It was not our first trip to Stratford. We’d been four years earlier with our children — feeding the ducks along the riverbank, staying in a converted Victorian home, eating in kid-friendly restaurants and seeing an excellent production of Alice Through The Looking Glass.
But this time, we left the kids with their grandparents and did Stratford with grownup luxury in mind.
Here’s how to spend 24 fabulous hours in Stratford:
11:30 a.m. | Arrive and have lunch at The Common. This is a newer restaurant in the downtown core (which you’ll find exceedingly walkable) and it’s got a really cool vibe with very tasty dishes on what can only be described as a hybrid menu that features features everything from comfort fare to Asian and Indian. The homemade mushroom soup (a daily special), charcuterie board, salmon cakes and Thai seared beef rice noodle salad were all beautifully presented and delicious.
1 p.m. | Spend the afternoon doing the Chocolate Trail. Pick up your “passport” at the tourism office for $30 and wander around noshing on local chocolate treasures. Plan well so that you make stops like ice cream at the beginning and chocolate shops at the end because, trust me, you won’t be able to consume everything! Chocolate is a lot easier to take home than ice cream.
There are nearly 30 stops from which to choose on your self-guided tour; we visited:
- Jenn & Larry’s Brittle & Shakes (and ate a VERY yummy brittle-topped hot fudge sundae!)
- Olive Your Favourites (you get a small bottle chocolate balsamic but be sure to stay and sample the huge selection of infused oils and vinegars)
- Rheo Thompson Candies (get the famous mint smoothie)
- Treasures (chocolate honey? Mmmmhmmm)
- Totally Spoke’d (yes, it’s weird to go into a bike shop for something chocolatey, but the best part is finding out why; no spoiler alerts here!)
- Revel (the hand-crafted mocha is OMG good)
3 p.m. | Check into your decadent hotel room at The Bruce, less than three kilometres from the shops and shows. With only 25 rooms, there’s an elevated level of service here that rivals the finest hotels around the world. We stayed in a spectacular room overlooking the gardens and my only regret is that we visited for just one night.
The hotel featured stroll-worthy grounds, luxurious rooms and beautiful touches like a grand piano in the sitting room. There are lovely details like book nooks and a giant chess set outside with pieces so intricately carved they’re gallery-ready. But it’s the staff and little touches that make this place special. (We especially loved the turn-down service that included a guest book set up on our bed with homemade fortune cookies, packed up with the weather forecast for the next day.
5 p.m. | Indulge in the heavenly tasting menu at The Bruce. It changes every two days and uses as much from the onsite gardens and the resident Bruce Bees — a local farmer and beekeeper has cultivated hives behind the hotel — as possible.
Opt for the “fauna” menu, which is only $20 more for four extra courses. Each of its seven courses is expertly created to be beautiful beyond measure so you eat first with your eyes. I strongly recommend adding the optional wine pairing for each course; after all, when you’re already spending $115 per person on dinner, what’s another $65 to have seven different wines accompany each course? Selected from day to day, might I add, by Johnny — the hotel’s sommelier.
The table agreed that it was worth the splurge, even if you might only splurge like that on a meal once every few years. It was interesting, special and memorable.
8 p.m. | See one of the Stratford Festival’s world-class plays or musicals. We saw The Rocky Horror Show (which has been extended something like five times now because of its roaring popularity — on until November 25 the last time I checked!) and it was so, so, so, SO fantastic that I’m actually thinking of a day trip to Stratford just to see it again.
An important note: both the parking and the taxi situation in Stratford are challenging. There is no UBER or Lyft, so you might wait up to 30 minutes for a cab. So leave yourself 45 minutes to get to your show because, as we experienced, they start promptly at showtime.
10:30 p.m. | Have a nightcap at Mercer. There might be live music, the liquids are flowing and if you saw an interactive show like Rocky Horror, you might have worked up an appetite despite the seven courses from earlier in the evening… The Karaage chicken is UNREAL. So are the fries.
Pro tip: Be on the lookout for actors. Though if they’re from Rocky Horror, you’ll have to memorize what they look like in real life by scanning the program!
9 a.m. | Rise and shine and start the day with a leisurely walk downtown to grab a revel coffee. (If you have a leftover Chocolate Trail ticket, you can use it here or try something else on the menu if you already went yesterday as instructed. LOL.) If you left your kids at home, grab some treats here for them and their babysitters — you can’t go wrong with any of the baked goods, but the raspberry sour cream doughnut was totally my jam.
If it’s a Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. there’s the Perth County Slow Food Market right across from revel, which features a mouthwatering assortment of cheeses and artisan breads among other things. Samples aplenty!
11:30 a.m. | Head back to The Bruce Hotel and pack in one more sinful meal…this time: brunch. And more coffee. The brunch poutine is everything and then some, and we thought the croque monsieur was simply gorgeous.
All that remains is to roll yourself into your vehicle, tip your hat in thanks for such a fine couple of days in Stratford and promise to return.
DISCLAIMER: Some but not all elements of this trip were provided or discounted by Visit Stratford. Opinions and genuine excitement all my own.