We’re spoiled in Ontario, particularly living in Waterloo Region. We’re an hour away from Toronto (45 minutes if you drive like me), and 30 minutes away from Guelph (where there are countless TV shows being filmed at any given time), and Stratford.
Stratford is what I consider a hidden gem. It’s also the place that I most associate with my High School and University years. That may sound strange, but keep in mind that I went to an arts High School where Shakespeare plays were the norm. We even had an entire wing for the band and dancers. Needless to say, it’s not hard to correlate those days with the award-winning Stratford Festival since most of my classmates performed in some of the plays in the summers.
But I digress.
Stratford is so much more than that, and there are so many other great reasons to explore it these days.
Capitalizing on the success and the draw of the Shakespeare Festival, Stratford has designed activities that help create the perfect weekend getaway. And if you’re looking for a weekend escape but still close to home, here’s everything you need to know.
Getting into town is really easy- a quick drive in from Toronto or Detroit.
Once in town, you don’t actually need to have your vehicle handy as the entire downtown area is pretty walkable- even in heels!
While there are quite a few hotels and B&Bs in town, we opted to stay in a private apartment instead-XXVIII on Avon River’s edge. Our unit had 2 bathrooms, a master bedroom, a 2nd bedroom with 2 twin beds and a kitchen making it perfect for a girls’ weekend. And since it was very walkable to downtown, we were able to pop back and freshen up when needed.
The other great thing about being able to walk everywhere? You’re able to walk off some of the calories that you’re sure to put on over the weekend.
Seriously, Stratford is a foodie’s delight! There are a few “trails” to explore. The ones that caught our attention? The Chocolate Trails and the Bacon and Ale Trail. Yes, they are exactly how they sound.
The Chocolate Trail pass is priced at $25 + HST and allows you to sample chocolate delights from 6 stops on a self-guided tour- we opted for Rheo Thompson Candies, a 45 year old chocolate shop, Jenn & Larry’s Brittle ‘n Shakes and Cream Cakes, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Mercer Hall, Bentley’s Inn Bar & Restaurant. Let’s just say that you certainly get the most chocolate bang for your buck on this trail.
The Bacon and Ale Trail pass is for the bacon lovers out there. The pass, which sells for $25 plus HST, entitles you to five stops on a self-guided tour. The Bacon & Ale Trail is offered year-round, and is valid for three days from date of purchase.
Don’t worry if chocolate, or bacon and ale isn’t your idea of a proper meal- there are tons of great restaurants in town in as well. One of most admirable features of Stratford is the fact that they promote true farm to table experiences, allowing you to interact with restauranteurs who trully value the quality of food.
However, if you’re looking for a real farm experience, get in touch with Peter from Puck’s Plenty– the expert when it comes to foraging in Stratford. He knows all the secret spots and can help you get your feet wet. Foraging is truly an experiences of the senses- you get to learn where your food comes from, and learn how edible things in the forest are.
But if digging your own food out of the forest isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry- there are some amazing restaurants that are happy to do the work for you!
We fell in love with everything cheese related at Montforte cheese. The grilled cheese sandwich served with the side of apple butter might actually be the best thing you’ll taste in a really long time.
Be sure to try the house salad, and hot peppers to round out a cheesy delight!
Another amazing gem is Bijou. While the menu changes often at this culinary gem, the food is out of this world, and warrants frequent visits.
For those diehard Canadians out there, be sure to try Canadian Grub- one of the only restaurants in Canada that has an all Canadian sourced menu. Yes, unless it’s grown or made in Canada, it’s not on the menu. It’s certainly an interesting take on an all-local menu. What we liked about Canadian Grub was that food was delicious regardless of the self-imposed limitations.
Now you might have noticed that most people go to Stratford for the Shakespeare Festival, and we hardly mentioned it. That’s because there are so many other great things to do- especially if you’re not a theater fan! Although, you should check out at least one to experience it in person. We had the pleasure of watching She Stoops to Conquer as part of our girls’ night and loved it. It’s a chance to dress up, and enjoy an evening of culture.
As mentioned earlier, the culinary scene in Stratford is amazing- we spent our three days eating our way across town, and there was still so much more to see and do. Stratford is such a great weekend getaway, and one that deserves to be visited not just for the festival but at leisure where you can take in the sights and sounds and get the know this charming little town a bit more intimately.