Festivals & Events

Staff Hidden Gem: Grapes, Gastronomy and Gallantry

Rosa A.

Meet Guest Blogger Rosa A – I was born and raised in Sault Ste Marie, known to us locals as “ the Soo” and proud of it.  I currently live in the beautiful Niagara Region and have been working as a travel counsellor for the past 20 years.  All the years of telling people where to explore and experience has made me a curious traveller as well.  BK (before kids) I was cycling around, tasting wine, hitting the museums and driving the highways of Ontario (not all in that order of course).  Now WK (with  kids) I get to enjoy a whole new perspective of our province and take the time to stop and smell the roses.  It’s a slower pace now, enjoying parks, beaches, local farms, events and anything that deals with animals and dinosaurs.  Luckily our province has all of that and more and this year I am excited to get out there and try some new places to be able to share some hidden gems with all of you.  So many ideas on my list…hmmmmmm…where to begin?? Stay tuned!


“What is the best winery to visit in the region?”  Yes, that is the million dollar question we receive everyday here at the Travel Centre.  Here is the real truth, with people’s specific tastes and varying needs there is not one that is better than another.  The experience of enjoying the wine or winery can depend on the exceptional service received to the way the weather affects the quality of the grapes.

BK (before kids), once a year, our Toronto friends and we would cycle around for a day from winery to winery in order to educate ourselves about the emerging Ontario wine industry.  Yes, that’s right you never stop learning no matter what the topic is.  Luckily, for us there was always one person who offered to drive ahead with all the purchased bottles and set up our picnic lunch.  There were some spirited conversations about the wines, tours, ambience and new discoveries.

The years went by and now AK (after kids) it has been more of a challenge to get out there and try all the new wineries that have opened up since.  Having such fond memories of previous Grape and Wine Festivities it was time to get out there again and do some one stop shopping of the food and wine vendors. This gave me an opportunity to attend family oriented events during the day and various concerts at night. This year I was able to try wines from Pondview, Tawes, Between the Lines and Greenlane.  I had been meaning to for a while but the event gives you an opportunity to do so in a festive atmosphere.

Niagara Wine Festival

Anyone remember Platinum Blonde from the 80’s?  I am dating myself since I remember seeing them at the Memorial Gardens in The Soo when I was in grade 8…good times.  Well, they performed this year during the first weekend of the Wine Festival and still had a great following.  How about The Caverners? If you ever get a chance to see them perform all Beatles songs do not pass it up! They were fantastic and had the crowd singing and dancing all night!  Is your style/era more disco? Well, that too was available for all ages to YMCA the afternoon away.  Of course, my favourite are Nik and the Nice Guys. Hard to believe how many times I have seen them and can they entertain! They thrive on audience participation and with the 12 person ensemble they put on an energetic show.

The Caverners


On to the food…my favourite topic.  The best part about the festival is the fact you can try a plethora of restaurants in one location.  I enjoyed some saucy, robust rice balls, mouth-watering ribs, tantalizing thin crust pizza, pulled pork poutine, incredible ice cream, and free coffee sample from café Verona and sampled some exquisite chocolate. Mark your calendars for September 2013 and come down with friends and family and eat, drink and be merry!  If you are an icewine aficionado come down in January for the Icewine Festival!

Culinary Tourism has been on the rise for quite some time and here in Niagara we are fortunate to have an eccentric mix of establishments.  Besides the wine question the next most popular question is where to eat.  So my quest continues when time permits to try new places or re-visit old favourites.  I have already tried Riverbend, Ravine, Peller, Hillebrand, On the Twenty, Vineland Estates, Stone Road Grill, Wellington Court and Old Winery Inn. I must say I enjoy Benchmark at Niagara College, it never disappoints! I have been there for lunch, dinner and my favourite; Mother’s Day Brunch. Why, you ask? Well, they take the kids into consideration with their own plates, cutlery,colouring supplies and the best part is the staff takes them to do a craft while you finish eating! Hey I love my kids but that 30 minutes of quiet time is priceless.  They do a great Easter Brunch as well if you are looking for new ideas.

Niagara Wine Festival

Also, at Niagara College right beside the restaurant is Bench to Go.  This is a take-out style lunch option that I have been telling people about when they ask for a very inexpensive lunch near our travel centre.  You can get a hot lunch for $5.00 and they also have salads and sandwiches available for a bit cheaper. There are muffins, scones and doughnuts as well if you have a hankering for some sweets.

I recently went to a local landmark in Niagara Falls called The Flying saucer! Yes, it is the place to go for breakfast, only $1.99 if you arrive before 10am.  That includes eggs, hash browns and toast and $4.99 if you like meat added on…still a great deal!

In Niagara Falls if you are driving around and looking for a quick, tasty lunch how about Commisso’s grocery store?  They have a little café off to the side and this is where you’ll find locals having their coffee and pastry in the morning or homemade pasta/pizza for lunch.  Of course there are plenty of other options with a daily special and you can do your grocery shopping too.

In St. Catharines off Martindale Road I have recently discovered Con Gusto Bakery beside Antipasto’s and up the road from Café Amore Restaurant(yummy as well).  Antipastos serves hot food and are an Italian grocery store with an amazing variety of items.  Before I drop the kids off at gymnastics our new routine is to get the chocolate croissants, brownie and asiago bread at Con Gusto.  The best thing I found out about  this place is that they donate all their bread every night to the homeless shelters.

Some places I want to try is Gastronomo Vagabundo Food Truck, Casa Vostra and Peninsula Ridge Restaurant. I’ll let you know when I do. 🙂


The Niagara region is well known for its historical sites and this was the hub of military action from 1812-1814.  On October 14, 2012 I attended the funeral procession of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock and Lieutenant Colonel John MacDonnell in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  What an experience it was to be there with all the historic interpreters and re-enactors from all over. While at Fort George that day you really got a sense of stepping back in time and feeling how crucial those battles really were.  Although we learned about the war in elementary school you forget about all the details that made this battle so impressive.  To quote from an article I read by Jim Hill: “Isaac Brock was leading a very small, disjointed army that he helped unite. It was an army of the poor that included Irish foot soldiers, local farm boys, former slaves and native warriors.”  That drive and loyalty would be a turning point to inspire the troops to carry on. Surgite!

War of 1812

War of 1812

Be sure to stay updated on upcoming 1812 events via www.1812niagaraonthelake.ca and www.westerncorridor1812.com.

Upcoming Events

Will you be in the Niagara region this December 8th weekend? If so, Historic McFarland House will be having a Christmas Tea Dec. 8-9 so be sure to call ahead for availability.  In Queenston, Laura Secord’s Homestead is open Dec. 8-9 and is transformed for the season for you to explore treats and traditions of an early Upper Canada Christmas. If you are in Niagara-on-the-Lake this weekend the very well-known Santa Claus Parade takes place Dec. 8th at 11am. Santa will also be in Pelham at 1pm, Grimsby at 5:15pm and Port Colborne at 6:30pm. Wow he really is magical and has amazing time management skills!  Speaking of magical there is a Peter Pan performance at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls until Dec. 15.

For all you wine lovers this would be the perfect weekend to shop early and bring home some unique gifts.  Vineland Estates is hosting their annual Open House with Belgian horses taking you on a vineyard carriage ride.  Drop by the Good Earth Food and Wine for festive food and wine pairings or reserve your spot for lunch.

While in the area St. Catharines is having their 12 days of Christmas where you can enter to win great prizes!  There are some great spots to grab a bite while checking off your shopping lists.

To learn about other fascinating events in Niagara and around Ontario feel free to e-mail ontariotravel.stcatharines@ontario.ca.

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