Most experts agree that the Mesoamericans were the first to uncover the secrets of cacao. As the delicious concoction spread throughout Europe and the globe, numerous countries added their distinct flavors and flair to create unique desserts. Some of the best chocolates are local confections and exclusive recipes, making chocolate tourism a necessary and worthy endeavor. Whether you're looking for an indulgent side trip or planning your chocoholic's bucket list, find out a little more about this sweet treat and how to uncover your perfect ganache destination.
Some historians think cacao beans were first processed in Honduras. Watching the chocolate makers at El Taller de Cacao in Copán Ruinas, it's easy to believe. Locals grow cacao in their own backyards, then process the beans by hand from start to finish. If you prefer some beach with your chocolate, head for Roatan, an island off of the east coast. The Roatan Chocolate Factory produces delicious treats from 100% Honduran cacao, with chocolate-making classes available.
Spaniards added sugar to cocoa and invented rich drinking chocolate. Astorga was one of the first epicenters of the chocolate industry and continues to be a hub of artisanal Spanish confections. Tour the chocolate museum, then sit down for a snack of chocolate con churros. If you prefer touring big cities, get a room in Barcelona near Petritxol Street. The charming avenue is a social hotspot and you'll find some of the best hot chocolate in Spain.
Mexico's gastronomic history is tied closely to cacao. The province of Tabasco produces some of the finest cocoa in Latin America, and Comalcalco is a great place to start your tastings. The city has three cocoa farms to explore, giving you a crash course in the history of chocolate and an up-close look at the production process. Not only is Tabasco a haven for foodies and chocolate lovers, but the city is also on the cacao trail, which you can tour independently by car.
British chocolate company J.S. Fry & Sons created the first chocolate bar in 1847. The company eventually merged with rival chocolatier Cadbury, and you can taste the original British chocolate at Cadbury World in Birmingham or sign up for the Chocolatier Experience to make your own chocolate. Cadbury World is near the train station, making it a day trip if you're staying in London. When you get back to the city, Take the Evening Chocolate Tour. This world-class chocolate journey lets you sample the sweet in every way imaginable: as a bar and in gelatos, truffles, and even cocktails.
Master chocolate makers in Switzerland changed the game forever with the development of milk chocolate. With the addition of milk from Alpine cows, chocolatiers developed creamier, smoother chocolate. Sample the best of Switzerland at artisan confectioners and chocolate factories in the city, viewing some of Zürich's most impressive landmarks along the way. Take the train to Kilchberg, where the Lindt Home of Chocolate welcomes visitors to hand-make their own chocolate masterpieces.
Confectioner Milton Hershey built a factory and small town in rural Pennsylvania and began the mass production of chocolate bars. Hershey, Pennsylvania, is still as vibrant and fragrant as ever. Home to the Hershey Story Museum, the stunning Hershey Gardens, and even an amusement park, the historic town is a prime family destination. Don't leave without visiting Hershey's Chocolate World, an immersive learning experience with a chance to score some of the cleverest and tastiest souvenirs around.
Portuguese Jews settling in Bayonne established the first chocolate factories in the 17th century, making it France's chocolate capital. Visit in May to experience Chocolate Days, a festival that revisits the town's heritage and honors the traditional art of chocolate making. Confectioners make the delicacy in the streets, giving visitors a chance to taste numerous sweets on the go. Walk the cobblestone roads to enjoy the architecture and window shop, ending the day with a decadent cup of drinking chocolate.
In October, follow the sweet aroma of chocolate to the university town of Perugia. A cultural and artistic center, the ancient city in the Umbrian countryside hosts one of the largest chocolate festivals in Europe: Eurochocolate. Here, chocolatiers share their best recipes and sweets in an endless selection. Learn about the origins of the cacao bean from Latin American cultivators, then strike a pose with the collection of chocolate sculptures.
Belgium might be famous for beer and fries, but the country is also world-renowned for producing some of the finest chocolates. Belgian chocolate contains 100% pure cocoa butter and a higher cocoa content than other varieties, making it something you really have to taste for yourself. While in Brussels, you shouldn't have trouble finding Chocolaterie Mary, a gourmet shop with six locations in the city. Come in February for the Salon du Chocolate, an event dedicated to chocolate and cocoa.
Much of the world's cocoa production shifted to South Africa in the 20th century. Soil and environmental factors give African cocoa beans a mix of exotic undertones, from tropical and fruity to floral and earthy. Visit some of the many chocolate shops in Cape Town, such as AFRIKOA. The award-winning chocolate makers partner with the community to create ethically and locally-sourced chocolate. Then, plan a side trip through the Cape Winelands, where you can taste a selection of local chocolates, cheeses, and wines, curated to perfection.