If you’re like me, you look for unique and local flavours from places you visit and seek out gifts and souvenirs that highlight those flavours. No surprise, my primary focus is on the chocolate of any given place, and I’m always thrilled when a chocolate shop I visit has travellers in mind.
Such is definitely the case with Caribeans Organic Artisan Chocolate in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. It was thanks to Paul Johnson of Caribeans that I was able to make my way to Puerto Viejo and be a judge at this year’s chocolate fest. We met online (I believe it was via Twitter) and a post by one of Paul’s colleagues on the facebook page of the Puerto Viejo Chocolate Festival alerted me to the fact that there was a major chocolate event happening in a country I was anxious to explore. I’m thrilled that it all worked out, and even more thrilled with the stash of chocolate, cacao (cocoa beans and nibs), and coffee I brought home with me from Caribeans. The coffee and cocoa beans and nibs are packaged in durable plastic that easily survives a journey around the world.
And what about the chocolate? Well, it’s not for sissies. Caribeans chocolate is conched for only 24-36 hours, so it not the silky smooth chocolate you may have tried in other places. It is pure, and quite intense. All bars are made from 72% cacao except the milk chocolate. It’s nice and thin, and has a good snap to it. I like to call it authentic chocolate, as it only contains cacao, some cane sugar, and whatever natural flavourings may be included to create a special bar. Like the “Tequila Shot” bar that contains the leaves of Johnson’s own lime tree and some granulated sea salt. I love it, and will have to try it with a shot of tequila!
Paul and his wife Jeanne are excellent marketers, and give you the option of purchasing tiny 25-gram bars in a multitude of flavours (also available online), or the 150-gram larger “Special Reserve” bars featuring the finest cacao beans Caribeans has to offer.
It’s really worth taking the Caribeans Chocolate Forest Experience Chocolate Tour that shows you how Caribeans grows its cacao and makes its chocolate. The price is just $26USD for a three-hour tour that includes a fabulous guided tasting experience featuring this view!
If you really want to go all out and experience the world of Caribeans Chocolate and The Mango Walk guesthouse I profiled in the previous post, I recommend indulging in the “Chocolate Makers Dream” vacation. I guarantee you will leave a changed person, having learned all about this amazing chocolate destination of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
Please join us back here the week of December 1st, when we’re continue our journey of chocolate discovery through Puerto Viejo.
There are so many vivid memories from my week of chocolate exploration in Costa Rica, I’m not quite sure where to start! So I’ll begin with the fabulous guesthouse that hosted me during my visit to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
The Mango Walk is the brainchild of Jeff and Sherry Ghiotto, childhood sweethearts from Florida who moved to Costa Rica a few years ago after building their dream home–which they now share with chocolate lovers to the Puerto Viejo area.
The Ghiottos have a cacao forest on their property that has been restored for cocoa production with the help of Paul Johnson of Caribeans Chocolate and Coffee Roastery. You’ll meet Paul and his wife Jeanne in a future post on this blog.
I had the pleasure and privilege of staying on the second floor of The Mango Walk, which offers splendid views of the Caribbean Sea, as well as a natural environment with no less than 50 shades of green, resident sloths and howler monkeys.
There is a wrap-around deck complete with hammock for those lazy days when you just want to chill. My brief time in Costa Rica allowed no time for that, but I would highly recommend this property for those who relish seclusion and an immersion in nature combined with the occasional intrusion from creatures of the dark.
Thanks to Jessica Ghiotto who shared this remarkable space with me, and showed me how to be brave and self-reliant when it came to removing unwanted visitors from our abode. I was so amazed with this moth (whose wing-span was no less than four inches) that I just let him stay as long as he wanted.
Have you been to Puerto Viejo or the jungles of Costa Rica? What images are most engraved in your mind? Did you encounter any extra large members of the insect world that stopped you in your path?
Let’s share some memories and virtual images of Costa Rica, and then please join us back here the week of November 24th for our next post on this emerging land of chocolate.
