A good road trip starts with two necessities: a solid plan and the anticipation of fun. One destination that has endless opportunities is the Niagara region, boasting exceptional views and excitement for all ages, whether you’re looking at the Falls itself or coasting through the fields of wine country. Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake is only 25 mins apart, and as a combined trip, offers both options of hustle ‘n bustle and quality downtime.
Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL for short) is known for world-class wineries, mouth-watering food, and picturesque sceneries that cater to city people who need to breathe in that fresh country air. On the flip side, downtown Niagara Falls delivers a plethora of booming activities including casinos and games, giving it a “mini-Las Vegas” vibe.
Sometimes you need a little bit of both in your road trip.
- Vehicle: 2017 Ford Escape
- Hotel: Sterling Inn & Spa, Niagara Falls
- Activity: Adventure Rooms Canada, Niagara Falls
- Lunch & Activity: eSkoot Picnic on an Electric Bike, Niagara-on-the-Lake
- Dinner & Drinks: Treadwell Restaurant, Niagara-on-the-Lake
2017 Ford Escape SE
In coordination with Ford Canada and Autoroad, the #EscapeandDiscover summer campaign encourages people to get behind the wheel to escape and explore the region. We were dropped into the front seats of a 2017 Ford Escape SE for this weekend excursion to the Niagara region, which included activities perfect for the adventure seeking city professional.
A good road trip vehicle requires many obvious things: adequate space for luggage and children, temperature control, good fuel economy – and for gadget-hungry people like us – the tech upgrades. Unless you have the strategic planning of Batman, when the going gets tough and you’re stuck in a questionable area with low battery and zero sense of direction, all the essentials like snacks, decent gas consumption, and a USB port become absolute necessities.
The Escape, priced to start at $29,399, is one of the best SUVs to take on a road trip for many reasons. First, it has the spaciousness to bring up to 5 passengers comfortably and trunk space to support them. With the EcoBoost upgrade, it improves the fuel consumption on the 1.5-litre (FWD/AWD) to 10.2/7.9L/100 km in the city, and 10.7/8.3L/100 km on the highway. It also includes the SYNC 3 system, which I had previously written about on the Huffington Post. The SYNC 3 system offers a full suite of dashboard interface options, including premier voice activation features. It sure makes driving a lot safer to speak to the console with your command rather than fiddling with the touch screen display.
The Escape includes multiple USB plugs for you to charge up whatever you need while you’re on the road. Google Maps has a tendency of running a hot battery, which the Escape can instead shelf the work to SYNC 3 for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – preserving your battery with constant connectivity for the road ahead.
As we piled all our weekend supplies, including a picnic cooler, laptop, luggage, and an appetite for adventure, we set off from Toronto towards the Niagara region.
Sterling Inn & Spa via Hotel Tonight
Address: 5195 Magdalen St, Niagara Falls
Phone: (289) 292-0000
Readers of The Modern Escape are spontaneous, live busy work lives and understand the need for balance. While I do recommend a reboot once in a while (a complete disconnect from all things technological), balancing short getaways between busy schedules is how the professional keeps his or her sanity. We enlisted the use of the Hotel Tonight app, which is a last-minute service for booking nearby hotel rooms at discounted rates. Not only does the app look slick, it also provides the occasional geo-rate for added savings.
While the app doesn’t include the numerous B&Bs of Niagara-on-the-Lake, it does host a healthy collection of hotels in Niagara Falls. Picking through the choices, we went with the Sterling Inn & Spa – which locals had referred to as “the old dairy factory” with “bathrooms the size of a restaurant”. Needless to say, there’s a massive milk bottle shaped structure that sits right on top of the Sterling Inn. This boutique hotel is just off the tourist-heavy streets of Niagara Falls, and since this road trip is about finding both R&R (rest and relaxation) and R&R (rock & roll!), we found it a fitting choice.
Upon checking in, the giant room was peaceful and comforting; it had a feeling of coziness that reminded us of Eganridge Inn in Kawartha Lakes. As you step inside, you’re immediately presented with a sink for a quick hand rinse – you never know what tourists have touched in Niagara – as well as a bar for immediate access to any local beers you may have chilled during your stay. It’s also handy to use for storing picnic foods overnight.
