Chocolate lovers rejoice. Ever since cacao met sugar in the 17th century, the delicious treat has been enjoyed all over the world — providing the perfect inspiration for traveling. Whether it’s served as a hot drink, a crunchy bar, or a smooth topping, chocolate can make every trip better. Check out our round-up of destinations with rich cultures and even richer chocolate.
Belgium is synonymous with chocolate. The country is home to hundreds of talented chocolatiers and more than 2,000 chocolate shops, but the capital and largest city is the Holy Grail for chocoholics. Brussels is commonly called the “Chocolate Capital of the World” because of its range of stores, cafes, tours and factories.
Truffles and pralines are the local specialties; the latter was invented by Belgians in 1912. Try them at one of the world’s two largest chocolate companies, Godiva and Leonidas, or one of the lesser-known favorites, like Wittamar, Marcolini, and Neuhaus. For those who want to get their hands chocolatey, Planete Chocolat on Rue du Lombard offers a chocolate making demonstration and workshop.
If time permits, head to the nearby medieval city, Bruges, for more tasty goodness — and be sure to enjoy a fresh Belgian waffle doused in warm chocolate and toppings as you explore.
Mexican chocolate has a unique taste all its own. Oaxaca is known for its “chocolate houses,” like Mayordomo, where the famous semi-bitter drinking chocolate is made using only sugar, cinnamon, roasted cacao beans, almonds and hot milk. It’s a serious upgrade from powdered hot chocolate packages. If you’re daring, try yours infused with chilies.
Mexico is also a great place to try mole sauce, the savory topping made with a hint of bitter chocolate.You can inhale the delightful aroma of fresh cacao among factories, plantations, and haciendas, or small farms, in the rainforests of Tabasco. The Festival del Chocolate in November makes for a great time to visit.
As the birthplace of milk chocolate, it’s no surprise that Switzerland consumes the most pounds of chocolate per capita each year. On average, each person has nearly 20 pounds. Capital Zurich houses famous chocolatiers like the Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate factory, where you can learn about the company’s history and enjoy a free tasting. Teuscher, a Zurich Institution, is another must-see; their champagne truffles a must-eat.
For a little more adventure, take an excursion on the Chocolate Train. The trip starts in Montreux on the Swiss Riviera, then travels through the Alps to Gruyères for the famous cheese and 800-year-old Gruyères Castle, reaching its destination in Broc for a visit to the Cailler-Nestlé Chocolate Factory.
Cacao originated in the Amazon, making it the perfect place to learn about chocolate’s origins. Here, you can eat chocolate made from high quality, locally grown cacao beans. Cacao farm tours are also offered throughout the country, giving you an even closer look to the source of it all.
The Choco Museo, two blocks from the central square in Cusco, shows visitors the full process from bean to bar and provides a detailed history about the role of Mayans, Aztecs and conquistadors in chocolate production. For a truly indulgent twist, try a liquor-infused chocolate drink at the museum’s cafe.
Tuscany may bring thoughts of fresh pasta, rolling hills, and fine wine to mind, but it’s also home to some of Italy’s best chocolate makers. The small triangle from Florence to Pisa to Montecatini is dotted with small factories and gourmet shops, creating what’s known as “The Chocolate Valley.”
Tuscan chocolate is famous for its handcrafted nature and Mediterranean flavors, like lavender, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and rosemary. Enjoy the tastes and aromas of the process where it all started at the legendary Roberto Catinari. Other highlights include Amedi, Slitti, and the Vestri gelateria in Florence.
If you can plan your trip in February, there’s an annual chocolate fair in Florence called the Fiera del Cioccolato Artigianale. There’s also the Eurochocolate festival each fall in nearby Perugia, complete with chocolate art displays, experimental chocolate tasting and street performances.
The Spanish were the first Europeans to consume chocolate, after bringing it back from South America and sweetening it with sugar cane from the Canary Islands. Centuries later, there are many ways to enjoy chocolate throughout Spain.
If you find yourself in the capital, Chocolatería San Ginés is a can’t-miss. This hot spot tucked in the city center has specialized in churros with warm chocolate since 1894. Or, if you’re in Seville, you can try this delicious combo from a street vendor near the Triana Bridge. Head to Museu de la Xocolata in Barcelona to learn more about the production and history of chocolate in Europe and try your hand tasting or painting with chocolate. Palma de Mallorca is the best place to try palmeras de chocolate, made from tightly curled pastry dough coated in – you guessed it, chocolate.
Other Spanish pastry shop favorites include naoplitanas de chocolate and croissants filled with Nocilla, a chocolate hazelnut spread.
San Francisco, U.S.A.
The Bay Area is known for its food scene, but the chocolate might just be the standout. In fact, the longest continually operating chocolate manufacturer in the U.S. was founded during the California Gold Rush and is now a landmark in San Francisco. Ghirardelli Square in Fisherman’s Wharf is home to many shops and restaurants as well as the famed chocolate factory. Their intense, smooth-melting chocolate is a result of deep nib roasting and sophisticated refining and conching processes. Aim to visit in September, for the annual Chocolate Festival, featuring samples, live music, chef demonstrations, and ice cream eating contests.
The smaller, independent shops shouldn’t be missed either. Recchiuti Confections makes complex and unique sweets from single-origin chocolate. Be sure to try Michael’s signature Burnt Caramel. Make stops at Socola Chocolatier for artisanal truffles, Dandelion Chocolate for factory tours and classes, and Christopher Elbow Chocolates for edible works of art.
Germany is a chocolate heavyweight in their own right, and Cologne is considered the Deutsch chocolate capital. On the Rhine River Promenade near the medieval old town stands the reason. The Stollwerck company was founded in 1839 and provided chocolate throughout Europe and America for years. It’s since been turned into a massive interactive museum every chocolate lover should visit. You can watch as chocolate bars and truffles are made, try making your own at the workshop and check out the 10-foot Chocolate Fountain full of fresh Lindt chocolate, all while enjoying a fresh waffle dipped in warm chocolate.
As well as being meccas of chocolate around the world, these destinations are all spectacular in their own right – as if you needed another reason to go.