July 7th may be one of the happiest days of the year: it’s World Chocolate Day! That’s right, this international holiday celebrates this oh-so-delicious treat in all of its mouth-melting glory. And for good reason. The worldwide consumption of chocolate every year is estimated to be at least 7.2 million metric tons, and Canadians placed ninth overall on world chocolate consumption with an average of 6.4 kilos of chocolate devoured consumed a year.
With the summer travel season here, Canadians are reminded that vacations are meant to be a time for indulgence. You’ve heard of wine and yes, even tours visiting shooting locations from Outlander, well, why not chocolate tourism? From the rainforests of Central America to Europe’s mountain towns, the sweet-toothed team over at The Travel Corporation Canada shared their top chocolate-filled destinations with me that will leave you drooling on the plane ride over.
No talk about chocolate can begin without talking about Switzerland first. It is the home of the world’s finest chocolate after all! Channel your inner Willy Wonka and make a beeline for Maison Cailler – a real-life chocolate factory sans Oompa-Loompas. It’s one of Switzerland’s oldest and most important chocolate factories and a visit here will introduce you to the highest echelons of Swiss chocolate making. Don’t be fooled, the Maison looks more like a manor house than what might normally be associated with any sort of production line. Surrounded by lush meadows, almost 2,000 cows within a 20-mile radius still produce all the fresh milk required by the chocolate-making process. Immerse your senses in the wonderful world of chocolate by travelling on Luxury Gold’s 11-day ‘Majestic Switzerland’ journey where you’ll be able to witness the different stages of chocolate-making at the Maison. Through cameras, you can watch live as the ingredients of chocolate are processed before grabbing fists full of fresh chocolate in the final room. There can be few better ways to end a day than that.
It seems apt that Bariloche in Patagonia is known as the “Switzerland of South America”; while referring to the mountains and its resemblance to a Swiss mountain town, this is one region of Argentina that also has a notable connection to chocolate. They don’t call it Argentina’s chocolate capital for nothing. If you’re planning on making a cocoa-pilgrimage, you’ll want to visit the many chocolate museums that dot what Argentines call “The Avenue of Chocolate Dreams” (Mitre Avenue). Stroll down the avenue to find out about this region’s Mayan and Aztec roots, as well as its connection to the confectionary, seeing the production process and sampling some for yourself. Make Mamuschka one of them. Considered “the daddy of Bariloche’s chocolate scene”, this store stocks every type of chocolate imaginable, from white chocolate Baileys-filled eggs to bars of 90% cocoa dark chocolate. For the full experience, get a seat in the café located at the back and order one of the thickest hot chocolates you will ever taste. You’re welcome.
If Bariloche is the “chocolate capital of Argentina” then Montreal is the Canadian centre of all matters relating to cocoa. Whether you say chocolate or chocolat, Montreal is serious about their love for chocolate. Every February, the city hosts a chocolate trade show that attracts upwards of 12,000 participants over the course of three sweet days. They also boast some of the world’s best chocolatiers with renown French pastry chefs such as Christophe Morel and Roland Del Monte who have both chosen to practice their art in Montreal. For those looking to explore the city’s chocolate scene, head over to the Mile End area of the Plateau neighbourhood. Amidst the spiral staircases, the best bagel bakeries in the world (aka. the ‘bagel war’ between Fairmount and St-Viateur bagels) and Arcade Fire, you’ll find the city’s best chocolatiers scattered throughout. Chocolate traditionalists should head over to Chocolats Andrée and sample their chocolaty bites, handmade since 1940 – which makes it the oldest chocolate shop in the city. For the modernists and choco-adventurists, make sure to visit Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois famous for their high quality dark chocolates that have exotic flavours such as peppers and saffron.
There’s no doubt that chocolate is deeply ingrained in the cultural identity of Turin. Along with Piedmont, Turin embraced chocolate in the 17th century, at which time chocolate houses started appearing and Turin’s answer to hot chocolate was born. Bicerin is a traditional hot drink native to the town, made of espresso, drinking chocolate, and whole milk. The recipe for this delicious sweet and rich elixir has been handed down since the 1700’s. It is one of the most addictive hot chocolates (or coffee, depending on how you look at it) you’ll ever indulge in. Experience a piece of the town’s history first-hand by finding a spot in one of the local cafés to enjoy the local Biscotti and steamy Bicerin on Trafalgar’s week-long gastronomic ‘Piedmont and the Italian Lakes’ adventure while being surrounded by the picturesque Piazza San Carlo, complete with its 17th century façades, and the Church of San Lorenzo.
Looking for some chocolate indulgence? Look no further than the Hotel Sacher, home to the often-imitated-never-duplicated velvety Sachertorte. This chocolate cake boasts an apricot jam filling and is often served with a dollop of whipped cream and is considered one of the most famous desserts in all of Austria. So famous in fact that there was a spat in the early 1900’s between Hotel Sacher and competing bakery, Konditorei Demel. In what is now commonly referred to as the ‘cake war’, both establishments entered into a lengthy legal fight over whose right it was to own the label of ‘the original Sachertorte’. The decades-long fight ended in 1963 when both parties agreed that Hotel Sacher could use the phrase “The Original Sachertorte” and Demel had the right to decorate its tortes with a triangular seal reading Eduard-Sacher-Torte.
As one of the nations where chocolate has long been a part of the indigenous culture, it’s natural chocolate-lovers would want to explore this side to the gastronomy while they’re here. While cacao is cultivated on plantations in the Amazon rainforest, chocolatiers create the final product in the nation’s towns and cities. In Quito, take a visit to the popular Mariscal Foch plaza which will provide an in-depth cacao tour with three local companies—Republica del Cacao, Pacari, and Kallari—which not only grow their own cacao, but they offer never-heard-of brands for adventurous chocolate connoisseurs.
Long before coffee, Costa Ricans drank chocolate. In fact, cacao has such a long-standing history in this tropical destination that cacao beans were originally used as currency by indigenous tribes in Pre-Columbian times and continued to be a form of currency up until the 1930s. Most of the country’s cacao comes from its Caribbean coast which provides the perfect climatic conditions with plenty of rain. For those looking to feed their chocolate addiction, Contiki’s 9-day ‘Pura Vida’ adventure includes a locally guided visit to a traditional cacao plantation located inside the Tirimbina Biological Reserve – a research center and lodge near Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. To get to the plantation, you’ll be taken through a rainforest across the longest hanging bridge in the region before learning literally an A to Z of how chocolate is produced with the opportunity to be involved in the process. Of course, you’ll get to sample everything on display. Just remember, you can eat everything but the guide!
While Canada’s smallest province may be better known for its lobster, potatoes and mussels, chocolate making is becoming a serious art in PEI. The land of Anne of Green Gables produces some of Canada’s top cocoa-infused items from the potato chocolate cake to, wait for it, chocolate-covered potato chips! Anne of Green Gables Chocolates, a PEI institution is named after Canada’s favourite redhead and opened its doors in 1999. The company uses family recipes that have been passed down for generations, dating back to the time of L.M. Montgomery – author of the namesake novel. After exploring the very setting of Anne’s story at Green Gables Heritage Place in Cavendish, indulge in fresh PEI potato chips smothered in rich milk chocolate or the local sea salted toffee chocolates at the company’s two Cavendish locations at Avonlea Village (8779 Route 6) and boardwalk (9139 Route 6). What better way to channel your inner Anne or Gilbert than by bonding over chocolate?