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Startford Chocolate Trail

Weekends often leave one wondering what could be done. A classic Canadian way is to explore one of the country’s many little towns on a Saturday or a Sunday. One such gem located at a 1 hour 50 minutes drive from Toronto, is Stratford: one of those quaint towns where it's locals live their life around friendly neighbourhood hellos and sweet smiles that make you feel at home! We experienced just that when we decided to spend the Saturday before Thanksgiving at this tiny town.

Stratford is bathed rich with festivals and events all through the year, ranging from theatre plays, kayaking/canoeing upon the steady stream of River Avon, trips around the Bieber trail (yes, this little town is the home of Justin Bieber!) and so much more. One of them is the deliciously titled Chocolate Trail! We for one believe religiously in the concept and found that it is perhaps the best way to see Stratford. At a cost of 30 CAD + taxes, it offers you 6 passes and a guide-map of all the gems on its list - from designer candies to the more sensually-naughty Sinvention. The passes entitle you to sample decadent treats at places of your choosing. At other spots, you still meet the makers who craft these indulgences and, for a nominal charge, buy their goodies if you’d like. The best part? This mouth-watering trail-walking burnt enough calories to not make us feel guilty of all the sweet indulgences.

Here is a route that we highly recommend! Now keep in mind that we had a total of 12 tickets since there were two of us.

Our first stop itself disrupted our chosen list of stores, but boy was it worth the disruption! Rheo Thompsons Candies seems to be the crown jewel of Stratford chocolatiers. It left our eyes glittering by its magnificence. With over 40 years in the business, this celebrity store serves over a 100 varieties of handmade chocolates, hard candies, specialty nuts, nutty pop, and so much more. We got to pick 4 pieces with each pass. After an ensuing lip-curling mental battle, we walked away with Mint smoothie, Marshmallow, Rose Petals, and Pecan.

Next up was the Boar’s Head Pub. Serving for over a 150 years, this Queen’s Inn is a good lunch spot, and they serve a mean plate of Battered Button Mushrooms! Follow this up with their chocolate trail freebie, a flourless chocolate brownie, served warm with fresh fudge sauce, berries and French Vanilla ice cream, all melting away in your mouth. Yumm!

Store number 3 on our list was Treasures. Co-owned by two best friends, this store has been in the works for over 12 years! Showing support to art, Treasures sells artifacts inspired by the fine craftsmanship of the area’s Amish, Mennonite and artisan communities, as well as the abundance of other local talents. Our gift was their creamed cocoa honey jar. Spread it on toast, or add it to milk. If that pairing sounds fun, Bradshaws, our next stop, quicklythrew in a match. While we had heard of wine and cheese tastings, wine and chocolate tastings was a new one for us. Curious what this would be like, we hurried to our destination. We were a little disappointed at the offset as we realized that they don’t literally offer a tasting session since it is primarily a gift store. However, their offering to each pass holder is a stylish Govino wine tumbler with three types of chocolates inside it - milk, medium dark and extra dark. The wrappers of these chocolates have notes on it detailing which wine you can pair it with, helping you create your own chocolate and wine pairing sessions at home.

Across the road, there are a few other options. But one worthy of your next pass would actually offer a pleasant little break from the chocolates. It was time for olive oil tasting! Olive Your Favorites is another unique concept that is a part of the chocolate trail. Run by a very sweet lady, Michelle, and her husband, Olive Your Favourites is Stratford’s first Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Tasting Bar featuring award-winning fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oils from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres as well as a variety of Flavoured Dark and White Balsamic Vinegars from Modena, Italy.While the store’s original offer for the trail pass holders is a 60ml Aged Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar bottle, Michelle was kind enough to let us substitute it with any other one of our choice! After a whole lot of sampling, we decided to take the Basil Olive oil and Cranberry Pear bottles. Little did we know that Michelle had a surprise for us. It was only back at home when we opened our bag that we saw what Michelle had left as a gift in it - Key Lime and Baklouti Green Chile Pepper. These were, after all, the sample we had pondered long and hard over! Thank you, Michelle. With a small gesture, you won the top prize in our hearts!

It was now tea time on Mr & Mrs. Fly’s watch! Distinctly Tea was our next destination. This store offered a large selection of Green, Oolong, Black, Pu- Erh, White, Yerba Mate, Rooibos, Fruit, Herbal, and single Herbs teas. Pass holders receive a 50-gram bag of one of their chocolate teas. Choose from a Rooibos tea, Yerba Mate tea or Black tea. A delectable alternative for dessert!

And finally, the dessert!  “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ICE CREAM.” We didn’t, really, but Jenn & Larry's Brittle & Shakes, nestled along Stratford's scenic Avon River beckons you with its little pink Papa bear, Mama Bear and Baby bear patio seatings. Owned by the father-daughter team of Larry and Jenn, this ice cream and candy shoppe offers Jenny’s handmade Peanut Brittle, and Larry’s hand-spun, frozen custard milkshake. For those with a trail pass, be sure to stop by and try a cup of their soft-serve vanilla ice cream sundae smothered in rich hot chocolate fudge and topped with Milk Chocolate Peanut Brittle. But do leave some room for the neighbouring store too! 

Kandy Cakes fashions designer cupcakes on its shelves. In the modest selection is a divine Lavender cupcake. Try it. True to it’s name, it actually feels like munching on spongy lavender!

The Chocolate trail includes many other shops, including three in the neighbouring towns of Shakespeare and St. Mary’s. We recommend visiting the latter, not for more chocolates but a little walk of its own that leads to the Sarnia Bridge. This is where we concluded our long day of sugar overload, in a quiet lost-in-time trail that led us to the quietest moment I can recall. As you stand on the bridge, the river far below meanders away - so slowly that it almost looks to be standing still. At a distance, on one of its banks is a lush green sloping landscape with cows grazing away in peace. On the opposite hilly bank, houses stand nestled in thick tree cover.

Let the moments pass in quietude. And just look on. In that moment, in this little town not so far away from the buzzing Toronto, you’ll realize you could be anywhere - from Scottish highlands to Swiss slopes. That’s how we concluded the day, unearthing St. Mary’s as that vacation spot to go to when one can’t find time for a vacation. 

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We are Pooja and Malay Upadhyay. We discover pleasures in little things often missed while living out fast-paced lives.

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