Niagara-on-the-Lake rolls out a royal welcome

Destinations editor Margaret Myre visited Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, a 20-minute drive -- and centuries away -- from Niagara Falls. Her report follows:

hoever named Niagara-on-the-Lake "the prettiest little town in Canada" must at one time have sat here at this table on the outdoor patio of the Prince of Wales Hotel, sipping a cool drink on a hot day.

Prettiness lies all around. Baskets of flowers hang from lampposts up and down the street; shade trees, blooms and border plants edge the sidewalk in beds as wide as most city gardens; and quaint shops occupy buildings as old as the town.

It is all very British, all very lovely.

The hotel, one of four properties in town owned by Vintage Inns here, is situated at a most advantageous spot, on the corner of King and Picton streets, an extension of Queen Street, the Old City's main artery and center for shopping.

Across the street sprawls Simcoe Park, with its children's playground, bandshell, picnic tables, gardens and, on this day at least, a well-used wading pool.

The Prince of Wales Hotel, at the corner of Picton and King streets, is at the center of everything. From the cool shade of the outdoor patio, guests can wait for a carriage to take them on a city tour. The corner of King and Picton is the carriage stop for horsedrawn buggies, which for $33 take visitors (up to four) on a tour that shows off the town's neoclassic and Regency architecture. We passed mansions, shops, hotels and some of the more than 200 bed and breakfasts here.

Our carriage ride inspired an amble along Queen Street.

We didn't go the whole route, although I'm told it's an easy walk along its length from the golf course and lakefront at one end to Simcoe Park.

Our first stop was the Cenotaph Clock Tower, built smack in the middle of Queen Street and recognizable to visitors as the clock in the film classic "It's a Wonderful Life."

The clock keeps time for the keepers of Queen Street's most unusual shops, many of them themed. There's the Viking Shop, selling Royal Doulton, Hummels, Wedgwood and Waterford; the Silly Old Bear Shop, dealing with all things Winnie the Pooh; the 1866 wooden apothecary; the Little Shop of Candles; the Irish shop and Scottish shop; and stores selling fudge and ice cream.

On King Street, we found the Nutty Chocolatier, with its tempting Belgian chocolates and truffles; a number of antique stores are tucked away on side streets.

There also are wonderful hotels with lovely restaurants and lounges, serving some of Niagara's finest wines.

We had Sunday brunch (call ahead for reservations) in the Tiara dining room at the Queen's Landing Inn , a Georgian mansion overlooking the Niagara River. The price was $12 per person, plus tax and tip.

The garden patio outside looked so enticing, with its rose bushes and views of the yacht club and the Niagara River, that we decided to come back for a late lunch.

Now here's where you can have too much of a good thing. The rose bushes -- which so appealingly adorn the fronts of public buildings and private homes around town -- from our seats on the patio served to block our view of the river, small complaint in light of all the town has to offer.

Here are some of the highlights clients should not miss:

• The Shaw Festival, for 41 years Niagara-on-the-Lake's biggest tourist draw. It runs from April 3 to Nov. 30 and features the plays of Shaw (1856-1950) and his contemporaries.

For reservations, ticket information and group prices, call (800) 511-SHAW or visit www.shawfest.com.

Several properties offer Shaw Festival overnight packages.

The Vintage Inns feature one night's accommodations; breakfast, lunch and dinner; and tickets to a Shaw Festival. Rates start at about $200 per person, double, including tax.

• Fort George, scene of a bloody battle during the War of 1812. The fort is open seven days a week, April through October; admission is $4 for adults and $2.50 for children ages 6 to 12. Call (905) 468-6614.

• Wineries. Most offer public tours. Visitors can pick up the Wine Country Vintners Shuttle ($2) on Queen Street for a narrated tour. Or they can drive 10 minutes into Queenston Village for a daylong bike tour with 1984 Olympic silver medalist Steve Bauer (www.stevebauer.com).

Bauer's tour is offered Saturdays and Sundays from May 1 to Oct. 31 and is priced at $78, with lunch and visits to two wineries. Reservations are required.

For an up-to-date list of winery events, visit www.niagaraonthelake.com.

Y'all come for March Break

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ontario -- The Pillar and Post Inn, Spa & Conference Centre here will serve as host of March Break, an annual event run by Vintage Inns, owner and operator of four Niagara-on-the-Lake properties.

Set for March 9 to 15, the annual family event for guests of the Pillar and Post, the Queens Landing Inn, the Prince of Wales Hotel and the Oban Inn draws about 40% of its visitors from the U.S., according to Allen Gelberg, director of sales and marketing for Vintage Inns.

March Break features activities for adults and children. Most are free, and include swimming and a scavenger hunt. There is a small charge for pizza-making, dinosaur egg-painting and a country hayride. There also is a spa menu for kids to get their hair and nails "done."

Free shuttles run between the four properties.

Nightly rates for a standard room during March Break start at $120 at each of the hotels. Regular rates start at $175 per room. Commission is 10% at all properties on room rates only.

Vintage Inns

Oban Inn
160 Front St.
Phone: (905) 468-2165
Accommodations: 25 rooms

Pillar and Post Inn
King and John streets
Phone: (905) 468-2123
Accommodations: 123 rooms

Prince of Wales Hotel
6 Picton St.
Phone: (905) 468-3246
Accommodations: 110 rooms

Queen's Landing Inn
155 Byron St.
Phone: (905) 468-2195
Accommodations: 142 rooms

All Vintage Inns
Phone: (888) 669-5566
E-mail:[email protected]
Web:www.vintageinns.com

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