL including the Christmas candle light stroll the first Friday in December, the Ice Wine festival in January, Wine and Chocolate in February and ‘Fabulicious’ in March when lunch and dinner menus are discounted at some of the finest restaurants including Peller, Riverbend and The Charles Inn.

Walk, cycle or take a carriage ride. There are spas for relaxation and pampering or wild rides on the jet boats -the expansion of activities covers a wide range. There’s something for everyone of all ages.

Chocolate: Visit Chocolate Fx in St. David’s; a local business where you can take a quick 5 minute tour to learn about chocolate then sample a wide variety of treats and receive a chocolate covered strawberry. Guests of Darlington House receive a complimentary tour.

There is so much to do and also NOTL is the kind of place where you can do nothing at all and still feel part of the atmospheric quaint town.

  • Your contemplative self: book a spa appointment and allow your senses to be taken away on a journey of relaxation. The Vintage Inns and Q124 spas all offer amazing aromatherapy treatments in luxurious surroundings. At the Vintage Inns if you book a spa treatment you can use their facilities for the day including pools and hot tubs. The Pillar and Post has both an indoor and outdoor pool and indoor and outdoor hot tubs. Prince of Wales has an indoor pool.
  • Your adventurous self: Helicopter ride over the falls. The Heli pad is located near the floral clock on the Niagara Parkway. Take a jet boat ride departing from NOTL jetty.
  • Your Romantic self: NOTL is the perfect place for a romantic getaway. Fine dining, sipping on wine and indulging in beautiful surroundings and beautiful Bed and Breakfast locations. Take a carriage ride from the Prince of Wales or host your wedding at one of the many locations offering the most amazing venues and amenities. (Note from Drinkastsix: I had my small wedding at the cottage in the Oban Inn. It was the most magical night of my life!)
  • Your sensible packing list
  • Your taste buds
  • Your wine tasting buds
  • Girls get away weekends: Rent E bikes and visit the wineries, rent bicycles and visit the wineries. Book an organized wine tour. Grape Escapes is a local company that offers bicycle and motor transport tours.
  • Guy’s golf and beer get aways: There are three breweries in NOTL: Oast House Brewers, Silver Smith and the Exchange. Numerous golf courses including one right in NOTL, one in St. David’s and one on a the Niagara parkway. Irish Harp pub and the Angel Inn serve great pub grub, have live music on weekends and provide “guy daycare” while the gals shop.
  • Garden tours
  • Theatre
  • Afternoon tea
  • Retail therapy

The magic comes alive with the social event of the year. Organized by NOTL chamber of commerce the White effect dinner combines popular elements that make for grand party for family and friends to enjoy food, wine and music. In August 2011 the town held its first outdoor dinner along Queen Street with 400 guests. The White Effect dinner has been held in numerous locations. In 2013 the Dinner was set along the Niagara River Parkway at the McFarland House and this year it will be hosted amongst the backdrop of the beautiful Queenstown heights overlooking the picturesque Niagara Escarpment and Niagara River. Visit www. niagaraonthelake.com for information and to register.

For your bed and breakfast stay visit www.bookyourstay.com the official website of the NOTL Bed and Breakfast Association.

Julie’s personal favourites

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  • Watching the sun set from Ryerson Park.
  • Sirloin burger and fries at the Farm Kitchen Caroline Cellars and their Farmers Rose is the best!!! Sells out quickly.
  • Cappuccino, gelato, and crepes at Nina’s on Queens street
  • Getting caught at the Welland Canal when a freighter is going through. Gives an excuse to stop and be idle for a moment and to enjoy the moment and the wonder of engineering as the freighter is lifted or lowered to continue its journey.
  • Q124 spa for a pedicure, facial or massage. Highly recommend Laura or Erin
  • Harvest Barn located at Niagara Stone Road and East West Line. They have a fab salad bar and bakery and you can take your salad, sandwich or baked treat and eat it at one of their picnic tables overlooking Rancourt Winery. I often take myself out for a late lunch and enjoy the simplicity.
  • Piccard Nuts: located adjacent from Harvest Barn. They have great nuts and chocolate products and free samples (I love free samples)

Bed and breakfast etiquette

In NOTL a licensed bed and breakfast has a maximum of 3 rooms. As such guests will be hosted by the proprietor/s usually a couple or a single person. This means there is no additional housekeeping or kitchen staff. Breakfast is one sitting usually at 8.30 a.m. or 9 a.m. Check in times vary. Some establishments as early as 1 p.m.but most are 3 p.m. Check out is 11 a.m. thus late checkouts and early check ins are difficult to accommodate. Your hosts will want to oblige but sometimes simply cannot. There are many examples why guests will request a variance. For example they are attending a theatre matinee at 2 p.m. and will ask to check in prior to their show and departing guests also may be attending a matinee and will request a late check out.  Unlike hotels bed and breakfasts do not have additional resources to accommodate these requests and it is better if they are politely adhered too.

Your host’s bed and breakfast is also there home.
1. Don’t arrive early.
2. E-mail your hosts to let them know your approximate arrival time so they can be on site to welcome you.
3. Respect the one seating for breakfast.
4. Let your hosts know ahead of time if you have any dietary restrictions.
5. Respect your host’s home

NOTL isn’t just glorious in the summer though – check their calendar to see a list of things to do year round in the heart of Niagara.