I visited both coasts of Costa Rica back in December of 2001, while on a Panama Canal cruise. We had the opportunity to visit Puerto Limon on the east coast, where we explored the port city of Limon and Parque Vargas–and after passing through the canal–the port of Puntarenas located on an inlet on the west coast, from where we embarked on a day trip to the capital city of San José located in the central interior.
I’ll be back in San José next week, as I’ve been invited to be a judge in the Puerto Viejo Chocolate Festival that runs from October 30-November 2, 2014.
I can’t wait to return to this Central American country, as when my husband and I were there for only two days back in 2001, we both agreed that we would love to return and become better acquainted with this very charming country.
Costa Rica has a much healthier economy than other Central American countries like Honduras and Guatemala. That is likely tied into the fact that Costa Rica puts a very strong emphasis on education, and has a literacy rate of 96%!
Tourism is the number one industry in Costa Rica, and so you find that English is widely spoken. That may be partly because of the huge expat population in the country. There are an estimated 100,000 Americans living in Costa Rica, and by no coincidence, the primary hosts for my upcoming visit are an American couple that own and operate Caribeans Chocolate.
Agriculture is the second largest industry in Costa Rica, and although bananas and coffee have historically been the primary agricultural crops, the growing of cacao is forging forward as an important agricultural activity, and there is now a significant amount of great chocolate in Costa Rica to be found–which is why you will find me there!
You can be assured that I’ll have a stream of posts that will share the chocolate of Costa Rica with you, information about growing cacao in Costa Rica, and highlights of the Puerto Viejo Chocolate Festival. I can’t believe it’s taken me 13 years to return to this country. Here’s hoping my new experiences will far exceed the memories of our excellent first visit.
Have you been to Costa Rica? If so, what have been your impressions? Your favourite experiences? Please share your comments here, and then stay tuned for my next post, which will follow my return from Costa Rica on November 4th.
I had the pleasure of being the culture guide on September 27th in Gimli, Manitoba, for the town’s inaugural participation in Nuit Blanche, the special night-time culture tour that is free and designed to immerse participants into a collage of cultural opportunities and venues to fill their senses with pleasure.
Nuit Blanche Gimli was organized by representatives of Gimli’s cultural scene in cooperation with the folks at Culture Days Manitoba, and how special we felt knowing that Gimli was the only place in Manitoba outside of Winnipeg to have a Nuit Blanche event (although several other communities did participate in Culture Days.)
Nuit Blanche is a cultural event that was first launched in Nantes, France, back in 1984, and can now be found in more than 120 locations around the world. Although we didn’t go all night as some Nuit Blanche events are said to do – thus the name meaning “white night” as the lights are on throughout the night. Some venues in Winnipeg and abroad lived up to the name, but our local tour ran from 8-10:30 p.m. and I think everyone was happy with that. Perhaps we’ll start earlier in the evening next year as we were a bit rushed between performances at the various venues.
The A-Spire Theatre houses many cultural events such as live performances and readings by authors. We were treated to a sketch called “Louis and Dave” by playwright Norm Foster that has us rolling in the aisles. Could it get any better?
Those who love melodic music would have been thrilled with the next stop on the tour, as we were whisked away to the land of bliss, listening to Deborah Romeyn’s concert at the New Iceland Heritage Museum. You can get a taste of Deb’s music on her site. Some folks enjoyed perusing the quilt show that was featured at the museum, but you couldn’t tear me away from the music.
We then made our way to the Gimli Art Club, where artist Warren Wenzel was waiting for us with his chainsaw! In addition to stoneworks (also on sale at the GAC) Warren is a master of chainsaw art, and showed us how he carves a pelican out of a stump of wood. Inside the art club, tour participants could create their own mini painting with guidance from members of the club.
The final stop on the tour was to the Ship and Plough Gastropub. Unfortunately, the other stops on the tour took a bit longer than anticipated, so we missed most of the performance by Hammer’s Music School (pictured above.) And the kitchen closed shortly after we arrived, so members of our group could not order food. And there was a shortage of chairs, so many members of the tour has no choice but to leave. And the second musical act (the Tin Cat Bandits) played a bit too loud for such a small venue, and any conversation or camaraderie were pretty much out of the question.
