Vacations are meant to be a time for indulgence, you’ve heard of adventure travel and wine tours, well, why not chocolate tourism? Lovers of chocolate can’t miss with these fabulously decadent destinations.
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Brussels is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth. The capital and largest city of Belgium has also been called the “Chocolate Capital of the World.” It’s filled with chocolate shops – in fact, there are more chocolatiers here per square foot than in any other city across the globe. Brussels is also home to two of the biggest chocolate companies on the planet, Godiva and Leonidas. Some of the favorites include Passion Chocolat, Jean Galler, Wittamer and Pierre Marcolini, though you’ll find many lesser-known but just-as-good independent chocolate masters too. While you’re here, you won’t want to miss the Musee du Cocao et du Chocolate (Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate) where you can learn about the history of this delectable sweet and how it’s made. Mary, founded in 1919, is another not-to-be-missed spot as the grande dame of Belgian chocolate. This shop has been a favorite of the Belgian Royal Family since 1942, set just a short walk away from the palace.
When it comes to chocolate, France also knows how to do it right. As one of the world’s gourmet capitals, it’s probably no surprise that there are more than 300 chocolate shops listed in the Parisian phonebook, including everything from charming independent boutiques to renowned chains and awarded artisan chocolatiers who’ve been recognized around the world for innovation and excellence. Dark chocolate is the specialty here, with the French capital hosting a new breed of chocolatiers noted for making miracles from cocoa beans using high-quality ingredients and original recipes. The world’s largest consumer chocolate show, held in conjunction with the World Chocolate Master Championships, takes place here every second year. The next one is scheduled for October 2015. Walking tours also offer the chance to taste your way around the city while learning about the history of chocolate too.
Bariloche, a city in the province of Rio Negro in the foothills of the Andes on the southern shores of Nahuel Huapi Lake, draws travelers not only with its breathtaking scenery and Swiss-like atmosphere, but as a hub for artisanal ice cream, and increasingly, for its chocolate. The artisanal food and desert trend started here nearly a half-century ago when some of the locals realized they had access to an almost infinite variety of foods that weren’t yet reflected in the area’s gastronomy. Today, from regular chocolate bars to all types of fruit-stuffed chocolate, it’s a true paradise for any cocoa connoisseur. Just take a stroll through Calle Mitre, and discover an abundance of chocolate shops and factories where the sweet treat can be purchased for a fair price and most shopkeepers will be happy to answer any questions you have about the wonderful goods they’re selling.
Tuscany, Italy, The Chocolate Valley
Tuscany is well-known for its picturesque vineyards and fine wine, but what many don’t realize, is that this beautiful area is also home to what’s known as The Chocolate Valley, a triangle formed between Florence, Pisa and Montecatini. This picturesque countryside of rolling hills is dotted with many fantastic gourmet shops and small factories dedicated to chocolate. If you’d like a taste in Florence, be sure to visit Vestri for some of the finest chocolate on earth. There is almost always a wait – but it’s well worth your time. If you can’t decide what to get, go with the dark chocolate and Sicilian orange gelato. Other legendary chocolatiers include Slitti, located in the spa resort of Monsummano Terme and Amedei in the tiny hamlet of Cascina. If you happen to visit Florence, don’t miss the annual handmade chocolate fair where you’ll be intoxicated by the smell of chocolate and enjoy taking a trip around the world to the taste of cocoa.
The Spanish were the very first Europeans to experience chocolate that was brought back from South America, and Barcelona has been a popular place for chocolate lovers ever since. The city takes pride in the fact that the first chocolate making machine was built here back in 1780. It’s also home to Museu De La Xocolata, a chocolate museum where you’ll learn all about cocoa, see some incredible chocolate sculptures and even take part in all sorts of activities, including chocolate tastings and painting with chocolate.
Cologne is Germany’s capital and home to the Stollwerck Chocolate Company, once the second-largest supplier of chocolate to America, while the Imhoff Stollwerck Museum, known locally as simply “the chocolate museum,” was the result of a lifelong dream of Hans Imhoff. He spent nearly his entire life working with chocolate, opening the museum in 1993. It celebrates the history of chocolate around the world, featuring a giant chocolate fountain, interactive exhibits and samples. Although Hans died in 2007, his wife Gerburg continues to run the museum. Here you’ll find out anything and everything you ever wanted to know about chocolate.
Original called Derry Church, Hershey was renamed in 1906 due to the popularity of Hershey chocolate. Today, it’s also known as the “Sweetest Place on Earth.” The Hershey Company and the H.B. Reese Candy Company are both found here. In this chocolate heaven, visitors can taste Hershey’s chocolate at Hershey’s Chocolate World, visit the Hershey Story Museum and stay at Hotel Hershey, the official resort of Hersheypark, featuring a chocolate spa where guests can enjoy a luxurious whipped cocoa bath, get chocolate bean polish or order up a chocolate fondue wrap.
If you’re into milk chocolate, there’s no better place to go than Zurich, the capital of the nation where it was first created. In a country where there is more chocolate consumed than anywhere else around the globe, Zurich is the heart of chocolate production, and Lindt, Teuscher and Sprungli all have factories and stores here. One of the main attractions in Zurich is the Lindt & Sprungli chocolate factory which offers a museum chronicling the company’s history, an entertaining tour and lots of free chocolate tasting. If you want to try something really unique, take a ride on the Swiss Chocolate Train which departs from Montreaux, making a stop in Gruyeres where Gruyere cheese is made, ultimately arriving in Broc where you’ll get a tour of the Cailler-Nestle factory. Another fabulous adventure can be had on the Bahnhofstrasse, the most expensive street in Zurich, where next to Chanel, Armani and Louis Vuitton, you’ll find some of the best makers of chocolate in the world. Teuscher, an old-fashioned chocolate shop offers more than a hundred different specialties – all made according to traditional, chemical-free recipes. The Champagne Truffles are legendary, made with Don Perignon champagne, buttercream and dark ganache.