The bathroom was large as reported, and included a large jacuzzi tub with a package of epsom salts waiting readily by its side. The bathroom also provided vertical options, as the stand up shower (about the size of my previous apartment’s bathroom), which also included a rainwater shower head above and two shower heads fixed on the side for a horizontal rinse. A nice touch was the transparent sink, which you can visibly follow the flow of water from tap to the drain pipes below.
The living space had a king-sized bed, an oversized electric fireplace, and sliding privacy blinds that open to the bathroom. This allows you to interact with jacuzzi patrons and for privacy. While the view of the parking lot wasn’t our favourite, that’s occasionally expected when using a last minute hotel booking service (although the hotel is only two storeys high – helpful for mobility issues). The bed itself, while sizeable, was far more visually comforting than actually in it, but still provided an adequate rest throughout the night.
An added touch to the stay was the breakfast-in-bed option, which comes free with the stay. The night before, we had made a request for gluten-free bread for the other half, who has a gluten allergy. Unfortunately, they had delivered the breakfast with the gluten-free bread on the same plate and on top of the (wheat-based) croissant, which is a massive no-no when it comes to cross contamination and allergies. We raised our concerns to the concierge who was able to rectify this swiftly with an offer to cover the cost of parking ($15/night), as well as all-day usage.
It’s safe to say that the Sterling Inn & Spa may have the largest hotel rooms for its price in Niagara Falls. If you need the extra space, tranquility from the downtown madness and a high-powered jacuzzi, this may be one of your better options.
Adventure Rooms Canada
Address: 4541 Queen Street, Niagara Falls
Phone: +1 844-766-6372
Darn it. We’re handcuffed to a pipe with a clock on the wall that counts down from 60 minutes. It’s a dim-lit room with eerie paintings and creaky hardwood floors. We look at each other at first, thinking, “Did we seriously decide to spend our getaway cuffed in this creepy room?”.
The pleasantries of warming up in Sterling Inn’s jacuzzi tub quickly faded away as we came to the realization that we had to snap into challenge mode. Both of us are survivalists that know the importance of teamwork, communication and smarts. We start by exploring our surroundings, inching along the metal pipe our hands are cuffed to. We eventually found a unique item – which I won’t spoil the experience with – and pocket it for now as we explored a little more.
I reached out a leg and pushed a suitcase towards me. Thinking there might be something in it, he realized it’s not that easy to flip open with one hand, so he nudged it towards me to try, which, after a few seconds of fiddling with it, I realized I pushed down the wrong button, locking it accidentally.
I think we spent about 10 minutes sorting the surroundings and putting together this small, first puzzle – until we were able to finally release ourselves from the Pipe from Hell.
Little did we know this was only the first of about 50 other puzzles that this one-hour escape room had in store for us.
Adventure Rooms Canada is the first in Canada to offer an hour-long mystery room, titled The Collector. This location in Niagara Falls offers two such games (both 60 minutes in length), and the Kitchener location has four completely different games. The escape room games are larger-than-life compared to those that flood the app stores, and do not require any specific knowledge to partake or complete. The puzzles range from small, makeshift puzzles to out-of-the-box imagination. Things get a lot bigger, hairier, and thought-provoking than you’d expect. Games can house two to seven people, and game formats can support groups up to 21.
While we were not able to complete the escape in the 60 minute time frame, we did find ourselves celebrating over every individual victory – even the management said we “did really well”. Each puzzle you complete has a satisfying undertone that has you immediately scrambling for, “What’s next?”.
The best tips we can provide are this: Check your ego at the door. Teamwork is the only way to escape. Communicate as much as possible. And think as far outside of the box as you possibly can.
Picnic on the Lake with eSkoot
Address: 477 Mississauga St, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Phone: (289) 271-0663
Turning our sights to Niagara-on-the-Lake, one of the most popular activities of choice is biking. With beautiful lake views, friendly trails, and many places to stop for a snack, this place was created to impress.
However, a great way to turn the focus from pedalling exhaustion to a fun relaxing ride is to hop on an eBike from eSkoot. Electric bicycles allow you to enjoy a tour of the region without pedalling uphill or hunting for parking spots. If your road trip consists of a picnic, this is the opportune time to take advantage of this.
eSkoot is a family owned business that is as friendly as the eBikes are green. There is a learning curve to riding an electric bike, which can be daunting in the first few moments. Fortunately, the owners had set up a small, enclosed beginner’s course in the backyard to get a feel for the bike. It’s necessary before heading out of the lot, as eSkoot is located on and exits to a busy street. Fortunately, there’s a residential neighbourhood just behind it where you’ll get to take the proverbial training wheels off and coast until you’re comfortable with the acceleration and handling. It took just under 15 minutes to get a full and comfortable grasp of the eBike.
