A Local’s Guide to Stratford

Strats Here are 10 tips for a great getaway.

1 – The Stratford Festival offers the greatest selection of plays and musicals in Canada. Board the Stratford Direct private bus service from Toronto for $20 return, and relax. In addition to the shows, the Festival offers theatre tours, garden tours, and a tour of the third-largest costume and props warehouse in the world, where you can try on costumes from past seasons. Check out The Forum for panels, debates, symposia, exhibitions, and Food For Thought — a buffet lunch series followed by a talk on one of this season’s plays or musicals. Ay me! What to choose?

2 – All the world is indeed a stage, as more than 100 events featuring more than 350 diverse artists, local and international, perform inside, outside, in historic churches, and on the Avon River for the Summer Music Festival. What could be more romantic than a stroll through the park while being serenaded by musicians floating on a barge? If you love to sing, why not join the Symposium Choir for the weekend?

3 – Art in the Park is an unassuming exhibition of local artists that enrich and colourize a leisurely walk along the Avon River. Mingle with artisans while admiring their work. This juried gathering weaves through the park by the swans and river every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday during the summer.

4 – Every Saturday morning The Stratford Farmers’ Market is where actors, artisans, locals and visitors alike mix with farmers and purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers and plants, meats, jams, and every culinary need for the week. It’s less expensive than the supermarket, and everything is local. Buy directly from farmers and bring home what was harvested only hours before. Also, check out the Slow Food Market, with live music every Sunday, in the central Market Square beside City Hall.

5 – Avon Boat Rentals offers a narrated boat tour. You can also rent kayaks, a paddleboat or canoe, and drift, lunch, read and laze away an hour or two. Stop at the island for some shade beneath the weeping willows; explore tributaries and the Shakespearean gardens; paddle the length of the river; or simply paddle to the theatre. (Grains are available for feeding the swans.)

6 – See Stratford from the sky! Stratford Airport offers 30-minute introductory flights for a one-on-one, hands-on experience flying a plane. Do you have a feel for this? Continue toward a pilot license. Sightseeing flights are also available for couples or for a trio of friends. Do you want to go over the city? The farms? The lake? Do something different and create your own route.

7 – Stratford offers an eclectic range of tours. Beginning with the seductive Rheo Thompson “mint smoothie,” there is a proliferation of artisanal chocolates around town. Take your sweet tooth and your sweetheart along the Chocolate Trail. Stratford is the home of the Ontario Pork Congress. Local farmers know their bacon, and local chefs know their farmers. For everything from bacon butter tarts to bacon toothpaste, check out the Bacon & Ale Trail. Maps are available for strolling and cycling, and bikes are available for rent at Totally Spoke’d. Beliebe it or not, there is also a Justin Bieber’s Stratford map that you can follow to see where it all began.

8 – Stratford loves coffee. Check out Revel Caffé’s unique cold-pressed coffee, as well as intimate monthly coffee-pairing dinners accompanied by live jazz. Monforte cheese is the pride of Stratford. This osteria serves biodynamic VQA wines, as well as craft beer and cider to complement their selection of cheese, as well as a simple daily menu of local ingredients, including the crunchiest, most delectable grilled-cheese sandwiches. Try a cappuccino frothed with sheep or water buffalo milk. Tea Leaves Tea Tasting Bar is run by Canada’s premier tea sommelier who, like an apothecary, stands before her wall of tea and gently assesses the right tea for you. Sip flights or special tastings. There is also a series of cooking classes, meditation, chi gung in the garden, and herbal and holistic workshops on stress management, body care and nutrition.

9 – Not-to-be missed shops downtown: Bradshaws is the place to shop in Stratford for kitchenware, tableware, wine glasses and decanters, home decor, and bath and body products. A vast selection of the best-sourced products from around the world includes unique Canadian-designed merchandise. The Barkery is a full-scale, all-natural bakery for dogs. Freshly baked, nutritious homemade treats from local farmers, including fruits, veggies, seeds, all-natural peanut butter, emu, bacon and cheese. Try doggy brownies, doughnuts, birthday cakes or “postman’s fingers.” Kitchen Connaisseur is where we shop for specialty food products from sauces, oils, vinegars, rubs and spices, to gift baskets and cooking ideas. Savoury sauces like Cajun spice and sundried tomato; dessert sauces like maple cappuccino and sundried cherry; Moroccan and Spanish spice blends; flavour-infused oils; and chutneys like pomegranate and mango stimulate our imagination, while samples and recipes stimulate our palates.

10 – Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival is the largest culinary festival in Canada. It attracts the biggest names in food and wine from around the world—it doubles the population and excites our appetites. Stratford is the culinary capital of Ontario. Experience the sophistication of Ontario’s culinary evolution here.

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