If your only thoughts of Stratford are field trips to see Macbeth for English class then you need to sit down for this one 'cause I'm about to blow your mind. Ever since our Belly Monster crawl through Stratford a few years ago, I've been quite smitten with this tiny town. Here is a list of my favourite things to do, eat, and see in Stratford, Ontario.
Much like Hamilton, Stratford absolutely loves to support their own. Everywhere we went restaurants were pouring Junction 56 Gin and Black Swan. Owner Mike Heisz quit his job at Blackberry to open Junction 56 Distillery back in July. They're open for tours, and of course, tastings. Same goes for Black Swan Brewery, started by two teachers who are absolutely adored by the community. We couldn't sit down for a meal without someone recommending them.The Architecture |
One of my favourite things about Stratford is the very European feel it has. The architecture and the general aesthetic of the streets are so quaint, you really feel like you're tucked away in some little village outside of Paris - but everyone speaks English, so that's a bonus. On our last visit just before Christmas, all the shops and streets were lined with gorgeous garlands and ribbon. I felt like I was going to turn the corner and run into Lorelai & Rory Gilmore. I am not going to claim to actually know anything about architecture - I'll send you to Rebuild Hamilton for that. But this city has a plethora of instagram worthy homes and pintrest worthy store fronts.
The Shopping |
I know what you're expecting when I say "shopping" in a small town. But no, I'm not into that kind of shit. You know what I mean, a bunch of little knick knack stores selling cheesy souvenirs. I swear on my heart there is some really good shopping here.
I absolutely adore Bradshaws - it's a home cooks dreams with Le Creuset in all of the colours of the rainbow and Kate Spade tableware that will make you swoon. They also have all those clever house hold gadgets that make your life a zillion times easier - yes of course I need an avocado slicer!
Small Mart also reminds me a little bit of O's Clothes in Hamilton. Very hip, one of a kind pieces with a sprucing of fun personality pieces. They have anything from Hershel backpacks, jewellery, to even furniture.
Any savvy gents out there? Cause The Artful Badger is an absolute gem. A mans, man cave. From gorgeous lush scarves to much needed beard conditioners and oils.
One of my first real "grown up" jobs was in the hotel industry - so I always pay extra close attention to where we stay when we travel.
The first time we were in Stratford we stayed at Mercer Hall. It was a little old school but the service was tailored beautifully to make each individual guest feel like they were kings and queens. I loved it. The food was also hella amazing.
We've also stayed on this huge farm outside of town. We booked through Air BnB. They had a farm dog and a bunch of chickens running around. There was a fresh loaf of bread for us in the morning (with farm fresh eggs too).
Stratford also has a plethora of B&Bs. The Cardinal B&B was my favourite -- staying with locals gives you the most authentic experience. The owners of this B&B were actually former Hamiltonians! It was the perfect location for us to park our car and walk everywhere! I felt like I was staying at a family friend's house. It also gave us a chance to finally see inside one of the many beautiful Victorian homes Stratford has. I'm a total house snoop.
Stratford is very quickly turning into a foodie's mecca and the town knows it! The tourism board have these fantastic self guided food tours. We partook in three tours on our last trip - The Christmas Victorian Trail, The Chocolate Trail, & The Bacon and Ale Trail.
We were running around all over downtown collecting little treats and gifts from every shop. It was a great chance for us to spark conversation with the shops and to venture into ones we would normally overlook.
Ok, I know what you're thinking. It wasn't just dinky little freebies and pamphlets you pick up at conventions. Nope, it was actually some really good loot! From a full pack of bacon, to bacon burgers to really luxurious hand lotion. Can you tell we were cleaning house on the bacon trail?
The Markets |
If you know anything about my ball & chain, you know he loves going to farmer's markets. He loves chatting up the vendors and talking about what they're growing this season, and just being an all around chatter box.
Luckily Stratford has more than one year round market. We visited both the Slow Food Perth County Sunday Market and The Stratford Farmers Market. When you're surrounded by such rich agriculture, you know the markets are going to be legit. Lots of fresh produce, artisan cheese, meats, and breads.
One of the biggest highlights of our trip was stumbling upon a last minute foraging tour with Puck's Plenty's Foraging Tours. We were literally in the middle of dinner when I saw his tweet about still being able to forage mushrooms so late in the season. I immediately DM'd him (yay social media) and asked if we could tag along the next time he went out. 24hrs later, we were in the woods foraging for wild watercress and mushrooms. Fun fact: Stratford was named one of the best places for foraging in the world by Travel & Leisure mag!
You saw this one coming right? There weren't enough hours in the day to eat everything I wanted. I know, I know, #firstworldproblems. But trust, if you consider yourself a foodie. Come to Stratford. They're right in the middle of prime farmland where some of the best meat and produce are raised so you'd better believe it's all going to be über local and fresh. There is plenty of upscale restaurants but also some great comfort/casual vibes. Lots of no fuss restaurants just doing their thing with no #$%@s given about annoying bloggers and their cameras and the nerve of them to stand on chairs to take pictures. Just saying.
A few highlights were this epic grilled cheese from Montforte on Wellington. They have their own dairy farm and a simple non pretentious, incredibly delicious rotating menu. Pazzo was also a place where the Belly Monsters and I absolutely loved. Beautifully made pizzas and pasta. On our recent trip, we were invited by FeastOn to one of their buratta making classes.
They make fresh buratta in their kitchen every single day. If Italian food is your jam - these guys are worth a visit. Truly simplistic, gorgeous dishes made in house, in a remarkably beautiful styled restaurant. We try to come in for dinner every time we're in Stratford.
Another surprising discovery on this trip was the Stratford Chef School (Carl Heinrich, winner of the first season of Top Chef Canada and chef-owner of Richmond Station, is a graduate). During the school year you get to be the guinea pigs for these up and coming chefs. We're talking multiple courses, wine pairings, and incredibly creative dishes. All executed by the students. We were luckily enough to feast from their Noma inspired menu as well as their holiday themed lunch. Don't walk in thinking it's amateur hour - we were served very complicated and skillfully executed dishes - without the overrated prices too!
Laohaus, was also a food gem we discovered. Nothing too fancy, just comfort authentic Lau dishes. The duck larb was definitely my jam and so was this beautiful sausage. Oh yeah, they also make bombass fried chicken. If I lived here - this would be my go to place.
So the next time you're crying tears about needing a vacation but your wallet is all, "LOL No" - Keep Stratford in mind. I may have focused on all the lovely things to eat but there is a primo amount of other things to do too!
This was a press trip c/o Stratford Tourism. Opinions, sass, witty one liners c/o Chanry Thach.