But all in all, Nuit Blanche Gimli was a great success and I was thrilled to be a part of it.
Have you participated in a Nuit Blanche or Culture Days event? How was it? The link I give near the top of this post shows events that were held across Canada during Culture Days 2014. I can’t wait to see what’s in the offering for 2015!
Please join us back here the week of October 20th for our next new post. And while you’re here, please share the post and subscribe to the blog. You’ll be glad you did.
It’s not often I accept guest posts on this blog, but I couldn’t refuse Marta Lopez Garcia’s offer to post this delicious article and pics about some of her favourite chocolate destinations. Author Bio Marta López is a travel writer originally from Spain and now based in London. Marta is an occasional contributor to Expedia UK. She loves travelling, cooking and chocolate. When she isn’t writing on her laptop she can be found around the city looking for the best chocolate stores.
5 Worldwide destinations for chocolate lovers
It may have originated from the Spanish language and it dates back to Mesoamerican history. Chocolate is more than a delicious sweet, it’s also a way of travel. If you are still planning your first autumn trip, here you have five chocolate destinations that will sweeten your life!
Jeff de Bruges Shop in Bruges courtesy of Robyn Lee via Creative Commons
Bruges: The heart of fine chocolate ￼
Bruges is one of those places that once you visit it, you feel like you were on a fairy tale and most travellers say that it’ s a city that you drink and eat with the eyes. Apart from its canals and its medieval architecture, Bruges is well known for beer and chocolate. It’s a fact; this city of narrow streets is full of chocolatiers that produce the finest praliné in Europe. Last but not least: After trying hundreds of different chocolates, take the challenge and reach the top of Belfort Belfry, a symbol of the city that dates back to 1282. Once you have reached the top you will confirm that everywhere looks like an antique map… Top tip: Don’t forget to visit Bruges Chocolate Museum (Wijnzakstraat 2, Sint-Jansplein), found in the Maison Croon which dates from 1480.
Tabasco: The land of maya chocolate ￼
Chocolate skulls photo courtesy of Janet Lackey via Creative Commons
Chocolate hides an intense past in Mesoamerica. It was in 1502 when settlers arrived to what we known as Mexico and discovered this “brown gold”, cultivated by the Olmec culture. Hernán Cortés was the first to try this delicatessen in front of the Aztec emperor and consequently he didn’t hesitate to bring all the accessories for its production back in Spain. Today whoever visits Tabasco, in the southeast of Mexico, will have the chance to discover the origins and the route of the sacred cacao. Here you will be able to immerse yourself in the jungle and feel the aroma of maya cacao thanks to the wide number of small farms that cultivate this precious treasure. Top tip: Find out more about this ancient product and visit Finca Génesis, an organic cacao-producing farm.
St Lucia: A luxury chocolate experience
Cocoa image courtesy of Andi Jetaime via Creative Commons
Sweet and sunny, St Lucia has become a worldwide chocolate destination. This island, based in the Caribbean, used to export its cacao beans in the past, whereas now it keeps them for its own production. Visitors will find here a less sweet chocolate that the one from France, Belgium or America. St Lucia’s chocolate legacy dates back to the cocoa industry of the 1700’s. Today the island has an important reputation when it comes to talking about quality cacao and that is one of the reasons why travellers can find here a wide collection of hotels and resorts offering luxury services related to it such as cacao routes or chocolate-infused spa treatments. To tip: There is no St Lucia without experiencing the luxury of chocolate. Don’t hesitate to choose a holiday that offers a proper cacao experience. (Doreen’s note: Hotel Chocolat Boucan and Jade Mountain are 2 St. Lucia properties that I have written about previously on this blog and highly recommend.)
