THE GREAT GETAWAY
By Maureen Smith
For the past 10 or so years, every Fall we enjoy a beautiful little town, close to water, abounding in flowers with cute little shops and excellent restaurants. No, this isn’t Annapolis. We drive about 450 miles to Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada. This little town hosts the 53-year-old Shaw Festival (wwwshawfestival.com). A reportorial company of 50 or 60 professional actors perform in eight or nine plays at three theaters during a season that runs from April through October. They are not all Shaw plays, but generally are from his time period. Usually there is one magnificent musical. In 2013 they did Guys and Dolls, a show we have seen many times, but never enjoyed it any more than this production.
We choose to make the trip in the Fall to view the magnificent foliage at that time of year. Last year we were fortunate to catch the trees at their peak of beauty. We stay only a few days and see one or two plays a day. Then we return home enjoying the scenery again and maybe listening to a book on tape.
There are many choices of places to stay. Send off for a visitor’s guide (www.niagaraonthelake.com) about the many bed and breakfast places available, or the quaint inns and lavish hotels. The theaters are located within a quarter-mile stretch along a beautiful flower-decked street, all an easy walk from one another. Be sure to bring your camera for the many photo ops.
This year we rented bicycles and took our own little tour on the path by the Niagara River, then cutting over to little roads through some vineyards. We enjoyed seeing the machinery gathering the grapes.
There is a wealth of fun things to do including the many tours to wineries for tastings. You’ll want to sample the region’s world-famous ice wine.
Each trip we add a new culinary discovery. One of our favorites is the Benchmark Restaurant at Niagara College. This is such a find that we try to keep it a secret. The restaurant features the culinary skills of their student chefs showcasing fresh local ingredients all at very reasonable prices. Excellent food and service are paired with wine crafted at the college from their vineyards. They even make their own beer. We have never been disappointed. Another favorite is the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club, the oldest golf course in North America. Located within easy walking distance from the town center, its restaurant on Lake Ontario is another winner with good food and again, economical prices. While there, you might want to bring your clubs or just walk the paths to enjoy the beautiful nine-hole course.
It would be an oversight to not mention the Botanical Gardens located just outside of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s a chance to meander down lovely paths featuring a rose garden, boasting 2,300 varieties of roses; a vegetable garden filled with little-known vegetables in an intensive planting design; an herb garden and the arboretum where you will enjoy the beauty of rhododendrons and azaleas. The mission of the Botanical Gardens is to train students in the art, mystery and science of horticulture. A must stop. To learn more, check out their website www.niagaraparks.com
Another favorite stop is the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, a tropical paradise with 2,000 free-flying butterflies and wonderful plants. It’s located on the Niagara Parkway, a scenic 20-mile roadway between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Of course if you want to extend your trip, Niagara Falls is only a 90-mile hop away and from the beautiful Canadian city of Toronto. You could also include a visit to the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., the home to the world’s largest collection of glass, showcasing 3,500 years of glass art and history.