NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ON — At first glance, the handsome structure rising out of the lush Niagara vineyard doesn’t look like the quaint wine country inn I was expecting. In fact, the Riverbend Inn’s impressive doric column entrance and regal façade makes me think of the Antebellum mansions from Gone With The Wind.
The landscape bordering the inn is equally impressive — manicured lawns and gardens sweep down to the edge of the fast moving Niagara River or drift off into the surrounding vines.
Suffice it to say, this property would not look out of place among the grand chateaus of Tuscany and Bordeaux.
Despite its Georgian manor grandeur, though, there’s something tranquil about the Riverbend Inn & Vineyard, as it’s formerly known. It sits on 57 acres of prime Niagara real estate, just minutes from the storybook town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and stands out from the industrial-sized wineries that have sprung up in recent years that cater to the huge numbers of weekend travellers from Toronto — 90 minutes away — and nearby upstate New York.
Above: The Riverbend's grand entrance and neighbouring vineyards are remarkable.
Its 21 delightful rooms are wrapped in cozy comforts that make you think you’re visiting grandma’s house and come with overstuffed beds, period paintings, rich mahogany furnishings and a romantic fireplace. Each room is named after the wine grown in this region — Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, etc. My room was named Rosé and its French doors opened onto a balcony that offered awesome views of the inn’s 12-acre vineyard.
The Riverbend’s Oaklands restaurant, governed by Chef Ross Midgely, has become a culinary hotspot for visitors and locals alike. It’s French-inspired menu relies heavily on local produce, when available, and the staff’s warm hospitality and service make you want to linger long after the final course has been served. When the weather permits, people crowd onto the restaurant’s large terrace that overlooks the romantic vineyard and Riverbend’s much larger neighbour, Peller Estates.
Above: The Riverbend's manicured lawns and gardens are a delight to walk.
In fact, the Riverbend Inn & Vineyard is owned by Andrew Peller Ltd., the corporate giant with the 50-year history that also owns many other popular Ontario wine brands, such as Wayne Gretzky Estates, Trius, Hillebrand, Thirty Bench and Sandhill.
The Riverbend is strategically located in the heart of Niagara’s historic district and just a 2km walk from popular Fort George and the Butler’s Barracks Historic Site. Niagara Falls is a 15 minute drive from the inn and the area boasts some of the best golf courses in Eastern Canada.
Just like the area, the Riverbend Inn has an intriguing history, dating back to 1860 when a Georgian mansion first appeared on this site.
It was later sold to a group of six sisters — Kate, Gladys, Del, Nora, Olga and Elizabeth Ansley — who converted the large residence into a school for young people with disabilities. At the height of its success, the school, according to the Riverbend’s archives, housed 16 children of various ages, who “happily socialized” with the local community. The school existed for 45 years until the sisters could no longer operate it. The Riverbend also served as a fruit farm before being converted into the present-day facility in 2004.
It’s history, luxury and magical location is why the Riverbend Inn & Vineyard is the toast of Niagara’s wine region.
• To make reservations at the Riverbend Inn & Vineyard or the Oaklands restaurant, go to https://www.riverbendinn.ca or call 1 888-220-2281