Next week marks the opening of the season at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Now, don’t let the bard’s name in the title put you off. Stratford has a wide variety of shows on offer this summer, so there’s something for just about everyone.
And, really, once the Festival is up and running, Stratford makes an ideal spot for a weekend get-away.
Set off early in the day so you can stop in St. Jacobs on your way and visit the largest year-round farmers’ market in Canada. It’s also a great chance to learn more about the local Mennonite culture. While you’re there, you’re sure to see Mennonite women in their traditional dark dresses, travelling in buggies by the side of the road or selling home-made goods at the market.
A little further west, you can stop in Shakespeare, another small town with excellent antique and craft stores, located right on the highway leading into Stratford. My favourite is the shop that used to be the general store. The shell of the store is just the same, you can still see the shelves and the corner that used to be the post office. Except instead of dry goods, the place is now packed with antiques. Be sure to visit this one soon – many of the buildings are slated for demolition due to an expansion of the road, which is a crying shame.
Continue on to Stratford for dinner. There are plenty of options, depending on what time you arrive. If it’s still afternoon, head down to the York Street Kitchen for the best sandwiches in the city. They’re perfect for a picnic along the Avon river, and you can feed your crusts to the ducks and swans.
If you’re looking for a proper dinner, try Pazzo on Ontario Street for Italian food in a delightfully upscale atmosphere, or Fosters on Downie Street for what is possibly the best (and classiest) burger in the city.
In the evening, a show at the Festival is a must. Opening this week are two musicals (Camelot and Jesus Christ Superstar), two plays by Shakespeare (The Merry Wives of Windsor and Richard III), and the classic Grapes of Wrath. Stratford is renowned for its production values – all the shows are just stunning – and the caliber of the acting will blow your socks off. I’m hard-pressed to pick one to recommend, but if I had to choose, I would probably see Merry Wives of Windsor first. Between Tom McCamus, Lucy Peacock, Tom Rooney and Geraint Wyn Davies, there is no going wrong. (Also, you should absolutely see anything with Brent Carver in it. That man is incandescent. But, I digress.)
There are a variety of options for overnight accommodation in Stratford, everything from hotels to bed & breakfasts. The Festival website can help you choose something to suit you, and sometimes you can get a package deal.
Your second day should start with brunch. If you’re looking for cheap and cheerful, Features on Ontario Street is great, as is Madelyn’s out on Huron Street. Or, if you want something a little classier, Fosters does a great brunch on the weekends.
For the rest of the day, there are several options. If you’re a theatre nut, you can take in a matinee. If it’s a nice day, you can wander around the picturesque downtown area and out along the river.
Or, you can hop in the car and head a little further west to the shores of Lake Huron. Huron is one of the great lakes, but unlike Lake Ontario, the water is a little cleaner, and the beaches are much nicer. Grand Bend is the tackiest beach town you will ever find – it clearly thinks it’s in Florida somewhere – but it’s lots of fun. There are beautiful sandy beaches, and the lake is so big that if it wasn’t fresh water you’d never know it’s not the ocean. Bring your beach towels and spend a day sunning on the sand and playing in the water.
The opening of the Festival marks the true beginning of summer, and is also the heart of a truly delightful romantic summer getaway. Culture, class, sun and sand. What more could you ask for?