I love – I mean, love – chocolate. Where are the best places to indulge?
Since I'd be satisfied with a Dairy Milk in a deck chair, I turned to a more discerning expert. Eagranie Yuh (thewelltemperedchocolatier.com) blogs and writes articles about her cocoa-based discoveries from Vancouver, where she also teaches tasting classes.
She has several recommendations for vacationing chocoholics. "Paris first opened my mind to how wonderful chocolate could be," she says nostalgically. "It was the idea you could have it for breakfast with a pain au chocolat or two that did it." She recommends taking a tasting class and guided shop tour with renowned Paris chocolatier Chloe Doutre-Roussel (chloe-chocolat.com).
You don't have to travel quite so far to indulge, though. "Portland, Ore., is a chocolate lover's dream," Yuh says. Full of independent stores stocking fine "bean-to-bar" treats from around the world, it's also home to many small operators concocting their own confections. "Sahagun Chocolates is amazing and Alma Chocolate is a favourite – their white dog whisky caramel is outstanding."
But there's one destination at the top of Yuh's tasting menu. "I recommend Belize for a look at where chocolates come from. You can stay at Belcampo Belize and – depending on the season – participate in the cacao harvest." The 12-room rain-forest hotel runs regular one-to-four-day classes uncovering the mysteries of chocolate from bean pod and beyond.
My own vacation ideas take more of an eat-until-you-drop approach. I love the gilded, old-school chocolate shops in Berlin and Vienna – and not just for the free samples. In Zurich, I've giddily weaved between Merkur Chocolaterie and the Lindt & Sprungli stores on Bahnhofstrasse, before ducking into the co-op supermarket for bargain-priced bars and boxes. Some of these Swiss treats even made it home.
I'd also suggest adding a sweet side dish to a London trip. Take a shop-crawling Chocolate Ecstasy Tour (chocolateecstasytours.com) – complete with generous samples of hot chocolate and decadent cakes – then squeeze your Violet Beauregarde belly into a theatre seat: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opens in previews at the West End's Theatre Royal Drury Lane on May 17.
But if you only have time for one European destination, it has to be Brussels. The capital of a country so serious about its confectionery heritage it just released a postage stamp with choc-flavoured gum to lick, the historic city is a candy box of hundreds of amazing boutiques including Wittamer, Pierre Marcolini and Passion Chocolat.
Guided store tours are widely available – Rue Royale's Info Place tourist office can fill you in – but avoid the crowds by creating your own. Place du Grand Sablon is ringed with sweet boutiques and its side streets are perfect for finger-licking exploration: don't miss Alex & Alex, the champagne and chocolate bar on Rue de la Paille. And consider booking an entertaining treat-making workshop at Zaabar chocolate factory.
Wherever you go, Yuh has some tips for enhancing your tasting experience.
"Use all your senses, just as you would for a wine tasting. Look at the chocolate, which can have subtle colours besides brown. Smell it for clues to how it will taste. Then snap it to see if it's been tempered properly. Finally, taste and note the texture and finish. Take your time and let the chocolate melt slowly and reveal itself."
Or, like me, you can just keep gorging until your belt buckle explodes.
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