We are up early, after a quick stop at a local bakery for croissants, oj and coffee we are back on the road. In under an hour we arrive in Stratford, Ontario; you probably think of Stratford as the home of the Shakespeare Festival, which, of course, it is, but this lovely little town has more to offer than just theatre. The townsite and river are named after Stratford-upon-Avon in England. The Grand Trunk railway arrived in 1856 with the Buffalo and Lake Huron Line, in the 19th century it had become a Canadian railway hub and a center of furniture manufacturing. The architecture is distinctly Victorian, gorgeous brick buildings line the streets, gardens are found throughout the city, it is an arts, culture and culinary hub. Unfortunately it has started to rain, but that will not deter us from enjoying our visit.
The length of the river through town has been designed as a park, complete with walking trails and benches; fountains spout sprays of water skyward, lovely homes rest along the opposite bank of the river. We begin our walk along the shore, mature trees shelter us from the heavy rain that has begun to fall, a lone pontoon braves the weather. Walking on, swans have come ashore, there are several adults and multiple youngsters. Mallards are everywhere, a park employee has arrived on the scene to feed the ducks, she tosses handfuls of food into the surrounding grass, it is a lunchtime free-for-all. Out in the water a trio of empty gondolas wait patiently for the weather to improve. Looking out, the grounds are lush in varying shades of green, every so often we come upon a bridge spanning the river; made of wood, concrete or brick, each is distinct and special in design. In the distance the turret of a castle-like building peeks over the tree tops, the weather cannot make up its mind if it wants to rain or get sunny.
After walking both sides of the river we make our way downtown to Ontario street, lunchtime has arrived and Pazzo Taverna looks inviting. The cellar of the restaurant serves pizza and pasta, perfect! It feels good to be out of the rain, the contemporary interior feels cozy. Deciding on a pizza and antipasti plate, we sit back and relax as we wait for lunch to arrive. First out is a fabulous focaccia bread served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, it is hard not to eat it all. Next to arrive is the antipasti plate, a marvelous assortment of thin-sliced meats, olives, cheeses and roasted red peppers, everything is delicious. The thin crust pizza is excellent…..we finish absolutely everything! This can only mean one thing…..we need to do more walking.
Outside we are happy to see the rain has stopped, we can put our umbrellas away. The buildings of downtown Stratford have remained in-tact, they are filled with galleries, cafes, home goods and clothing stores and specialty businesses. There is at least one bank on every block–handy if you need to exchange money. Inside a doorway a sputnik light fixture catches our eye, turns out it is a coffee shop; funky decor, fresh baked goods and iced coffee, it’s our kind of place. After browsing the shops we walk the opposite way along the river to the Shakespeare Garden, pathways lead us beside a fragrant Rose garden. Designed by landscape architect H B Dunnington Grubb, the garden opened in 1936; at that time it was filled with plants mentioned in Shakespear’s plays. Today manicured hedges surround beds of annuals, a wonderful mix of perennials give the garden a different look throughout the summer months, a bronze bust of William Shakespear was installed in 1949. The sky has turned a brilliant azure, what a difference a couple of hours makes! We re-trace some of our steps so Kris can take some photos. In surrounding neighborhoods brick Victorian homes are prevalent, many the yellow color found so often in Ontario; well manicured and decorated with lots of wood details, I encourage you to stroll along at least one residential street while you’re here.
Back in London we freshen up then head out for dinner. Wortley Village is only a few blocks away from our Inn, inhabited by independent shops and restaurants, we saw several places that looked enticing. Gusto Food and Wine Bar is open late and offers patio seating, just what we are looking for. In addition to entrees and salads the menu features a series of small plates; after reading over the selections and asking our waitress for suggestions, we place our order. The stuffed risotto balls are served with a sambuca pomodoro sauce, a fantastic dish, much larger than expected. The Flat iron steak tacos are tender and flavorful, last to make an appearance are the chips and dip; jalapeno crab dip, walnut goat cheese artichoke dip and Texas caviar (salsa) served with crostini and root vegetable chips, it is all delicious and way too much for just two people! The food and service were outstanding, definitely a place we’ll come back to.
We are staying in the “old south” historic district of London, Ontario, at Idlewyld Inn. Built in 1878 as a private residence for Charles Smith Hyman, the (wealthy) mayor of London, it has gone from a family home to luxury apartments, a nursing home, a bed and breakfast and finally a historic boutique hotel. Visiting the Inn is like going back in time, designed in Victorian style, the interior is elegant, grand, luxurious. Floral print carpets cover the floors, antique fixtures glow with soft light, ornately carved wood is deeply colored and varnished to a high shine; it covers walls and surrounds the fireplace in the parlor. Ceilings are high, period furniture fills the public areas. The original dining room as been turned into a sophisticated restaurant that is open to the public; serving locally produced meat, vegetables, fruit and herbs, their extensive wine list offers the perfect vintage to go with every dish. Idlewyld is home to 23 unique, well appointed guest rooms, we are staying on the third floor. The hotel has maintained it’s Victorian charm while at the same time offering modern conveniences such as Wi-Fi , Jacuzzi tubs and an elevator. We have had a full day, time to get some sleep.