If you thought putting up your Christmas lights was hard, you should see what the Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls has prepared to get you into the holiday spirit. Since 1983, the Ontario Power Generation Winter Festival of Lights has become Canada’s largest illumination festival, attracting over one million visitors a year.
It runs from November 19, 2016 until January 31, 2017 and requires no admission fee. But the Winter Festival of Lights has a little something extra to get you into the holiday spirit.
For two weekends only, December 2-4 and December 9-11, visitors can get into the spirit with the Deck the Falls Holiday Walking Tour through 13 decorated by five celebrity interior designers and five teams of Humber College Interior Decorating students. For only $45/person (children 12 and under are free) you will receive a 14-coupon passport redeemable for holiday treats distributed at each of the 13 venues.
I attended the opening night of the Christmas Marketing in Toronto’s Distillery District, but still didn’t feel like I was fully immersed in the holiday spirit. So, with the help of my friends at BMW Canada, I threw my weekend bag into the trunk of the 2017 BMW 330e and cruised the QEW on my quest to find the holiday cheer.
The 330e is a plug-in electric-hybrid sports sedan powered by the very electricity produced by Niagara Falls hydroelectric generating stations. This new addition to the iPerformance brand by BMW is environmentally conscious without sacrificing style or performance.
I checked into the Marriott On The Falls, one of the venues and accommodation partners for the winter festival to attend the first weekend of Deck the Falls. My falls-view room offered an incredible view of the illumination of the Canadian and American falls.
Starting at 5pm, I kicked off my self-guided tour in my hotel with an apple duo – apple pie served with fresh mulled warm apple cider. From there, it was a long journey of sugary treats and holiday eats. Across the street, Toronto based Virtual Reality innovation agency MetaVRse brought their own futuristic brand of holiday cheer to the Scotiabank Convention Centre with an experience called Tiltbrush that allowed them to paint 3D Holiday creations and receive a keepsake copy of their creations. MetaVRseis also working with Niagara Falls Tourism to create original content to highlight the beauty of the region including a thrilling Virtual Reality tightrope walk across the Falls set to debut next summer.
Most people take the entire weekend to visit all 13 stops over three days, voting on the holiday decorations done by the celebrity and students designers using the Winter Festival of Lights smartphone app, but I was on a mission to hit every stop in one night.
A few key stops really made my night. One was the Oakes Hotel which hosted a holiday crafts stop where I made wood signs using distressed painting techniques and a “JOY” stencil; the perfect souvenir for this holiday escape. Another was the Holiday Inn By The Falls, which had make-your-own maple syrup taffy in the snow – a true Canadian tradition. But nothing topped my experience at the Old Stone Inn which set up an entire holiday campfire with roasted marshmallows and chestnuts bringing all attendees together to enjoy each other’s company. It reminded me that the holiday spirit is all about spending time with people (and making friends was easy when the Old Stone Inn was serving a shot of Baileys in a toasted marshmallow).
The passport of coupons includes a day-pass for the Table Rock Falls Incline Railway, a ride to the top of the Skylon Tower with a 360-degreeview, and culinary treats from all participating hotels including Fallsview Casino.
With the event coming to an end for the night at 10pm, I was able to hit 12 out of the 13 venues, enjoying the company, holiday décor and treats all within walking distance of each other. For those who aren’t keen on braving the cold weather, the passport also includes a 24-hour Wego bus pass to get you around the town. With only one weekend left, you can purchase your Deck the Falls passport at www.wfol.com/deck-the-falls/ and plan your holiday weekend escape with the helpful resources on their site.
The next morning, feeling pretty good about the upcoming holidays, I figured I would get a little start on some holiday shopping by taking a tour of Southbrook Vineyards, a 20-minute drive from the falls in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Staying on trend with my eco-friendly ride, Southbrook Vineyards is one of top certified organic and biodynamic wineries in Ontario. Biodynamics emphasize the balance of a farm’s soil, plants and animals to grow low-impact,vibrant crops, including grapes. It treats the whole farm as a single living entity.
George, a wine aficionado with Southbrook, took four of the vineyards most notable wines and paired them with local dishes to showcase how certain flavours can impact the notes of the wine. After a full tasting, my heart fell for Southbrook’s Triomphe Cabernet Franc, aged in a French oak barrel, with a full body flavour.
On my way out, I picked up a few varieties of Southbrook’s bottles to bring with me to holiday dinners in December. This way I’ll be able to tell the other dinner guests a little bit more about the history, taste and a bit about biodynamics of the bottle in front of them.
The Niagara Region is a hidden gem of a winter escape that is ready to offer a memorable holiday experience for family, friends and romantic couples. Pack your weekend bags, pick up your Deck the Falls passport, and visit a VQA winery to bring a gift to your holiday hosts that will put Santa’s elves to shame.
Writer’s Note: This trip was in part sponsored by the Winter Festival of Lights, Southbrook Vineyards and BMW Canada through in-kind services. All opinions expressed are independent.
Brandon Sousa is an internationally accredited travel journalist with the Travel Writers' Network. A Metroland Media Toronto paper boy as a kid, he uses travelling as a means to explore new cultures, new personalities and new adventures sharing it with insidetoronto.com. Be sure to follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter.