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Parent Getaways: Behind the Vines: Driving from Toronto through Niagara

Start your day by rocketing 1,136 feet upward at Toronto’s CN Tower. On a clear day, you might even see Niagara from this celebrated landmark, one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World.” Back on terra firma, head west along the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way) toward Niagara, the picturesque peninsula starring dozens of the country’s finest wineries and the Niagara Parkway, dubbed by Winston Churchill as the “prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.”

At Vineland exit #57, head south and follow Victoria Ave. to Highway 81, also known as the Wine Route. It’s marked by purple signs showing, what else, bunches of grapes.

At Jordan Station, park for a java fix at the retro café, Zooma Zooma Coffee Lounge and Gourmet Emporium. Owners Stephen Del Col and his wife Jacquelene describe their funky coffee house décor as, “Bewitched collides with the Jetsons.”

Shop for unique Canadian designer duds adjacent to the eatery or head down the street to peruse Inuit art at Ninavik Native Arts, southwestern pottery at Santa Fe Trading Co. or garden tools at The Copper Leaf Garden Store, named by Gardening Life magazine as one of Canada’s Top Ten.

For a delectable feast of local ingredients, lunch at On the Twenty Restaurant and Wine Bar, Ontario’s first winery restaurant. In the historic 1871 building, chef Michael Olson adds herbed croutons and double smoked bacon to cream of leek, squash and potato soup and serves lamb with sweet potato, celery root, apple gratin, steamed fava beans, sweet peppers in a red wine jus. For a souvenir of wine country, pick up a Reisling or Merlot from the award-winning Cave Springs Cellars across the street. You can work off some calories with a hike around the pond just behind the restaurant.

Continue east along Highway 81 until you reach the QEW, travel east toward Niagara Falls (if you’ve never ridden the Maid of the Mist boat trip to the edge of the Falls, you might want to detour here), then take the Highway 405 cutoff toward Queenston where you can mingle with more than 2000 butterflies in a tropical rainforest setting at the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory.

Head north along the Niagara Parkway to Niagara-on-the-Lake, home of the Shaw Festival and the quaint turn-of-the-century streetscapes. At L’Esprit Provence, 106C Queen St., stock up on gourmet goodies from France such as lavender honey or buy some cheery Provençal fabric to give your home true joie de vivre.

Take a small Highway 55 west detour to Hillebrand Estates where you can sign up for a free 15-minute “How to Taste Wine” seminar and tour. Back on Lakeshore Rd., drive west through St. Catharines to Port Dalhousie, one of Canada’s oldest lakeside resort towns. At Lakeside Park, ride the 1898 Looff Carousel, still only 5 cents, watch the rowers practicing for the Henley Regatta, and enjoy a seafood feast at Marie’s Seafood Restaurant. Finish the day with a play at the historic Port Mansion Theatre Restaurant to see a production like Neil Simon’s Chapter Two or the musical soap opera Suds.

For a Wine Regions of Ontario brochure featuring a driving map of the Wine Route, call 905-684-8070 or visit www.wineroute.com. For more information, special events and festivities, visit www.tourismniagara.com or www.niagaraparks.com.





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