Chocolate. Everybody loves it. Whether it’s dark and sophisticated, sweet and creamy, or oozing caramel, we can’t get enough of it. No wonder that the average Brit, Swiss or German eats around 11kg of it a year!
A sweet treat tastes even better after a day out in the fresh air, so look out for these examples of Europe’s finest chocolate on your next walking or cycling holiday.
The earliest chocolate was actually a frothy, bitter drink made from roasted, ground cocoa beans and water, which was popular with ancient civilisations such as the Incas and the Aztecs. The word ‘chocolate’ actually comes from the Aztec chocol?tl, meaning bitter drink. Chocol?tl was considered the drink of the gods, and the cocoa beans were so valuable that they were used as currency.
Aztec-style drinking chocolate first hit Spain in 1528, when Cortes brought it back from his conquests in the Americas; it then slowly spread through Europe, reaching England in the 1650s. It was not until the nineteenth century that milk was added and the first chocolate bars were made.
Today the world chocolate industry is worth almost $98 billion. Europeans eat around 40% of the world’s cocoa each year, and every nation has developed its own special way of indulging. Next time you’re on your travels, why not try one of these chocolatey delights?
Walking around Valencia is a holiday of contrasts – from rugged peaks to fragrant valleys lined with citrus trees and sleepy vineyards. The city itself offers a whole other world where Spanish history and culture rub shoulders with futuristic design. For a truly authentic experience, treat yourself to a hot chocolate in the Santa Catalina chocolateria.
Spain kept the secret of drinking chocolate to itself for over a hundred years, and to this day you’ll be hard pressed to find a better cup anywhere else. If you’ve only had the powdered version stirred into milk or water, you’re in for a real treat. High-quality chocolate is melted into hot milk, before corn flour is added for a rich, thick consistency.
Chocolaterias are well-loved establishments where family and friends gather together to enjoy a cup of hot, sweet chocolate. Here you’ll find chocolate con churros – a classic Spanish breakfast of crisp fritters with a cup of chocolate for dipping. Traditionally, your drink should be thick enough for the churros to stand up in!
Vienna is on one of the most popular cycle paths in Europe. Cycle along the Danube through pretty farmland, lush forests and past spectacular castles, and be rewarded with one of the most elegant cities in the world. We have Austria to thank for the invention of chocolate cake, and what better place to try it than this capital of cafe culture?
Sachertorte is the most famous of them all – a dense chocolate sponge delicately coated in the finest apricot conserve and then smothered in dark chocolate icing. The result is rich but not too sweet, best served with freshly whipped cream and a black coffee.
There’s even a good back story to the Sachertorte. In 1832, Prince Wenzel von Metternich ordered his personal chef to come up with the perfect dessert to impress his guests with at a very special dinner party.
Fatefully, the head chef fell ill, and it was down to his humble apprentice to save the day. Just sixteen years old at the time, Franz Sacher presented the delicious Sachertorte – and the rest is history. In Vienna, The Sacher Hotel now claims to sell the original cake, whilst their rival the Demel bakery also boasts Sacher family connections.
Coffee and cake is a time-honoured ritual in the picturesque villages of Bavaria – if you’re out walking make sure you take the time to rest awhile and indulge in a slice of classic German Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. Whilst Sachertorte is all understated sophistication, this chocolate cake is a shamelessly decadent confection.
Forget the sickly gateaux you may have eaten in the 1980s, a true Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte strikes a delicate balance of refined flavours.
Lashings of Kirchwasser – a fiery cherry schnapps – is vital, and in Germany no cake without it can bear the famous name. This is drizzled over light-as-air chocolate sponge, which is then layered with sour morello cherries and delicate whipped cream, and finally topped with a liberal grating of dark chocolate.
The Swiss Lakes are ideal for your first walking holiday. On relaxed walks you’ll see stunning alpine views, explore fairytale villages, and swim in pristine lakes. And of course, you’ll have the chance to try some of the finest chocolate in the world.
For hundreds of years, the Swiss have excelled at making chocolate. Among other milestones, they were the first to produce milk chocolate, and also developed the conching technique that gives modern chocolate its meltingly smooth texture.
You can explore Swiss chocolate history in the pretty town of Neuchatel. Phillipe Suchard set up a groundbreaking chocolate factory here in 1826, powered by the Serrières River. His chocolates won awards across Europe, and were a favourite of the King of Prussia. In 1901 he added rich alpine milk to his recipes to create the iconic Milka.
Today Suchard is part of a global corporation, and production has been moved elsewhere. However, the tradition of artisan chocolate lives on in Neuchatel’s numerous confiseries and cafes. Choco Emotions honours the history of Suchard, whilst Chocolaterie Walder has been making the finest chocolates for almost a hundred years.
Schneider’s in Davos is a wonderful traditional bakery and confiserie, serving delicious cakes, breads and chocolates. You can even have a go at making your own chocolate there! If you need a break from all that chocolate, try the Bünder Nusstorte – a local delicacy of sweet pastry with a rich caramelised nut filling.
On our French Riviera walking holiday you’ll be based in the stunning town of Menton. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, it’s renowned for its balmy climate and beautiful flowers. As you wander the streets look out for the Puyricard store, where you can sample the work of the South of France’s best loved chocolatier.
Founded by a Belgian couple who have lived in France for over 50 years, Puyricard’s chocolates are made by a small but dedicated team just outside of Aix-en-Provence.
As well as delicious truffles, nougats and bars, they produce regional specialities such as Callisons. These marzipan-like sweets are made of a candied peel and almond paste, with a crisp wafer base and pretty royal icing topping. Allegedly they were invented in the fifteenth century to cheer up the young Princess Jeanne when she married the 45-year-old King Rene!
Visitors to Alsace can enjoy gentle walks through the vineyards, oak forests and pretty villages of this fascinating region. On your rest day be sure to visit Colmar – the ‘Venice of Alsace’, where French and German influences meet in the most beguiling of ways. Best of all, there’s a treasure trove of chocolate shops.
You’ll be spoilt for choice at Grimmer – this establishment has been around for over a hundred years, and boasts a range of over 80 different chocolates and 20 varieties of hot chocolate. And in Jacques Bockel you won’t believe your eyes. These master sculptors specialise in making perfect chocolate replicas, such as roses, coloured pencils, and even glasses of beer.
Cycling in Barolo is foodie heaven. Wind through rolling hills and peaceful vineyards by day, and sample the region’s culinary delights by night. You’ll be treated to fine wine, rich truffles and wonderful local cheeses. The Piedmont region is best loved for its savoury foods, but is actually home to more master chocolatiers than Belgium and France combined.
On your journey you’ll explore the glowing city of Alba. Home to the original Ferrero factory, the aroma of melting chocolate and local hazelnuts fills its cobbled streets. Stop into a cafe for a traditional Bicerin – indulgent layers of drinking chocolate, espresso and whole milk served in an attractive rounded glass.
Another regional speciality are Gianduiotti triangular, nutty chocolates wrapped in foil. During the Italian independence wars of the nineteenth century, local ground hazelnuts were added to chocolate to eke out dwindling cocoa supplies. It tasted so good that the tradition continues to this day!
A holiday is not just a destination – it’s about local specialities, unique traditions, and undiscovered histories. Travelling under your own steam on a walking or cycling holiday is a fantastic way to really get under the skin of a place, and after a day outdoors a sweet treat will taste even better. Discover for yourself on one of our holidays, or request a brochure today.