New York City, New York
In New York City you can sample chocolates from all corners of the world, with chocolatiers here a very diverse group, coming from many different countries and bringing their best recipes for chocolate with them. One of the best ways to sample the incredible variety is to take a chocolate-focused tour like the Luxury Chocolate Tour or a Chocolate, Dessert & Wine Tour with City Food Tours. The tours include delectable chocolates from some of the finest shops in the city and offer the chance to learn about the history of the establishments you visit. You’ll find the best of the best at Jacques Torres Chocolate, including pain au chocolat (chocolate pastry), while La Maison du Chocolat, one of the city’s premier Parisian chocolatiers, is known for taking chocolate to a luxury commodity.
Villajoyosa, sometimes referred to as “Chocolate City,” with the smell of chocolate permeating the small town, is one of the most historic chocolate destinations, getting its start importing cocoa beans from Venezuela and Ecuador in the 18th century. It’s home to one of the oldest and most prestigious chocolate factories in all of Spain, Valor Chocolate, master chocolatiers since 1881. The factory is housed in a charming 19th-century country estate known as a “finca,” and has always been family-run. Valor also invites visitors into their onsite museum, for free, and offers a tour of the premises where you can learn all about the art of chocolate making. Be sure to try their chocolate with churros, an amazing local specialty.
Chocolate is deeply woven into Oaxaca’s history and culture. The ancient Mesoamericans in the region were the world’s very first chocolatiers, cultivating chocolate as far back as 1100 BC, and Mexico has continued to produce it ever since. In Oaxaca, residents have truly embraced chocolate as a part of the culture and visitors will find they can’t walk down a street without being offered it in some form, whether it’s a hot beverage, pastry or candy. Mina Street may be the world’s very best “sweet street,” home to Mayordomo, Guelaguetza and La Soledad, where you’ll have the chance to watch traditional chocolate making and learn how it’s incorporated into desserts and many other aspects of the culinary experience. You’ll find much of the city’s chocolate is made using old family recipes handed down through generations, ground by hand or using an electric grinder and mixed by hand.
You might be surprised to find that this popular Caribbean island, renowned for its beautiful beaches and warm, azure waters is also one of the leading destinations for an exotic chocolate holiday. There are a number of resorts that cater to chocolate enthusiasts, and some even have their own cocoa plantations. At Hotel Chocolat Boucan, a small establishment run by an English chocolatier makes delectable chocolate from beans that are grown on its cocoa estate. The hotel also serves “cacao cuisine,” a full line of amazing dishes built around the enjoyment of cocoa. Guests can also indulge in special “Cocoa Juvenate” spa treatments.
In the world of artisanal chocolate, London may be the most exciting place on earth. A veritable “chocolate revolution” hit England a few years ago when dozens of high-end chocolatiers began producing what many consider to be the world’s very best chocolate. The city prides itself on some of the most exquisite chocolate boutiques, including Paul A Young, Rococo and Hotel Chocolat, which dominate London’s elaborate chocolate scene. Today’s chocolatiers are no longer producing the formerly super sweet products, instead, they forgo preservatives and chemicals, using only the finest, often local, ingredients, like goat’s cheese and caramelized rose petals. As they’re often made right in the shops, like Paul A Young’s in Camden Passage, the smell that wafts through the streets is almost intoxicating.
Costa Rica offers another fantastic tropical destination for chocolate lovers. The chocolate bean, harvested from the cocoa tree, has long been a tradition here. During pre-Columbian times, the beans were used by indigenous tribes and were one of the main crops until the advent of coffee and tobacco in the late 1700s. Most of Costa Rica’s cocoa comes from the Caribbean lowlands, providing perfect climatic conditions with plenty of rain. As cocoa requires shade to grow, it’s also prevented deforestation and conserved a lot of the country’s wild life, which finds shelter in the plantations. Many of the plantations offer tours, and through Cacao Trails in Limon, visitors can take an interactive chocolate tour and learn about the local cacao history.
South African chocolate is similar to Swiss chocolate, using many of the same traditions. Lindt, the renowned Switzerland chocolate company, has an official Chocolate Studio in Johannesburg and Cape Town, while Nestle and Cadbury also have factories in Cape Town. The eastern half of the nation accounts for the majority of the country’s chocolate production. South Africa stands at the forefront of conventional milk chocolate and has become increasingly dedicated to creating sugar-free and lactose-free options, which can be found at Johannesburg’s ChocoTree.
San Francisco, California
The City by the Bay is renowned for its food scene, but it’s also a notable producer of some of the best chocolate in the world as well as home to one of the oldest chocolate factories in the U.S., Ghirardelli. Ghirardelli was founded back in the Gold Rush days by Domenico Ghirardelli and has become a famous symbol of the city, nearly as much as the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable car. Recchiuti, a confection company that takes pride in using the finest ingredients, such as the freshest lavender available, to create memorable chocolates, is also based here. Don’t miss Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates’ incredibly delicious drinking chocolate or Tartine Bakers chocolate éclair.