Experiential travel is the name of the game these days, and what better way to experience a destination than to eat your way through it? At least that’s the rationale behind a new trend in choco-tourism. Yes, people are travelling to countries and experiencing (and indulging in) their chocolate traditions.
“It’s estimated that 7.2-million metric tonnes of chocolate are consumed a year,” says Jeff Element, president of The Travel Corporation Canada in Toronto. “Canadians are ninth on the list of top chocolate eaters, consuming 6.4 kilograms of chocolate per person. That’s the equivalent of eating 160 chocolate bars per year.”
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Though it may sound unusual — and to some, even unhealthy — Element points out that a chocolate tour is no different than taking a wine tour.
“It’s something we certainly indulge in — every country has their own take on chocolate and it has a big part in visits — but people don’t drink wine all day long on a wine tour.”
If you’re still debating what to do with your summer holidays, let these five of the world’s top chocolate destinations offer you some sweet persuasion.
Or maybe it should be called Sweet-zerland?
Element says the tranquil mountainous region is the ne plus ultra of chocolate destinations and is considered among the finest chocolate producers in the world.
There are a number of manor houses that hold chocolate-making facilities where visitors can watch the production, as well as learn about the history of the product. Often, these locations also have cows on their properties who provide the milk for the chocolate.
Of course, visitors can also head to the testing room to try out the product before committing to any purchases in the gift shop.
“People don’t know this, but Bariloche is called the ‘Switzerland of Argentina,'” Element says.
The reason for this is that its landscape and climate is very similar to Switzerland, which also allows the region to grow cacao beans and achieve the same high quality of product normally attributed to the European country.
Visitors should hit up the Avenue of Chocolate Dreams, which Element says is like “the Champs Elysees of chocolate.” The street is lined with museums that house Aztec and Mayan artifacts and history, and is peppered with chocolate shops.
“Mamuschka is the highest quality chocolate they make and people spend a little bit extra to get some,” he says.
We most often associate Costa Rica with another indulgence — coffee — but in fact, chocolate plays an even richer part in their culture.
“In some areas, they used the cacao bean as currency up until the 1930s,” Element says.
Before coffee took over, Costa Ricans drank a version of hot chocolate as a daily pick-me-up.
Most people associate fine chocolate with a number of European destinations, including Italy. But as Element points out, it isn’t always about a bar of chocolate or individually wrapped truffles.
“In Turin, chocolate culture is about liquid chocolate,” he says. “They came up with their own version of the drink in the 1700s. It’s a mixture of espresso, drinking chocolate and whole milk that they mix all together.”
It remains the region’s trademark drink and holds all the lore you could expect from a 300-year-old beverage whose recipe is passed on from generation to generation.
“It’s all part of the experience in Turin: sitting outside in the crisp morning air and sipping on a hot chocolate/espresso to start your day.”
For the Austrians, the best delivery method for chocolate is through cake. The Sachertorte, a chocolate cake with apricot jam filling and a dollop of whipped cream is the country’s ultimate homage to chocolate. And its history is as rich as its ingredients.
Developed in the 1800s by a 16-year-old who was a junior chef for the royal family, it made its way to a hotel menu where it became famous and other chefs started making their own versions. Soon, it turned into a competition for who created the most authentic Sachertorte.
“It just goes to show how seriously people take their chocolate in Vienna.”