Dining by night in a revolving tower restaurant provides spectacular, twinkling views, especially with Niagara Falls illuminated until midnight during summer. Come morning, my mood changes.
Seen from the 24th floor of my hotel, the magnificent vista over the great curve of the Horseshoe Falls is sullied by the sight of black plumes of smoke rising above the city of Buffalo in New York State while, below me, the mighty cascades are encircled by a vast apron of concrete, a network of roads, hotels, shops and tower blocks. It’s a drab landscape with rare green relief.
Here’s my advice. If visiting the falls, stay on the lake.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is just 20 minutes drive away. It’s the official ‘prettiest town in Canada’ with an historic Old Town and about 3000 residents. It’s heart is Queen Street, akin to a folksy movie set complete with Clock Tower, glorious flower beds, a famous fudge shop, tea rooms, Preservation Fine Arts Gallery, an apothecary museum and antique shops -all of which act as counterweights to the inevitable gaggle of chintzy souvenir shops.
Off the main thoroughfare are many old graceful homes, their splendid gardens flush with magnolia blossom, the streets dipping towards tranquil river frontage. I see a couple stop to embrace beside the wooden pavilion made famous in a Stephen King movie. I’m smitten by the slightly surreal appeal of small town Canada.
For me, there’s a “double delight” adding to this natural charm. Niagara-on-the-Lake sits square in Ontario wine country with many a fine cellar door to visit. And each year it hosts “the Shaw”.
The town’s adopted theatrical son is George Bernard Shaw and the annual Shaw Festival, which runs in repertory from April to November, attracts thousands of theatre lovers from around the world. In 2011 it celebrated its 50th anniversary.
The diverse bill for 2012 includes Shaw’s plays The Millionairess and Misalliance, Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, and the musical Trouble in Tahiti, with libretto and music by Leonard Bernstein.
Devotees come to town exclusively for the Shaw and nothing else. But most tourists see only a couple of plays during the time they’re in town. Whatever your choice, putting Niagara-on-the-Lake on your travel wish list is definitely a wise move.