As a kid, I was in awe of Niagara Falls. Decades later, I've discovered much more than roaring water cascading over a 56-metre-high drop: namely, cycling, eating local produce paired with wine and sleeping at cozy boutique hotels. Funky and contemporary, Niagara has grown up.
Steve Bauer bike tours
Founded by the former Olympian, Steve Bauer Bike Tours mix cycling and wine tasting. From the hundreds of kilometres of trails and over 70 wineries, I opt for a four-hour, 15-kilometre ride along the Niagara Parkway with two wine stops. Turning off the path at Inniskillin Winery, I try a taste of icewine made from frozen grapes picked at their peak sweetness. The syrupy sugar stays on my lips, while the 17-percent alcohol content warms my throat. Next stop, Peller Estates.
Peller Estates wine tasting
A European-style château with expansive cathedral ceilings, Peller Estates manages to feel cozy with its camel-coloured walls, fireplaces and plush sofas. The imbibing begins in the cellar, surrounded by hundreds of bottles. Since the winery is renowned for its sauvignon blanc, our resident sommelier points out the nuances of the 2004 Heritage Series. The subtle honeydew and gooseberry aftertaste make for a refreshingly crisp white.
Good Earth Cooking School
The Good Earth Cooking School reveals a glimpse of cooking the way it was meant to be. Fresh garden vegetables simmer over an outdoor stone hearth as guests laugh over a glass of wine. Garlic, dill and garden herbs waft in the air of this alfresco kitchen.
I try my hand at the yoga and vegetarian cooking class. On a matt under a tree, the instructor guides us through slow gliding warrior poses. Afterwards, we sip fruit smoothies, then wine, as the resident chef describes how to make fresh seared tuna with peanut sauce and peach crumble.
Zees Patio and Grill
An oversize plate arrives adorned with giant caramelized seared scallops and a nutty risotto. The fare at Zees is edible art, and the real showstopper is dessert: Peanut butter is transformed into chilled mousse encased in chocolate with homemade raspberry jam for dipping. It's a PB and J all grown up.
After our meal, I step out of the restaurant and into the attached sleek lobby of the Shaw Club Hotel (decorated in rich mahogany wood, with silver accents and crisp black lines). I grab a steamy cappuccino in the lobby and head upstairs for the night to dive into a sea of pillows in bed and watch a movie on the LCD TV.
(An editor, teacher and writer, Melanie Chambers is currently updating the 2008 Frommer's Niagara Region guidebook.)
Air Canada Jazz offers convenient daily service to Hamilton from Montreal and Ottawa. Take flight. And don't miss out on our great deals on car rentals and hotels.
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PELLER ESTATES: RICHARD PIERRE / IMAGE ONTARIO