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Chocolate. The mere mention of it tends to conjure up thoughts of seductively fragrant, velvety smooth, melt-in-your-mouth indulgence. Whether you like it dark or white, sweet or bitter, in tiny morsels or in giant slabs – or indeed in luscious liquid form – you're bound to be tempted by these chocoholic-friendly destinations.
A rainforest-drenched state of Mexico, Tabasco is billed as the "birthplace" of chocolate – a word that's thought to derive from the ancient Mesoamerican word xocolatl. The "Route of Sacred Cacao" lures travellers into Tabasco's steamy tropical jungles, where organic farms and haciendas offer absorbing, aromatic tours on the harvesting and processing of cacao, the basis of chocolate. Also known as cocoa, the bean was used as a trading currency in pre-Hispanic times, was a key ingredient in Maya rituals and helped yield the "drink of the gods" – a chocolatey tipple consumed cold and blended with spices. Aztec leader Montezuma apparently drank 50 goblets of it a day; visitmexico.com.
The Spanish Conquistadors shipped sacks of cocoa back across the Atlantic, but Montezuma's beloved bitter brew didn't really catch on as a social lubricant. Its popularity eventually boomed, however, when it was sweetened with sugar, cinnamon and almonds and served hot with milk, and today the Spanish capital is a city of chocolate addicts. Throughout the day, from breakfast to the post-clubbing hours, you'll see Madrilenos bunched in cafes, dunking churros (waffle-like sticks of fried dough) into their thick, rich hot chocolate. Dating back to 1894, Chocolateria San Gines is Madrid's most esteemed 24-hour chocolateria; chocolateriasangines.com.
Its crooked medieval streets are pretty enough to grace chocolate boxes, but York has also played a vital role in chocolate's development. While other northern English cities grew wealthy on wool, cotton and steel, the merchants of York focused on confectionery, with Rowntree's Kit Kat, Smarties and Yorkie, Terry's Chocolate Orange and All Gold, as well as Craven's humbugs, all launched here. This sweet heritage is explored in York's Chocolate Story, a family-friendly museum crammed with audio-visual displays, moreish tastings and hands-on exhibits (you get to make your own chocolate bar). One of York's most charming cafes, York Cocoa House, offers chocolate afternoon tea. A chocolate festival is held in the city each spring; yorkschocolatestory.com and yorkcocoahouse.co.uk.
It's hard not to think of Willy Wonka and Augustus Gloop as you wander round Cadbury World, a tantalising attraction on the outskirts of Birmingham (or Brum, as Britain's second-largest city is known). Educational and entertaining, it traces the origins of chocolate and the 19th century rise of the Brummie Cadbury dynasty, which spawned some of the world's tastiest treats (think: Milk Tray, Flake, Crunchie, Fudge and Creme Egg). You can enjoy mouthwatering samples smothered in warm liquid Cadbury Dairy Milk – and a new 4D Chocolate Adventure interactive cinema experience. Kids can burn off their sugar-fuelled energy in the chocolate-themed play areas. There's another Cadbury World in Dunedin, New Zealand; cadburyworld.co.uk and cadbury.co.nz.
Another British chocolate-making family, JS Fry & Sons Ltd, is often credited with creating the world's first solid chocolate bar (the trick was to add cocoa butter, rather than hot water, to cocoa powder and sugar). But it was the Swiss – in the shape of Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle – who produced the first milk chocolate bar, adding condensed milk to solid chocolate in 1875. While mighty Nestle draws tourists to its Maison Cailler chocolate factory in Broc near the Swiss Riviera, this alpine beauty of a country is speckled with independent artisan chocolatiers. The cobbled old streets of Zurich hide an array of quaint chocolate shops, and the delectable Sprungli cafe is an offshoot of Zurich's legendary Lindt & Sprungli; myswitzerland.com.
Rivalling Switzerland as Europe's most elegant chocolate-making nation, Belgium has been crafting pleasure-inducing nibbles since the late 19th century, when it began to import cocoa en masse from the Congo, its then-African colony. In 1912, the country's reputation blossomed thanks to a Swiss immigrant. Also known as a bonbon, the praline was invented by Jean Neuhaus, founder of the now globally renowned Belgian brand, Neuhaus. Comprising chocolate shells filled with creamy and nutty centres, pralines of wondrous quality can be purchased at Galeries St-Hubert, a super-chic arcade close to the Belgian capital's magnificent Grand-Place. You'll also find ridiculously tasty chocolate cookies, biscuits and ice cream here; visitbrussels.be.
Chocolate never sounds better than when it's pronounced in French, and fittingly, Chocolat is arguably the greatest novel to expound the virtues and sinful joys of this heady delight. Written by Joanne Harris, Chocolat is set in the fictional village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, and charts the story of a pagan single mother who opens a chocolate boutique opposite the parish church (much to the chagrin of the priest, who fears its aphrodisiacal properties could dent the morals of his congregation). Chocolat pilgrims today flock to the gorgeous medieval village of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain in Burgundy – where the 2000 movie version of the book, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, was filmed; burgundy-tourism.com.
You don't need to go overseas to get your chocolate fix. Australia's big cities are home to top-notch chocolatiers, including Melbourne's Cioccolato Lombardo, while Zokoko, in the Blue Mountains, gets heaps of international plaudits. However, one of the nicest areas for snacking (OK, gorging) on chocolate is southern Western Australia. Blessed with enchanting bucolic scenery and surf-friendly beaches, the Margaret River and Great Southern regions also boast their share of acclaimed chocolate makers (the Margaret River Chocolate Company and Denmark Chocolate Company to name but two). Southern WA is also matted with award-winning vineyards, and, as you know, wine and chocolate are often a match made in heaven; australiassouthwest.com.
Dubbed "The Sweetest Place on Earth", Hershey was established in 1903 by eccentric candy magnate Milton Hershey. Situated 25km outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the town is an ode to chocolate, with the historic Hershey factory edged by Chocolate and Cocoa avenues and street lamps shaped like Hershey's scrumptious Chocolate Kisses. A genuine crowd puller, Hershey is strewn with amusement parks, botanical gardens, vintage Hershey adverts, informative exhibits, entertainment complexes and a pick'n'mix of resorts; hersheys.com/chocolateworld/.
Housed in a Grade II listed building on England's south coast, the Chocolate Boutique Hotel claims to be the first of its type in the world. Infused with chocolate influences, the 15 uniquely decorated rooms flaunt names like the Chocolate Truffle and Montezuma suites, while guests can sign up for a feast of choc-tastic activities, from tastings and truffle-making lessons to bean-to-bar workshops and even a chocolate shoe-moulding class. If you're thirsty, you might fancy one of the hotel bar's specialities: a chocolate cocktail, aka a choctail. Satisified guests report that choc-in is a breeze; thechocolateboutiquehotel.co.uk.