Maybe it’s the bleakness of mid-winter, but I’m longing for a little escape that’s the travel equivalent of comfort food. I want a touch of nostalgia that will leave me feeling warm and cozy inside.
I totally understand what you’re saying. You want the vacation form of a piping hot bowl of chili. And I have the perfect suggestion: 168,000 cubic metres of cold rushing water (give or take, depending on how much is frozen).
Are you talking about Niagara Falls?
You bet I am!
I said I wanted nostalgia, not tackiness. Yes, I loved it as a kid, but I’m a little too old for haunted houses now.
Did I say anything about haunted houses?
Well, no, not yet.
Trust me, I’m not going to. It’s time to rediscover the natural side of Niagara. And in other news: You no longer have to venture into the surrounding region to enjoy local wine and exemplary cuisine. There is sustenance beyond Applebee’s.
Listen, I’ll be honest: I can be a bit of a food snob.
Then I’m guessing at least some of your friends are as well. So why not round a few of them up and book an exclusive “snow globe” experience this weekend, part of the Niagara Icewine Festival. For $999 (price includes 18 per cent gratuity; taxes extra), six of you get to enjoy a three-course meal prepared by chef Ray Marvin Syegco of Incoho Restaurant in St. Catharines. On the menu: a twice-cooked pork belly appetizer, molasses cake for dessert and a selection of three mains including eight-hour braised beef short rib and pan-seared scallops with buttered leeks and deep-fried Parmesan gnocchi. The package also includes two bottles of wine (you can always purchase extra) and access to a cozy lounge for pre- or post-dinner cocktails.
The globes themselves sit near the water’s edge, offering a lovely view of the illuminated falls. Tip: Prep a playlist to listen to on the Bluetooth speaker, and turn off the interior lights for better optics and a cozier atmosphere.
Sounds a bit chilly.
It’s fine if you dress appropriately. This isn’t the time to wear a slinky cocktail dress, obviously. Blankets are available if you need an extra layer.
Beyond dinner, am I stuck with visiting Ripley’s Believe it or Not? for the seventh time?
Not unless you want to. Niagara Parks has really upped its programming in recent years, offering opportunities to connect with the nature that made the area such a tourist attraction to begin with. On weekends until March 29, head to the Niagara Parks’ Whirlpool Golf Course. No, it’s not open for golf. But – weather permitting – you can rent snowshoes for stomping around nearby trails, and afterward thaw out at the Whirlpool Clubhouse, which has been transformed into the Great Canadian Winter Lodge. It will be serving up Canadian comfort foods (for example, seafood chowder featuring Digby scallops; beer and cheddar soup made with Niagara Oast House Barnraiser Ale) plus a selection of local wine, beer, cider and, of course, hot chocolate (for a very reasonable $3.50).
Snowshoe rental is $20 for adults ($10 for children aged 6-12) and includes trail access. If you don’t need gear, it’s just $10 ($5 for kids).
What other indoor pursuits can you suggest? In case the cold just gets to be too much.
The Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory recently launched Survival of the Slowest. The exhibit, created in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of Nature, aims to educate visitors about species that “have used their disadvantages to help them survive.” (We’re looking at you, two-toed sloths.)
Even if that doesn’t grab your interest, the conservatory should be on your itinerary. Home to more than 2,000 fluttering butterflies (representing 45 different species), it’s a warm, enchanting respite from the dreary greyness of these cold months. If you stay still long enough, you might even get the perfect photo of one landing on your hand or shoulder.
Admission is $16.50 for adults and $10.75 for children, but if you buy a Niagara Parks pass for $25 you’ll also get access to four other attractions and free transportation on the WEGO bus system.
This all sounds great. Anything else on your must-do list?
I have one other “wow” suggestion – but it’s not for everyone. FLYGTA Airlines offers flights from Billy Bishop to Niagara District Airport. It’s a 15-minute straight shot across Lake Ontario and the approach back into downtown Toronto is, quite simply, awesome, offering up-close views of the CN Tower and surrounding skyline. You’ll be able to snap some great pics.
Of course, if you are trying to limit your time in the air, I recommend taking the GO train again. It’ll take you almost three hours, but you’ll arrive with a clear conscience about your carbon footprint.
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