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Roadtrip! Destination: Stratford, Ontario

| Saturday, May 12, 2012, 3:54 p.m.
Costume Warehouse Tour
Ontario Tourism
Costume Warehouse Tour Ontario Tourism
Choco-holics can pass the time between shows by following a self-guided tour of Stratford's chocolate delights.
Stratford Tourism Alliance
Choco-holics can pass the time between shows by following a self-guided tour of Stratford's chocolate delights. Stratford Tourism Alliance
Festival Theatre from across the Avon Rive.
Andy Foster
Festival Theatre from across the Avon Rive. Andy Foster
Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.
Richard Bain
Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario. Richard Bain

Think of Stratford, Ontario, as summer camp for adult theater lovers -- minus the mosquitos, leaky tents and early-morning wake-up calls.

The big draw, of course, is the Stratford Shakespeare Festival that offers 14 productions in revolving repertory on its five stages. In addition, the festival offers a rich variety of programs, events, exhibits, tours and learning experiences, some of which are geared to families with children.

The town that surrounds the festival supports the desire to linger with a diverse selection of restaurants -- from a branch of the Canadian coffee shop chain Tim Hortons that's known for its doughnuts to elegant restaurants that feature French, Indian, Italian and British cuisine, with many that remain open for post-show dining.

Shoppers will find enough variety to browse during the morning and between shows.

One warning: Stratford is not an impulse destination.

Even with five stages and abundant choices for accommodations, it's best to buy tickets and book a room before arriving.

Fortunately, those arrangements can be made by connecting to either the festival's website -- www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com , or that of the Stratford Tourism Alliance at www.visitstratford.ca

Stratford Shakespeare Festival

The festival is almost certainly the best place in North America to immerse yourself in top-quality theater.

The season runs from April through October.

When in full bloom, it's possible to see as many as six shows during a three-day weekend.

The company has earned a reputation for its big, lavishly produced classics such as Sophocles' "Elektra" and Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," and more contemporary works -- "MacHomer" an adaptation of "Macbeth" enacted by characters from "The Simpsons."

Details: 800-567-1600 or www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com

Sleep over

There's lots of places to stay, from traditional, full-service hotels such as Arden Park Hotel and the Queen's Inn to more than 70 bed-and-breakfasts, many of which have been adapted from homes that are at least a century old.

Lodging also is available in the nearby countryside, a treat for those who enjoy quiet at night and bird song in the morning.

However, parking in Stratford can become scarce on weekends, and hunting for a space in an unfamiliar town can be frustrating. Those who stay in town can leave their cars in the hotel lot, as most everything you'll want to do is within walking distance.

It's also best to book accommodations before buying tickets, as lodging fills up fast.

If you're having difficulty finding a place or sorting through the options, try the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Accommodation Bureau at 800-567-1600 or www.stratfordaccommodations.com

Beyond the stage

Festival organizers offer an abundance of lectures, lobby talks, family-friendly activities and tours themed to the season's shows.

Among the most popular are festival-theater tours that offer a look at what goes on backstage during and between shows.

Also in demand are tours of the company's costume and props warehouses that offer insight into the construction and maintenance of the swords, boots, crowns, capes and furniture you see on stage.

Tours sell out fast, so make reservations when booking your tickets.

Details: 800-567-1600 or www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com

Sweet side trip

Choco-holics can pass the time between shows by following a self-guided tour of Stratford's chocolate delights.

Purchase a $20 chocolate-trail pass at the Stratford Tourism Alliance Office, and you get access to eight of the 20 possible stops where you get a taste of treats such as chocolate-mint tea, double-chocolate biscotti or chocolate-mocha sauce.

The pass is offered year-round, and is valid for three days from date of purchase.

Details: 800-561-7926 or www.visitstratford.ca/chocolatetrail/

Musical interludes

From July 16 through Aug. 26, Stratford Summer Music treats visitors to a diverse series of concerts.

About 200 artists will perform world music, classics and jazz during 100 concerts staged in venues around the town.

Concerts are set inside historic churches and concert halls, and outside where musicians perform from a river barge on the Avon River.

Details: 519-271-2101 or www.stratfordsummermusic.ca

Shopping in Shakespeare

Travel 8 miles east of Stratford to the village of Shakespeare for a morning or afternoon of antiquing.

You can poke about in a half-dozen shops within a one-block radius that offer European, Asian and Canadian antiques and collectibles. Other shops are stocked with a selection of Mennonite and Amish quilts and jewelry, masks and other items created by local artists.

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