Stratford is one of my favorite Ontario towns. Home to one of Canada’s top theater festivals, this small community 95 miles (150 kilometers) west of Toronto is known for two things I love: great theater and great restaurants.
First, the theatre. The highly regarded Stratford Festival runs from April through October, presenting classic and contemporary plays on four stages. Then, there’s the food. This town of about 30,000 people has numerous excellent restaurants, in part because of the presence of the local Stratford Chefs School; many graduates of this professional culinary training program stay in Stratford to staff and often open first-rate restaurants.
While most of Stratford’s accommodations are right in town, during my most recent visit I discovered an alternative to these convenient but often pricey in-town lodgings: the Forest Motel and Woodland Retreat.
Set on forested grounds with a serene outdoor terrace overlooking a private lake, this friendly family-run motel feels like a cottage-country retreat. Yet the property is just a 10-minute drive from town — easy access to the theaters and restaurants.
The 19 no-frills guest rooms are comfortable with solid pine furnishings and quilt-topped beds. They’re stocked with pretty much every amenity you could want in this price range, including complimentary Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, Keurig coffeemakers, microwaves, and minifridges. There are even a few novels to read and a binder packed with detailed information about things to see and do in the area.
Besides the lake where you can swim or paddle in the motel’s canoes or kayaks, the Forest Motel has bikes and outdoor BBQs for guests’ use. Over a mile (two kilometers) of walking trails wend through the woods, and in winter, you can borrow cross-country skis or snowshoes to explore the snowy paths.
Double room rates start at CAD$159/night during the mid-May to mid-October high season and can drop to less than $100/night in the quiet winter months. Rates include a simple Continental breakfast of muffins, yogurt, juice, and coffee or tea that you can eat in the small breakfast room or outside on the lakeside patio.
The Forest Motel also has two newer suites in a separate (but nearby) building. These McCarthy House units each have two queen beds, kitchenettes, and secluded patios. You can opt to use a private saltwater hot tub for an additional fee ($40/night).
Don’t get too comfortable at your woodland retreat, though. From plays to backstage tours, museums of art and local history, chocolate adventures, pub tours, or simply strolling along the banks of the Avon River, there’s lots to do in this Ontario town. And it’s nice to know that you can retreat to your cozy room in the forest when you’ve explored — and eaten — your fill.
Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller, author of the books, Moon Handbooks: Ontario and Living Abroad in Canada. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. The Forest Motel and Woodland Retreat, in partnership with Stratford Tourism, hosted my stay for review purposes.