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TRAVEL - Wicker baskets and wineries

Paved ribbons of rural road stretch as far as the eye can see, edged with rows of fruit and grape trees. Plants bud in the warm spring air, stretching up along the trellises.
On a bicycle tour, tourists can really enjoy the rural beauty of Niagara-On-The-Lake and visit wineries along the way. Northern Life reporter Jenny Jelen had an amazing time.

Paved ribbons of rural road stretch as far as the eye can see, edged with rows of fruit and grape trees.

Plants bud in the warm spring air, stretching up along the trellises. Rows and rows of vines disappear off in the distance, fading into small patches of (what must certainly be enchanted) forests.

As we pedaled along quiet country roads on bikes adorned with wicker baskets and bells that made twinkling sounds, weaving in and out of the lines on the pavement, it was hard to believe we were experiencing real life.

It felt more like the ending of a fairy tale — the closing clip before the narrator says something like “then everyone lived happily ever after.”

It was however, very much real life.

We were simply on the Wheel and Wine afternoon cycling tour offered by Niagara Wine Tours International. Our group was made of 13 people — wine lovers, and, well, based on the look of them, more wine lovers.

We spent a solid four-and-a-half hours following our tour guide Mike Marshall through the breathtaking vineyards and orchards of Niagara-On-The-Lake.

“You can tell the size of a winery by the size of its doors,” he said as we embarked on the tour.

Our first stop was at Reif Estate Winery, where the double doors were easily 10 feet tall, flanked by glass panels on either side and opening to a flowery courtyard. Once inside, it became entirely apparent just how big the winery was.

They had oodles of bottles inside, all screaming “pick me, pick me."

We had the luxury of tasting some of their finest — whites, reds and ice wines, before exploring the depths of the facility. There was a room just for oversized wine barrels — all of them much taller than me.

They would actually send a person — a full-size adult — into the barrels to clean them when necessary. A knowledgeable tour guide, and our very own Marshall, made sure all our questions were answered about the inner workings of the winery before we set out for the next stop.

Marynissen Estates Winery was by far the quaintest winery on the tour.

It had a small, house-sized door leading into cozy quarters where maybe 30 bottles sat quietly on the shelves, neatly arranged into little pyramids. They too let us taste different varieties from their collection.

The final stop on our tour was a mid-size winery called Riverview Cellar Estates. Located right along the Niagara Parkway, the vineyards were literally feet from the Niagara River. The doors were a little more elaborate, with windows and more decorative features, but still quite modest. Once again, we sampled a variety of wines before purchasing a few bottles.

They even let me put a bottle in my wicker basket (I mean, what else would you do with said basket if not put wine in it?)

Even though we had finished visiting the wineries on our tour, the trip was far from done. Marshall led us down the bike path bordering the Parkway, through Queen’s Royal Park. We cycled next to the river, letting the cool breeze ease our sunburned skin and allowing the riverside aroma to fill our senses.

In case the surroundings weren’t consuming enough, Marshall was sure to keep us entertained. He told us about growing up on the lake and his early years picking grapes from the vine. A true local, he had a story for nearly every street we rode down.

As we pedaled back to town, our nearly 15-kilometre adventure complete, we still felt miles from ordinary. Checking in again at the Acacia Suite, which was our home-base for the weekend, we enjoyed a quick rest before dinner. The lovely bed-and-breakfast added to the charm of the entire experience.

Owned by Veronica Balaj, the new home is a replica of the classics in the area.

The spectacular room was only outdone by the hospitable people running it.

Only hours away by car, Niagara-On-The-Lake certainly feels worlds away. A highly recommended destination for anyone looking for a getaway.