These electric bikes have tons of juice in their chargeable batteries, and offer ample storage space for small picnic supplies, food and drinks. They run very quietly, although my eBike did give off an audible squeak for periods of time. The handling was very simple, and accelerating can push the bike upwards to 32 km/hour, although there’s a 15 km/hour limit in recreational trails. Seating was very comfortable, and for those like me, this is an especially good option if you have a bad knee (or two). No licenses are required to use these, which makes it a breeze to setup and ride.
The tour provided a useful map of the local area, including paths to explore and areas to avoid (update: municipal bylaws have been updated to allow travel in historic areas such as Fort George!). We took a pretty common route, through the residential neighbourhoods to the golf course, along the lake bend into a popular bike path along the east side. The path offered dozens of picnic tables, grassy knolls and breathtaking views of the lake for a short stop to have a sandwich and drink. It was pretty awesome to see large packs of people on eBikes zooming by – apparently it’s wildly popular as a group activity too.
One common theme we recognized along the ride were the off-hand comments from passerby. We heard some pretty shareable things, such as a teenager on his bike yelling back at his dad, “Dad, why didn’t we rent those instead?”, and a fellow complimenting us, “That’s the right idea” complete with a nod and smirk as he worked his way uphill.
Here’s the route we took:
If sitting on a motorized, two wheel vehicle is new to you, here are a few tips:
- Pack a bottle of water on a hot or warm day. Trust me, even without pedaling, you’ll need it.
- There are steps to getting on the bike and starting the engine. Listen to the instructions carefully.
- Stick to the side roads and residential areas until you get the hang of it. The busier streets can feel risky at first.
- Do not hit the accelerator and brake at the same time. That’s when things get kind of weird.
- Don’t turn around to look behind you as you go! The motion of doing so can accidentally hit the accelerator or turn the eBike .
- It’s easy to go 15 km/hour, so start slow. Keep at a nice, coasting pace and you’ll spend more time enjoying the ride than sweating in fear .
- We didn’t have to worry much about the street traffic. Cars are very considerate in the area – just keep as far as you can on the right side and refrain from hitting the sidewalk or parked cars.
Treadwell Farm-to-Table Cuisine
Address: 114 Queen St, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Phone: (905) 934-9797
After an afternoon of eBiking and picnic stops, we headed to Niagara-on-the-Lake’s popular Queen Street.
Tucked away on a main street in historic Niagara-on-the-Lake, sits Treadwell Farm-to-Table Cuisine – owned by renowned chef Stephen Treadwell and his son James Treadwell, a top-Sommelier who knows wine and pairing to a T. Stephen made waves at one of the finest French restaurants on Canadian turf, Auberge du Pommier, and after various awards were had, he took his knowledge to Niagara-on-the-Lake as Executive Chef at Queen’s Landing Inn. The next eleven years brought forth even further acclaim and award-winning heights, while he co-founded the notion of “Niagara Cuisine” amongst his colleagues. This involved sourcing and building solid relationships with farmers, suppliers and vineyards in the region.
If you enjoy knowing the origin of each tidbit, Treadwell is the place for you. “Farm-to-Table” means fresh and flavourful, as far as local artisan products are presented. Opening its doors in 2013, this fine-dining bistro focuses on simplicity in locally sourced ingredients with menus based upon the seasonal products of the Niagara region and surrounding areas.
The kitchen made a valiant attempt to modify the menu in an effort to accommodate my allergy limitations: gluten and dairy. This is generally a difficult task for most kitchens, as ingredient changes can modify the final product too far from its intended flavour, and cross contamination is easy to fall victim. Fortunately, the chefs at Treadwell took the time to think about this and formulate excellent substitutions.
