Stratford, Ontario is famous for 2 reasons – hosting North America’s most prestigious Shakespeare festival and being the home town of Justin Bieber. But we didn’t visit for either of those reasons, much to the confusion of my colleagues. What we did experience was good food, yummy chocolate and a relaxing break.
The town itself is pretty small but well equipped for tourists, as you would expect for a destination that welcomes half a million visitors each year! We went in November last year to celebrate my birthday and took the train from Union Station on Friday evening. Just over 2 hours later we arrived, pleased that we had taken the train – it’s so much more relaxing than driving.
We stayed at the Forest Motel and Woodland Retreat, which Stewart booked as a surprise. I was a little concerned when we got in the taxi and he told the driver to take us to a motel! However, it turned out to be lovely and our room came with a private hot tub and chocolates on the pillows. What more could a girl ask for?
Savour Stratford Chocolate Trail
Of course we couldn’t spend our entire time in the hot tub so we spent Saturday exploring Stratford on the Savour Stratford Chocolate Trail. Considering the town is pretty small, home to just 30,000 people, it has a rather large number of chocolate shops. No guesses why Stewart booked the trip!
The trail is self guided and for $25 you get six vouchers which you can trade at any of the participating businesses for a chocolately treat. The map lists the offerings of each establishment so we studied this over lunch and ruled out any of the tea, coffee or alcohol related ones. Much to our disappointment the British chocolate shop turned out to be located 16km away in a neighbouring town. Even proper Cadbury’s chocolate isn’t worth a 3 hour walk down the side of a long straight road with no pavement!
Like its namesake town in the UK, Stratford, Ontario is also bisected by the Avon River and this was the location for one of our first stops. Jenn & Larry’s Brittle’n Shakes & Ice Cream Cakes is owned by a father and daughter team, and it was here that we sampled an ice cream sundae topped with hot fudge sauce and their signature peanut brittle. Proof that it’s never too cold for ice cream.
Whilst in this part of town we took a brief walk along the waterfront as well as in the Shakespearean Gardens. It’s in these gardens that you can not only see a variety of herbs, flowers and shrubs that were mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays but also the oldest double-arch stone bridge in Ontario! If that’s not reason enough to visit Stratford, then I don’t know what is.
Stratford’s downtown is pretty compact and you could easily see everything within an hour or so. We found the trail to be the perfect introduction to the city, ensuring that we checked off all the sites and giving us the opportunity to explore its unique boutique stores. This included a huge shoe shop where I was finally able to find the perfect boots I had been trying to hunt down in Toronto for ages!
There are several types of walking tours on offer, including a Bacon and Ale Trail, so if you find yourself in Stratford with a few hours to spare I would definitely recommend going to the visitor information centre and picking one that suits you.
After our walk around town we headed back to the hotel on foot, in order to burn off all that chocolate, and then relaxed in the hot tub before catching the early morning train back to Toronto.