I’m a huge fan of fine wines, always delighted to visit wine resorts, vineyards and wine festivals around the world. I’m an equally huge fan of fine artisanal chocolate which got me thinking about chocolate travel. There have already been a number of books written about wine travel but, to date, no one has published a book about exploring the world in search of the best chocolate experiences. That is how I came up with the idea for researching and writing Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate.
My journey subconsciously began in January 2009 when I visited a cocoa and coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic as part of a warm weather getaway. Later that year, the idea for the book took shape, and I was off to Europe where the fine art of chocolate making is truly appreciated. I visited Belgium, France, and Switzerland on my first official research tour. In 2010, I visited Holland, Italy, and Spain. And in 2011, I visited England. Why include the United Kingdom in a book about the finest chocolate of Europe? Because the Brits have undergone a chocolate revolution in the past 10 years, and there are now fantastic chocolatiers and chocolate makers in England, Scotland, and Ireland.
A cocoa pod has a rough, leathery rind, filled with soft pulp enclosing 30 to 50 large seeds.
Harvesting cocoa in Peru is a family affair.
This book would not be complete without looking at where and how cocoa, the source of chocolate, is grown so I visited three cocoa-growing countries, stayed on the cocoa plantations, and participated in the harvest. In 2012, I visited Peru, Ecuador, and St. Lucia and learned how each country faces its own challenges in the growing of cocoa.
I released the first volume of Chocolatour on July 1, 2013. First volume you ask? Yes, Chocolatour has morphed into a mega project, now to be a series of three volumes, with the first volume offering profiles of chocolatiers and chocolate makers from Europe and the UK, the second volume (planned for release in 2016 ) focusing on the Americas and the Caribbean, and the third volume (planned for release in 2018) to focus on the best of Asia, Africa, Australia/New Zealand, India, and the Middle East. I will then have created a Chocolatour of the World!
Roselen Chocolates of Lima, Peru are both vividly decorative and delicious.
Everyone asks me, “So what is the best chocolate?” There is, of course, no definitive answer, just as there is no “best wine”. But my research has proven that our individual palates prefer certain kinds of wine and certain kinds of chocolate, and that is influenced by who we are enjoying it with, what else we may have eaten that particular day, and what mood we are in.
Excellent chocolate can be found in each of the countries I have profiled below, whether your preference runs to creamy milk chocolate, intensely dark chocolate, or chocolates filled or flavored with various enhancements. By educating yourself about chocolate and keeping an open mind, you can learn to appreciate the different flavor nuances found in chocolate made from beans from a variety of growing regions, and created using distinct chocolate-making techniques found in different countries of the world.
Belgium and Switzerland are leagues ahead when it comes to having a travel infrastructure built around chocolate. Swiss chocolate and Belgian chocolate have developed reputations for being the silkiest, creamiest, and most desirable chocolate of the world. So let’s begin our travels there.
The Grand Place of Brussels is a shopper’s delight with all sorts of cafes, restaurants, bars, boutiques, and chocolate shops for every taste. Start at La Maison des Maîtres Chocolatiers Belges (located in the Grand Place) where you’ll find samples from some of Belgium’s finest chocolatiers. Belgium is said to have more high-end chocolateries per square mile/kilometer than any other place on the planet. Whether you like your chocolate silky smooth in the Belgian tradition, or you’re looking for a less sweet form of indulgence, there is top quality chocolate at virtually every turn in the Belgian capital of Brussels and in Bruges, its smaller city cousin. More on chocolate in Belgium: Belgium Chocolate Tours.
La Maison Chocolatiers in Brussels’s Grand Place is a terrific venue to sample creations of 10 of Belgium’s chocolatiers.
Switzerland also has a very strong chocolate industry and plenty of diversions to please the discerning chocolate lover. Explore Zurich and its abundance of chic chocolate shops. Confiserie Sprüngli was definitely my favorite, with its colorful displays and broad selection of truffles and chocolate treats. You can take the “Swiss Chocolate Train” from Montreux on the Swiss Riviera to Broc to tour the Cailler-Nestlé chocolate factory. It’s a beautiful ride and offers first class comfort along the way. More on the Swiss Chocolate Train: www.myswitzerland.com/en/swiss-chocolate-train.html.
