Looking for a unique Toronto day trip? Look no further than Stratford Canada! On my second blogiversary, I will introduce you to this food and culture little gem, centered on responsible tourism. Best of all? It will only set you back about 20 CAD round-trip to get there from El Toro during festival season. Definitely worth a detour!
Stratford Canada: The Heritage
Stratford may only be known as *cough* Justin Bieber’s hometown—but it’s so much more than that!
Settled by Europeans since 1828, the town was born as a railway junction in 1856. Then, almost a 100 years later, the seat of Perth County unexpectedly morphed into a world-renowned cultural hub with the debut of its acclaimed Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 1953.
Since then, Stratford has continued to grow as one of Canada’s food and culture centres, attracting new talent ranging from theater to the culinary arts and music. Naturally, this translates into a number of exciting festivals and events happening every year.
Stratford Canada: The Food
From tutored tastings led by local experts to self-guided trails filled with food shops, cafés, and pubs—the foodie scene in Stratford is outstanding. It’s really hard to believe how much this small town has to offer! Check out the unique programs below to see why I highly recommend this culinary getaway as a multi- day trip from Toronto
Savour Stratford Tutored Tastings: on select Saturdays (October-June, prices vary), choose between Scotch & Chocolate; Monforte Artisanal Cheese Making and Tasting; Tea Pairings with Chocolate or Honey; Craft Beer & Cheese; and Tea Tasting Techniques—led and crafted by local experts; also customized by you.
Culinary Adventures (foraging) and Cooking Classes: yup, you can go to the wild and forage for mushrooms, wild weeks, fiddleheads and other vegetables in season—all while learning how to make sustainable choices—or even take a class with renowned Great Ontario chefs during your Stratford visit.
Food festivals: foodie extravaganza! So many events year-round, so little time.
Savour Stratford Trails: available year-round, these “self-guided treks” are sold as passes ($25 CAD +HST each) and are valid for 3 days from date of purchase.
Bacon & Ale Trail: Perth County is Ontario’s top producer of pork—so YAY for bacon! This pass lets you grab unique bacon-and-ale samples from 5 out of 13 pubs, bars, and shops sprinkled throughout the trail (map provided!). Some of my favorites include Mercer Hall’s Bacon Manhattan; Revel Caffé’s espresso bacon & egg croissant (breakfast only, 9:30-11 AM); and the bacon or essential oils & beer soap bars (yes, to shower with!) from Small-Mart General Mercantile or Treasures, respectively.
Chocolate Trail: attention, chocoholics! Pass includes 6 tickets that allow you to taste cocoa treats from 6 out of 20 shops, pubs, and restaurants on the trail. Samples include chocolate chili tea, a handmade milk chocolate theater mask, and even aged dark chocolate balsamic vinegar. Tip: you can get unlimited samples of crazy olive oil and balsamic vinegar flavors at Olive Your Favorites with just one ticket!
Maple Trail: the newest of the clan will make you fall in love with Canada’s liquid gold all over again. With 12 stops to choose from, you might have to buy 2 passes so you can try them all (one pass = 6 treats) Unique delicacies include sweet potato fries with Maple Aïoli, Maple Mustard or Maple BBQ dipping sauces at Molly Bloom’s Irish Pub; Canadian whiskeys aged/distilled with maple at Mercer Hall; and a house-cured maple-smoked bacon sandwich with grainy maple mustard, roasted tomatoes, and organic greens at Canadian Grub to Go.
Stratford Canada: Best Time to Visit
While Stratford Canada is an outstanding food & culture Toronto day trip year-round, it’s best to visit during festival season (May-October). Buses and private coaches happen to be cheaper and easier to find then as well!
However, other festivals are starting to pop up throughout the year, so mark your calendars Here’s a list of some special events you can’t miss:
Preview Season: for foodies!
Heritage Weekend (first week)
Pork-a-palooza! (2nd or 3rd week)
Stratford’s Blues and Ribfest (3rd or 4th weekend)
Slow Food Pork Party
Stratford Garlic Festival
Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival
Farmer Dinner Series
November 2013-March 2014
Stratford Chefs School Repertoire Dinners and Chalkboard Lunches
Stratford Canada: How to Get There
The easiest, cheapest way to get to Stratford from Toronto is via the Stratford Direct. The state-of-the-art buses, equipped with free Wi-Fi, have 2 daily departures during the peak summer festival season and one departure between May and October. Please note though, service only available during performance days and cost $10 CAD each way. Quite a bargain!
You may also travel aboard VIA Rail (daily departures from Toronto and Windsor), by air, and by private shuttle. For more information, including festival days, please visit the Stratford Festival website.
Stratford Canada: My Toronto Day Trip Experience
I was fortunate to be invited to Stratford Canada as part of a TBEX FAM (sponsored familiarization day trip from Toronto). However, all descriptions and recommendations about this foodie’s paradise are my honest opinion: I was seriously impressed!
Check out some of the travel pictures that summarize the Culture and Cuisine itinerary I experienced. It included several stops on the Maple, Chocolate, Bacon & Ale trails, in addition to a special seafood bounty and Italian dinner at the taverna Pazzo. Take notes
Icing on the Cake: Stratford’s Responsible Tourism
The sense of community, responsibility & accountability I witnessed in Stratford Canada was an experience in itself. Every single stop we visited as part of one of the trails or guided tastings had direct trade partnerships with other members of the community and/or were part of small cooperatives, plus had their products sourced sustainably.
For instance, Revel Caffé’s owners only buy their coffee directly from the source in Nicaragua, where they actually met the family of farmers, pickers in person in order to learn more about the process, how their organic products are grown, etc.
Another example is Canadian Grub to Go, as staff only buy bread from the neighbor baker and their pork products from Canadian farms (awesomely depicted on a huge chalkboard map inside the eatery!)
Food Network’s Chef Chuck Hughes said it best:
“The importance of having food fairs, especially in a place like Stratford Canada, it’s so close to the farmers, so close to the producers, and so close to where were trying to get back to.”
To me, the importance is to support small towns like Stratford year-round not only because of their proximity to the producers, but also because of their exemplary responsible tourism practices.