For starters, we had seared BC Albacore tuna with kohlrabi slaw, wasabi mayonnaise, and crispy nori. Coming right up, the pan seared east coast scallops with summer corn puree, charred corn, guanciale, and red chili vinaigrette. Modifications were made to remove the wasabi mayonnaise and replace it with fresh horseradish. (Note to fellow celiacs: I’ve been told on various occasions that wasabi can be mixed with wheat flour, depending on the source. Always check with the chef just in case!)
The soft almost-buttery scallops blew my mind. A spicy undertone merged with the sweetness of fresh corn, adding a polite softness and a touch of warm comfort with each nibble. I could see how the wasabi mayonnaise would have created a perfect blend with the tuna, but the horseradish offered an ample replacement for that necessary light kick.
In symmetry with these dishes, the house brought over glasses of popular and rare Niagara-on-the-Lake exclusives: Five Rows and Big Head. Five Rows is a 5th generation family-run winery that introduced this version for its neutral oak flavour. With each sip, this Sauvignon Blanc is a must to match the sweetness of corn in pan seared scallops. On the other hand, Big Head‘s wine parallels deep earthiness of mushrooms and tuna while balancing out acidity. Both wines are generally only found at Treadwell, as getting your hands on a bottle is next to impossible due to limited runs (and cases that are already “spoken for”).
The main course arrived and my partner and I literally celebrated over the confit shoulder of “Cumbrae Farms” lamb with ratatouille of local summer vegetables. This usually comes with a feta vinaigrette – but I ordered it minus the dairy. The chef made a creative decision of substituting the feta with baba ganoush, placing a layer on top of the lamb which really sealed the deal. The next dish, pan-seared filet of Lake Huron pickerel, was much lighter in contrast, especially after replacing the tempura in the dish with a fine traditional spinach puree.
Between the two, Treadwell’s confit shoulder was succulent and delicious. The lamb was cooked in duck fat for 6 – 8 hours, providing a soft texture that many restaurants likely find quite difficult to replicate. The vegetables had a sweet reduction, including roasted peppers and fingerling potatoes with a honeyed finish. The lamb was seared crispy on the outside, allowing it to stay tender and moist on the inside – literally falling apart with each tap of the fork. If you love wild mushrooms, then the pickerel would probably be your best choice. As a popular plate for many visitors, the dish offers a very earthy yet light flavour; a weight running similar to a tuna steak, but a bit more subtle. The earthy tones allowed the soft flavours of pickerel to emerge, evoking a quite comforting edible experience.
Of course, no lamb or fish entree is on par without the proper wine, and with that Treadwell most certainly delivers. To pair, the restaurant offers two additional exclusive wines: The Farm and Bench Trial‘s 2011 Cabernet Franc Testimony. The Farm, produced by the Neudorf family, is a Pinot Noir that is best paired with pickerel and mushrooms. We were told it also offers great contrast to rich or creamy sauces. It is a dry, light red that has a pleasant, almost addictive, aftertaste – despite a firm, almost intimidating aroma. Bench Trial‘s “Testimony” is a Cabernet Franc VQA from 2011, a limited production wine with 1242 bottles made specifically for Treadwell. As a dry red it carries smooth, silky tones, and enhances the flavour of lamb and any spicy notes.
As most of the desserts are not dairy, gluten, or nut-free, we were pleased to find an assortment of allergy-safe sorbets, including one cherry flavour that in hindsight became a staple choice for future decision-making.
Treadwell Restaurant’s vibe is laid-back, vibrant, and gives off plenty of joie de vivre. Guests range from tourists to locals, while keeping an elegant, busy city feel that adds a lot of excitement to the easy pace of NOTL. A must-have on the list of restaurants to return to; I can hear those delicious scallops calling!
Travel Tip: Just off the Niagara Greenbelt returning to Toronto, there’s a massive shipwreck that can be seen poking out from behind the trees to the right. “La Grande Hermine, also known as The Big Weasel, sits just off the Queen Elizabeth Way. At 140 feet in height, The Big Weasel was abandoned after an arson fire in 2003, leaving it in the Jordan Harbour. The ship, which was originally built in 1914, can easily be mistaken for a mighty pirate ship and is a perfect stop if you’re looking to see some unique Ontario history and to get some sweet photos. Plus, it’s available to be seen at any hour of the day. I mean, how often do you get to see an unattended and abandoned shipwreck in Ontario anyway?
Have you went on a road trip to the Niagara region? Let us know where you travelled below!