Madrid: Hot chocolate for breakfast ￼
Chocolatería San Ginés image courtesy of Edu Blanco via Creative Commons
The capital of Spain is one of the coolest places in Europe to enjoy chocolate in a very casual way. “Chocolate con churros” is what Spaniards call the perfect breakfast, which is hardly ever consumed at home. This New Year’s tradition is a combination of a cup of rich, thick hot chocolate and a light and crisp churros (pastry-like fritters). If you finally decide to visit the Spanish capital, don’t miss the chance to pop in at any of the many chocolaterías available, a sort of coffee shop where artesian hot chocolate is the speciality. Top tip: You can’t leave Madrid without enjoying a proper chocolate con churros. Visit Chocolatería San Ginés (Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5).
Perugia: The land of kisses ￼
The old chocolate truck image courtesy of travelling steve via Creative Commons
Legend says that it was here where Valentines’ Day was born. In Perugia, the capital of the beautiful Umbria region, everything has to do with a kiss, or what Italians call a bacio. It’s therefore no coincidence that the most popular chocolate in this area is the brand of Baci. Such is the passion that Perugian people feel about chocolate, that the city celebrates every October a festival called Eurochocolate (Friday 17th- Sunday 26th October) which attracts people from all over the country looking for the best chocolate products to buy and taste. Top tip: If you fancy a walk around the city, don’t hesitate to visit Rocca Paolina, an underground town built by the Pope Paolo III in 1540.
I hope you enjoyed Marta’s post and that it has inspired you to enjoy some chocolate travel of your own. I’ve been to St. Lucia and Madrid, but Bruges, Perugia, and Tabasco are still high on my list of chocolate destinations to visit. Which of these places have you visited and enjoyed?
Please share your thoughts and questions, and then join us back here the week of October 6th for our next new post.
I’ve been writing about wine travel longer than I’ve been writing about chocolate travel. So I thought I’d do a quick round up of some of the fabulous wine regions I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.
I’d say that the Rioja region of Spain is probably the most memorable wine region I’ve visited to date. Why? because I love everything about Spain. The breath-taking scenery, the stunning architecture, the multi-layered culinary creations, the fabulous chocolate, and the full-bodied red wines that enhance pretty much any meal or occasion. This is where I discovered Tempranillo and Crianza, two bold and voluptuous reds that have brought a smile to my face on many occasions.
I also visited a winery on the island of Santorini in Greece where I discovered Boutari. Like Spain, Greece is a country filled with intense flavours and aromas. Boutari (which comes in white or red) is a great wine for pairing with Greek foods. The Nauossa Boutari red is considered the finest Greek wine and has won many prestigious awards. I haven’t had it lately, but the 2009 vintage is definitely one of my favourites.
Closer to home, last fall I visited wine country in California, spending time in the Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Lodi. Since familiarizing myself with the wines of Europe, I’ve considered myself an Old World wine girl, but I must say that the Old Vine Zin (Zinfandel) that I tasted in California has given me a greater respect for California wines.
I’ve also discovered some amazing wines in British Columbia, Canada, and am happy to be heading back to Spirit Ridge in Osoyoos in January to do some more tasting at the Nk’Mip Cellars. They have a wide range of award-winning wines, but to date, my favourite BC wine is the Cabernet Franc from the Burrowing Owl Winery. Last time I was there, I brought home a case of this deep red elixir with me, but it’s been a few years, so I’m curious to see whether it or my taste buds have changed, as wine changes each year with the crop of new grapes. And our taste buds certainly change and evolve over time.
There are also some great wines being produced in the Niagara and Prince Edward County Regions of Ontario. You’ll find a fruitier variety of wines being produced in Nova Scotia, Canada, as well–perfect for hot summer days.
What’s on my wish list for wine travel? I love Bordeaux wine from France, so would love to visit that well-renowned wine region. I also love the Sauvignon Blanc white wine being produced in New Zealand, and have certainly enjoyed some of the Wolf Blass reds from Australia. And as that region of the world is on my list of chocolate travel destinations planned for Volume III of Chocolatour, you can be sure I’ll get there in the next few years. As well, I’d like to visit Chile and Argentina. In my opinion, there are few better reds than a fine Argentinian Malbec.
