Anybody who lives in this (eastern Great Lakes) neck of the woods has probably heard of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. It's hard to miss the aggressive advertising (Canada wants your tourist dollars!), and the hokeyness of the fact that the town really is named Stratford, and really is on the Avon river. (Lots of places in Canada are like that, actually; named for the old country by homesick immigrants.) Although the quality of the theatre productions is excellent -- or so I've been told; I've never seen one -- Stratford in summer is a tourist trap of the highest order. Where else could a simple diner-class restaurant call itself "The Elizabethan" and serve spaghetti with meat sauce and salad (on the same plate!) as the lunch special and be loved by budget-minded theatre-goers?
Stratford in summer is definitely avoidable. The theater season lasts from late April to late October. The streets are crowded, hotel rooms cost big bucks, parking is hard to come by. And then there's January! In January, Stratford is a pretty, snow covered small town. Hotel rooms are half price, even the premium ones like in Bentley's Annex. Not every interesting little shop is open, but the ones that are are nearly deserted. You can hold a conversation with the proprietor, if you like. The posh, expensive restaurants shut down for the winter, but there are wonderful options like Bentley's proper, or Fellini's, or York Street Kitchen. Roger and I have been going there for at least a long weekend every January since the winter of 1999. And we leave tomorrow!!