Exhausted and need a break from Toronto? You might want to give Stratford a try. Sure, you've heard of Stratford because it is the home to Justin Bieber and to North America’s largest classical repertory theatre company, but it offers so much more. It is a beautiful city that is attracting an influx of young families who want to live in a place where they can get most of the errands done in an hour or so. It is a city of only 32,000 with so many fabulous choices for restaurants and stores. Stratford is only 1.5 hours from Toronto, 30 minutes from London and Kitchener Waterloo and 45 minutes from the beach. Here's our suggestion for a winter getaway weekend in Stratford. You can get to Stratford by car through Kitchener Waterloo or by Via Rail (Friday departure times - 11 a.m and 5:30 p.m. Sunday departure times - 8:30 a.m and 9 p.m). Another option is taking the Festival Bus from downtown Toronto.
Check into Stratford's newest downtown boutique hotel; Edison's Cafe Bar and Inn. The building built in the mid 1850's has three gorgeous rooms renovated in an industrial style. The second story room, referred to as the arts suite, is protected by a large maple tree just outside its window. You will find two large leather chairs perfect for reading that book you never got around to, playing one of the games in the room or drawing in the sketch book. The second room overlooks the beauty of the Avon River. A large graffiti wall celebrates its theme of music with a replicated cover of Justin Bieber's latest album. The main floor room s the perfect place to unwind from big city fatigue while watching the sunset over the river from your comfy sofa. In each room, you will find two coffee cups which entitle you to a free coffee at the uniquely designed cafe bar in honour of Thomas Edison, a resident of the hotel when he was just 16 years old. The cafe's proprietor, Buffy, is fabulous at cooking healthy and tasty salads, soups and buddha bowls. The sweets are to die for.
Pazzo's Pizzeria is the place for pizza in Stratford. The downtown, downstairs location resembles the bar scene in NYC. The vibe is energetic and the staff are eager to please. Every Friday, Pazzo's features half price basic pizzas and $5 pints on all domestic draught beer. The restaurant also sponsors special music nights featuring such artists at Lisa Loeb, Kiefer Sutherland and Martha Wainwright.
Bentley's is a tradition for locals. The restaurant and pub is owned by a lovely family. The three children are in the midst of taking over the business from their charismatic father, Breen Bentley. Strike up a conversation with Tanner, Breen Junior or Brooke. They all are keen to talk and share stories. It's the perfect way to connect to vibrancy of a small city. BTW, if you still aren't full from pizza, order the Cobb Salad and a pint of Black Swan EPA, from Stratford's newest brewery.
Head to Edison's Cafe Bar and Inn for a morning coffee and treat, complimentary of Edison's Inn.
The local Farmer's Market is an option, however we suggest a road trip offered by Edison's. There are many to choose from including: towns, antiques, photography, farms, St Mary's and Amish. Remember to book one week in advance. A driver will pick you up at 10 and whisk you to the locations on your road trip.
Upon arriving back in Stratford and after a nap, perhaps, it's time to do a little shopping. The best place to begin is the Green Room. The large two story store was created in the style of an old fashioned general store with one improvement - the merchandise has been curated to offer some of the trendiest brands (e.g. Hunter Boots, Pendleton Shirts, Second Yoga Jeans and cheeky greeting cards). Stroll further down Ontario Street and drop into a youthful clothing store called Gruv. Here is a recent review: "Love to shop local, and when I need something upbeat and stylin I shop at Gruv. Superior quality and an excellent selection of clothes, shoes, boots and accessories for everyone." Other stores to visit include: Family and Company (old fashioned toy store), Watson's and Bradshaw's (kitchen accessories). Grace Boutique and Danna Nicole (new women's clothing), Gatsby's and Gordon's (men's clothing), Covet and Martingale (vintage clothing), Chocolate Barr;'s and Rheo Thompson's (chocolate), Small Mart (gifts), Meet the Maker (art), Indignea (Inuit art) and Fanfare Books.
Just enough time to check out a few of the local downtown art galleries. Shane Norrie is a good place to start. Shane is a well-established clay artist and also a widely-exhibited painter. His work can be found in numerous national and international publications such as ‘Canadian House & Home’ magazine, Canada’s ‘Style at Home’ magazine, ‘Marie Claire Maison Italia’ magazine and on various television programs including HGTV’s ‘Income Property’, HGTV’s ‘Disaster DIY’, HGTV’s ‘Pure Design’, ‘CityLine’ and on the set of ‘Canada AM’. The Agora Gallery and Indignea (Inuit Art) are two additional galleries to check out. If you are up for a walk down the river, the Stratford Art Gallery often has exhibitions and art classes.
If you are in for a fresh, vibrant vibe Mercer's is the place to dine tonight. The deep fried sushi with homemade wasabi sauce is very tasty. For a more intimate date night, dinner at the Keystone Alley is a good choice. Pazzo's Taverna is an elegant restaurant and is a nice place to dine with friends.
A late night cocktail and some music can be found at Molly Bloom's, the Revival House and Boar's Head. If you want to step out of comfort zone, the Dominion House offers an alternative vibe.
The coffee was good yesterday so why not return to Edison's Cafe Bar and Inn. If you want something a bit more filling, you will feel very welcome at Joe's Diner. Say hello to Blaine, the owner.
Yoga at Moksha.
Hopefully you brought your skates. In front of the Stratford Perth Museum is an old time, outdoor skating rink with nets. Spend some time skating or playing an little bit of shinny hockey. As an alternative, Stratford's Slow Food Market is open in the morning. Here's a note from a recent visitor: 'Picked up fabulous cinnamon cookies and sourdough bread and a head of radicchio and some leeks to make vichyssoise.'
Take a tour of the Stratford Perth Museum. This is a gem of a museum. They do a wonderful job of bringing together interesting exhibits. As an example, this winter's exhibits include: A Life in Fashion - Garments from the Ordinary to the Extraordinary, Perth County's Agricultural Roots, A Retrospective of Duty and Honour.
A hearty meal and a butter tart (raisin, pecan, coconut) at Madeline's. It's your reward for morning exercise.
End your weekend with a visit to Canada's oldest Carnegie Library. Chill by choosing from the magazines to flip through and maybe even be inspired by. For the more adventuresome, head out to River Valley for some tubing or snow shoeing.
Back to Toronto.