The challenge of planning a trip three hours north to Canada’s Niagara region was packing. How do two people – one who is six foot, two inches tall — fit three days of clothing, including theater attire, onto one motorcycle? And, with a black Honda Goldwing motorcycle, a comfy cruiser, we’re the lucky ones with a trunk and two saddlebags.
The secret: Dress in black, wear things twice and roll everything. All told, we had remaining space to bring home four bottles of Canadian wine.
We travel by motorcycle when possible to wring every sensual experience from a trip. Riding sensitizes one. You see, smell, hear and feel deliberately.
Farmers talk about the influence of subtle climate changes in area. Check. We feel temperature shifts. Fields smell luscious and ripe during harvest season? Check. We smell them. Niagara Falls’ roar was apparent to us earlier than the car captive. And, we see details in the seasonal shifts of wildflowers dressing up the median strip.
Motorcycles often enjoy better (and cheaper) parking. So, this was a no brainer of a trip for us.
The Niagara region is much more than the Falls. The world wonder is a gateway to cultural experiences – food, wine, theater—on the Niagara Peninsula between lakes Erie and Ontario. While the QEW highway speeds visitors between destinations, and navigation systems may select it, the Niagara Parkway is the better connector. The 14-mile stretch between the Falls and the Lake parallel the river and offer destinations such as the Botanical Gardens, Floral Clock. Whirlpool and a few of the regions wineries.
We’ve done this trip before so we have a pattern. Leave work early and launch at mid-day. Hug Lake Erie’s south shore roads on the journey north. Enter Ontario, Canada. Ooh-ahh over the Falls. Then, follow the Niagara Parkway to Lake Ontario and Niagara on the Lake. Park our stuff at the hotel or B&B and begin the adventures.
We plug-n-play among our options … dine at local restaurants, shop charming boutiques, taste at area wineries, visit the parks, see a show. Suddenly it’s Sunday and we reverse the journey home.
The region is popular with Clevelanders because it’s close. And, this year, given the strength of the dollar, it’s a value. Knowing that, reservations (and patience) are important.
Our weekend headquarters was The Shaw Club Hotel. Across from the Shaw Festival Theater it was the best location of my many trips. Bonus: “Free parking” within walking distance of shopping, restaurants and theaters. Think understated, contemporary European hotel – small room decorated in sophisticated taupes and charcoals. As I was digging for my credit card, the front desk attendant was pouring complimentary flutes of Pinot Gris from Peller Estates just around the corner. And, the quality continued, both unintrusive and attentive.
The Shaw Festival, one of the reasons this town has developed so vibrantly, is a 50-year-old theatre company inspired by the work of Irish playwright Bernard Shaw. In addition to Shaw’s work, the Festival produces plays from and about his era as well as contemporary plays that share his provocative study of society and humanity. Pygmalion – Henry Higgins experimental sophistication of Eliza Doolittle – is, perhaps, his most iconic critiques of social classes and their values.
With 70 actors in 10 shows on four stages over seven months, this year’s programs spans decades, styles and geographies. Given the strength of the U.S. dollar – about 20 to 25 percent more buying power — tickets are a quite affordable. (By the way, for our trip he packed a sport coat and I a skirt for theater. Some attendees dress more formally, while we even saw nice shorts and a light sweater. Most folks are somewhere in between.)
Determined to drink responsibly, we limit our winery visits to two establishments in a day and mix up our activities. Tour and van companies offer transportation options as well.
Choosing just two wineries is an enormous task. We selected Reif Estate Winery for the Sensory Bar experience and Ravine Vineyard for the commitment to organic, sustainability and the farm-table dinner experience.
The Sensory Bar at Reif suggests more than a dozen cleverly curated tastings. These include The Ice Wine Experience, Taste the Terroir and a Blind Tasting. During our white wine and local cheese pairing we learned that Vidal ice wine compliments a subtle, semi-soft blue cheese wonderfully.
The stories behind Ravine and its historic buildings are everywhere. As a bonus to a full line of wines, the winery restaurant’s sustainability extends from vegetable growing to pig farming.
With so much more on our agenda, we’ll return when meteorologists predict another rain-free weekend. After all, it’s close and affordable.