Zurich’s Merkur Chocolaterie is a fine place to shop for chocolate made in the Swiss tradition.
The French boast that they make the best chocolate in the world. That may be disputable, although France certainly makes some of the best and joins Belgium and Switzerland in having an abundance of top quality chocolate shops to please the most discerning chocolate lover. You’ll find more than 300 chocolateries listed in the Parisian phonebook! Salon du Chocolat, the world’s largest consumer chocolate show, is held in conjunction with the World Chocolate Masters Championships held in Paris every second year. The next one will be in October 2015 (dates not yet released.) You can also take chocolate walking tours in the French capital and taste your way around the City of Lights while learning some interesting chocolate history. More on Paris’s chocolate tours: www.chocoparis.com/chocolate-walks.
The Salon du Chocolat in Paris includes haute couture adorned with the finest chocolate.
France, Belgium, and Switzerland are destinations for those who are looking for a traditional chocolate getaway. However, to be blown away by what’s new and exciting in the world of artisanal chocolate, there’s no better place than London, England. The UK was hit with a “Chocolate Revolution” about 10 years ago, when dozens of high-end chocolatiers began producing what I consider to be the world’s most amazing chocolate. I spent a week tasting my way around the chocolate shops of London and all I can say is … WOW! The Brits really take their chocolate seriously, and the new world of British chocolate is no longer the overly sweet product our grandmothers loved. It is pure, fresh-made chocolate with no chemicals or preservatives and only the freshest of ingredients. But don’t take my word for it … celebrate Chocolate Week in London, held each October. You’ll see a side of the British capital you’ve never experienced before, and you’ll meet fellow chocolate lovers in search of the holy grail of chocolate. More on Chocolate Week: www.chocolateweek.co.uk.
William Curley of London, England is known for his spectacular desserts like chocolate & sea salt caramel tart and tropical entremet.
5. St. Lucia
Stepping away from Europe, I now reveal the crème-de-la-crème of chocolate experiences. St. Lucia is a Caribbean destination loved for its natural beauty. But did you know that it is also the leading destination for exotic chocolate holidays? Here is just one of St. Lucia resorts catering to the chocolate lover, some even having their own cocoa plantations. Hotel Chocolat Boucan is literally just that – a small hotel run by a British chocolatier of the same name. It makes amazing chocolate from beans grown on their own cocoa estate. They also serve the ultimate food for the chocolate lover: “Cocoa Cuisine,” a full line of culinary masterpieces built around the pleasures of cocoa. Hotel Chocolat has 14 exquisite lodges to host you during your stay, and for a rather decadent experience, try one of the “Cocoa Juvenate” spa treatments. More information at: Hotel Chocolat.
The Gazpacho soup at St. Lucia’s Hotel Chocolat Boucan is a favorite on the year-round Cocoa Cuisine menu.
A Great Gift for the Chocolate Traveler! Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate is the ultimate book for the traveler who loves handcrafted chocolate. The book profiles the finest chocolatiers and chocolate makers, a listing of chocolate events and attractions around the world as well as a chapter on the health benefits of chocolate, recipes and pairings, and an A-Z Global Guide for Chocolate Lovers.
You can find the book on Amazon, at selected book and chocolate shops or order it via the author’s website: http://chocolatour.net. The book has 176 pages and 61 color photographs, and is available to be sent anywhere in the world. The ISBN for the printed book is 978-0-9918901-0-1.
Specializing in culinary travel, Doreen Pendgracs has been a freelance writer for 27 years. A lifelong volunteer, she published in 2010 a book for volunteers of non-profit associations titled Before You Say Yes … A Guide to the Pleasures and Pitfalls of Volunteer Boards. Doreen is also co-author of the bestselling Manitoba Book of Everything and the first edition of Frommer’s Newfoundland and Labrador. Chocolatour is her fourth book and the first title published by Wizard of Words Productions. Website: http://chocolatour.net.