The opportunities for sampling milk chocolate are plentiful on GoldenPass’ Chocolate Train. // © 2012 GoldenPass
Chocolate’s origins have been traced to Central and South America — however, Europe has long ruled as the world’s sweet epicenter for chocolate tourism. Much like a box of chocolate, the continent contains several countries filled with their own unique and delicious experiences.
Eating chocolates has been described as a religious experience by devotees, so it seems appropriate that a monastery has been cited as the first documented chocolate-making location in Spain, the country that first introduced the cocoa bean to Europe. Visitors to the Chocolate Museum at the Monasterio de Piedra, located in the Zaragoza province, can see where Cistercian monks first cooked chocolate in the 1500s. After tasting some sweet treats, take a stroll around the neighboring national park that offers a wealth of natural scenery, including waterfalls.
Monasterio de Piedra
Paris offers tourists nearly as many chocolate shops as historic sites. A great and convenient avenue for sampling the Parisian candy scene is through a chocolate walking tour. Paris Walks’ guided tour, for example, visits a quartet of top chocolatiers (including Gosselin, Cote de France, Michel Cluizel and Jean-Paul Herve) where people can taste the acclaimed confections along with learning about chocolate and these companies’ histories. Afterward, stop at La Maison Angelina on the Rue de Rivoli for a recuperative cup of their decadently rich hot chocolate.
The small city of Bruges, Belgium, is nearly a chocolate walking tour unto itself. Justifiably called the chocolate capital of Belgium, the city’s Old World streets contain dozens of sweet shops that can be visited on an afternoon stroll. The town’s chocolatiers cook up everything from traditional styles (pralines are a national specialty) to inventive designs such as corncob-shaped chocolates. The quaint Choco-Story museum reveals chocolate’s long history and includes a tasty chocolate-making demonstration.
Swiss chocolate fans can climb onboard the GoldenPass’ Chocolate Train that offers a day-trip excursion that departs Montreux for the Gruyere region. Milk chocolate is the Swiss claim-to-confection-fame so it makes sense that this train stops first at a Gruyere cheese dairy before reaching the historic Cailler-Nestle chocolate factory for a tour and a tasting. The train returns to Montreux in time for dinner or a stop at famed local sweet shop Zurcher.
Franz Sacher might be the most famous name in Austrian chocolate history for inventing the Sacher-torte in 1832. However, Josef Zotter is leading the country into the 21st century with his innovative chocolate company, Zotter. The company’s organic, free trade chocolates come in wildly imaginative styles and flavors (a pineapple and celeriac chocolate bar is a recent addition). Thankfully, this real world Wonka doesn’t make fans find golden tickets to visit his factory. At Zotter’s Chocolate Theatre, guests can see how the creations go from bean to bar while enjoying fun attractions as drinking chocolate delivered on the world’s smallest cable car or exploring the “edible zoo.”
Ritter Sport, famous for its square chocolate bar, welcomes visitors to its own, special factory tour experience at its headquarters outside of Stuttgart. The company’s Choco Exhibition lets visitors learn all about chocolate’s history and how Ritter Sport chocolates are created, while the Choco Workshop affords a very special opportunity for kids to create their own chocolate in this hour-long class. Follow up this scrumptious chocolate factory visit by stopping in at the neighboring Museum Ritter, which is home to a beautiful collection of modern art.
Cadbury World transports the chocolate factory tour into the amusement park realm. Located near the company’s hometown of Birmingham, this confectionary fan’s wonderland provides a fun, informative and tasty experience for the whole family. Built around 14 “zones,” it uses interactive displays, staff demonstration, video presentations and other experiences to tell the history of chocolate and Cadbury’s own significant story as a candy-making giant.