I don't know about you, but summer usually makes me antsy. Around this time of year I typically find myself wanting to do and see as much as possible before the weather turns again. Recently, I read an awesome blog post written by Dr. Kim Foster on this very site! She wrote about the psychological and physiological advantages to taking vacations. She said that vacations are good for your health! Best. News. Ever.
Deep down, I'm sure I've always known this. But it sure is nice to have a doctor confirm it. Plus, what better excuse to pack my bags and take a vacation!
So, that's exactly what I did.
We didn't have a lot of time or money to spend, but I was craving a getaway. So last Wednesday in honour of the Fourth of July (No, I'm not American, but that doesn't mean I can't celebrate Independence Day right?!) I dropped my daughter off at daycare (made plans for my mom to keep her overnight), grabbed my husband, loaded our stuff into the car, and headed toward my favourite Ontario summer destination—Niagara-On-The-Lake (fondly known as NOTL).
If you haven't been to NOTL...you really should go! It's a beautiful historic town, with lovely boutiques, stunning views of the lake, lots of parks, lush fruit orchards, tons of adorable hotels, B&Bs, and inns... and WINE! Lots and lots of award-winning Ontario wine.
Need I say more?!
Niagara is known (and celebrated) for its wineries. As it should be! There are 28 that make up the Wineries of Niagara-On-The-Lake plus plenty more in the surrounding towns and villages. (A few of my favourites include: Malivoire, Featherstone, and Stratus)
Most of these wineries are open for tastings and tours, and are easily accessible by bike or car. Plus, many more boast delicious restaurants with world-class chefs.
So, now that we've established that wine makes everything better...
Let the vacation begin!
We had 24 hours and a long list of things to see and do. (I recommend all of these wholeheartedly, so feel free to take notes or print this and use it as a guide!)
1) Check in to hotel. Thanks to the amazing folks at Niagara's Finest Inns we were granted a generous media rate that allowed us to stay at one of the city's most stylish contemporary hotels. In the heart of town and right beside the Festival Theatre, the Shaw Club is a boutique property with stunning and extremely comfortable rooms (large cozy bed, chic decor, private balcony, and the most stunning bathroom I've ever seen). Though we didn't have a lot of time to spend in our room, my husband enjoyed the three flat-screen TVs (two more than we have in our own house!) and I took advantage of the huge jet air bathtub and oversized rainfall shower. We felt like royalty with such a large room for just the two of us! And, though we didn't bring our daughter with us this time, I noticed that the hotel does offer a babysitting service and lots of other amenities for families.
2) Drink some wine! Next stop: the Chicks & Chocolate Wine Pairing at Peller Estates. I love this winery! I've enjoyed dinner here a few times and am a huge fan of their Ice Cuvée Rosé (it's pink, it's bubbly, and it's a little bit sweet! *yum*). We were invited to participate in a tasting event that's held twice a day, every day in the summer and pairs four of Peller's wines with delicious chocolates. (you can read more about chocolate and wine pairing here). Not only was the tasting held in the cool wine cellar (a welcome respite from the heat) it was also led by a knowledgeable host who taught us the tricks of wine tasting. Typically this event is geared toward women (hence the 'chicks' part) but my husband was a sport and came along for the ride. As he aptly put it: 'What's not to like?!...chocolate, wine, and chicks?!'
3) Get pampered! After a quick stop at Stratus winery to buy some wine to take home, we headed back to the hotel. While my husband put his feet up in our room, I had a chance to visit the lovely Shaw Spa where I had my feet pedicured and massaged (with sparkling wine body butter!) and painted in an amazing hot pink colour that makes me happy every time I look at it. This serene spa offers a number of Vinotherapy services that make use of the powerful anti-oxidant benefits of the grapes. Next time I'm trying the Grape and Wine Scrub and Vinotherapy Facial!
4) Wine and dine at Ravine Vineyard. So, not only are vacations good for your health, but so is spending time in nature. That also means eating foods right from the earth and connecting with the experience of gardening. Our visit to Ravine Vineyard (just a 15 minute drive from our hotel in Saint Davids) was an amazing boost of nature goodness. Situated on 18.8 acres of stunning land, the Ravine grapes are Biodynamically farmed and Certified Organic! Not only did we have a tour of the vineyard and wine production facilities, but also the organic farm where fresh produce is grown and then integrated into dishes at the Ravine restaurant. This place was nothing short of heaven. We tasted a few of their wines (all delicious!), ate a spectacular dinner including the Ravine House-Smoked Cured Charcuterie platter (pictured below), and enjoyed incredible, friendly service. We ate our meal in peace and quiet...appreciating the fact that we didn't have to chase after our toddler or clean up after her.
5) Hit the Theatre. It was time to attend the Shaw Festival performance of Ragtime...the raison d'être for this entire trip. As you know from my previous posts, I love musical theatre. And I've been attending the Shaw Festival for years, because they always produce incredible shows, their actors are extremely talented, and they choose a great selection of plays and musicals to perform each season. There is no need to spend tons of money on Broadway tickets when you can enjoy amazing theatre so close to home. I saw Ragtime in Ottawa when it first came out in the late 1990s. I love the music! And the story, about life in America at the turn of the century, with immigrants coming from various parts of the world and learning to live together amidst an era of innovation, civil unrest, and ragtime music, is nothing short of inspiring. The cast is spectacular...especially Thom Allison (what a voice!) And overall it's 100 percent worth seeing. The music will put a skip in your step and you might even find yourself feeling inspired to take a stand about an issue that's close to your heart. It's just that kind of musical!
6) Enjoy breakfast and coffee on Zee's Grill patio. After a wonderful sleep in our spectacular hotel room we felt refreshed and ready for an early start to the day (damn internal clock and 6 am wake-ups even when our daughter isn't with us!). Continental breakfast is complimentary with a stay at the Shaw Club hotel and it's especially great when enjoyed on Zee's on-site patio surrounded by lovely gardens. This was the most peaceful breakfast we've had in months. (Photo below of my husband leisurely sipping his coffee, rather than gulping it down while running out the door).
7) Stock up on fresh produce! Sadly, our 24 hours was almost up and we had to make our way back to Toronto. But first..no summer visit to NOTL would be complete without a trip to a local farm to purchase some yummy fresh produce to take home. Peaches are in season early this summer and they're so sweet and juicy! We chose Quiet Acres because we were told that the fruit sold at their roadside stand comes directly from their orchards.
Feeling calm and happy we headed home. Thanks Niagara-On-The-Lake for an incredible mid-week getaway!
*Note: While we were given complimentary tickets to see Ragtime and graciously hosted by Ravine Vineyard for dinner, all views expressed in this blog are sincere and my own! I <heart> NOTL!