Until this week – in my mind – Stratford, Ontario meant Shakespeare plays and swans gliding on the town’s Avon River. Good restaurants, too. More recently, it’s also become known as the hometown of singer Justin Bieber.
For Torontonians, Stratford is less than two hours away by car – a popular destination when the Stratford Festival is on (May to October).
This past week, my husband and I spent two nights in Stratford. In addition to taking in a couple of shows, touring the Festival’s Costume and Props Warehouse, and renting bicycles, we bought a pass for Stratford’s Chocolate Trail to round out our free time during the day.
For $25 ($28.25 with tax), we received six tickets, each entitling us to a treat at one of 20 different merchants. Most of them are concentrated within a few blocks of each other in downtown Stratford.
The tickets are good for three days, and we decided to stretch out the experience, using two tickets a day for each day we were there.
What a great excuse to sample chocolate every day of our stay! Plus, it has to be good for Stratford’s economy to introduce visitors to businesses they might otherwise pass by.
We began at Chocolate Barr’s, where one ticket was good for two truffles – probably the ultimate treat for chocoholics. We tried a lavender one, delicately painted gold and blue, and a sea salt truffle finished with lustre dust. Other flavours included balsamic vinegar, milk chocolate marzipan, and chili pepper. The store also sells $10 cooler bags, which include an ice pack, a bonus on hot days.
Our next stop was Small-Mart General Mercantile, tucked away in an alley just off the main street. Known for its eclectic inventory, the store offered two retro candy bars in exchange for one of our tickets. We chose crunchy, chocolate-covered peanut butter bars – Fifth Avenue, and a Clark bar – the kind I would have really appreciated as a 10-year-old.
The following day, we stopped in at Rheo Thompson Candies, a local chocolate-maker known for its soft-centre “Mint Smoothies.” We opted for the dark chocolate version, and I had a chocolate-filled soft-centre chocolate as well. The Chocolate Trail treat consisted of four small chocolates neatly packaged in a box.
As well, we decided to try the Rockslide Brownie at Coffee Culture Café & Eatery, after having a light lunch first. For dessert, we shared a generous serving of the very sweet, very dense chocolate brownie, topped with caramel and pecans.
By the third day, we didn’t crave rich desserts, so we tried some chocolate tea at Tea Leaves Tea Tasting Bar, a 15-20 minute walk from downtown. Chocolate mint (black) tea smelled wonderful even before it was brewed, and the steeped tea was the pick-me-up I needed. The tea bar, run by a certified tea sommelier, boasts at least four chocolate-flavoured teas.
Our last stop was at Bradshaws, an upscale gift and kitchenware store, to pick up a plastic wine glass filled with four small samples of Brix chocolates, each one created to pair with a particular type of wine.
We brought them home, which means that our Chocolate Trail experience isn’t over yet.