I hope that the grapes and vintages I’ve named will encourage you to try some new wines! And if you’re interested in wine travel, you are sure to enjoy the blog of my friend Veronica Leonard, who calls herself the wine tourist and runs this fine blog. As well, in her book, Unquenchable, wine writer Natalie MacLean shares some of her favourite places to experience wine travel.
Have you experienced travel for the sake of discovering new wines? If so, please share some memories or tips with us. And then please join me back here the week of September 8th for our next new post.
It’s been wonderful reminiscing about the wonders of Hawaii and Hawaiian chocolate with you over the past 12 posts. But it was time to leave this tropical paradise and get back to Canada (which right now, is a temperate paradise, but in February, that certainly wasn’t so!)
My flight to Winnipeg wasn’t until many hours after landing in Vancouver, British Columbia, so I was thrilled at an offer from the Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel to put me up for a quick sleep and fabulous chocolate-focused lunch in their ultra-chic Globe Restaurant. I’ve written previously about the various airport hotels that have made long-haul travels more palatable for me, and was really impressed with the Fairmont Vancouver Airport and grateful for this invitation as Fairmont Hotels are known throughout the world for their standard of excellence.
The real bonus here, was that in addition to being able to gain some much-needed shut-eye after a dreadful red-eye flight, and having a gorgeous room with a view of the mountains and aircraft (that didn’t disturb me because of the fantastic soundproofing of the hotel), I was able to have lunch with one of my very dear friends who lives in Vancouver who was able to take the easy ride on the Canada One rapid transit from downtown Vancouver. Why Toronto can’t come up with a similarly direct form of comfortable and cost-effective public transportation from downtown to Pearson International Airport frustrates me to no end.
But back to the pleasures of my stay at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport. After a much-needed nap and shower, I made my down to the award-winning Globe Restaurant, and was greeted by the smiling host who led me to a table where we could watch the aircraft come and go. Within minutes, my friend Pat arrived and we enjoyed a lunch as delicious as our 41-year-long friendship. We began with a Whipped and Beaten Martini, that featured creme de cacao and was topped with chocolate shavings.
Our lunch of linguini carbonara was superb, and completed by a tray of chocolate pastries created by the pastry chef Lorna and the creative team at the Globe. Pat and I enjoyed meeting Pastry Chef Lorna and Sous Chef Mike who came out to explain each of the desserts that had been created for us.
Of this tray of delectable chocolate offerings, I most enjoyed the White Chocolate with Foie Gras, Honey and Candied nuts, pictured on the left. I wish we could have had more time to linger and really enjoy those desserts, but I had a plane to catch!
If you find yourself having to spend some time at the Vancouver Airport, I’d highly recommend a meal at the Globe, and if you have the time and opportunity to stay at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, I have no doubt your stay will be as pleasant as mine. It was a wonderful way to end an equally wonderful trip.
Please join me back here the week of August 25th for our next new post. And in the meantime, please share any stories you may have about a fantastic airport hotel, special things you have done on a brief layover, or any personal reflections of the Globe Restaurant or the multi-award winning Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel. Cheers!
I hope you’ve enjoyed the past few posts about the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s hard to believe I’ve only seen one half of the island!
Even though I didn’t get over to the Hilo side, I wanted to give a salute to Big Island Candies, a company that I’d foolishly ignored because of their misleading name. Big Island Candies (BIC) isn’t just a confectionary company producing sweet candy treats. They are a high-end producer of excellent Hawaiian chocolate creations that make a visit to the eastern side of the Big Island really worthwhile.
BIC produces authentic Hawaiian treats such as dried, chewy cuttlefish dipped in delicious dark chocolate. But it also makes a Hawaiian version of the turtle (one of my favourite chocolate treats) that replaces the traditional pecans with roasted Hawaiian-grown macadamia nuts. And, wow! They use really massive macadamia nuts in this creation, along with a not-too-sweet caramel encased in milk chocolate. I don’t believe this comes in a dark chocolate version, but I wish it did.
As well, BIC makes an amazing Hawaiian red chili butter toffee coated with a rich dark chocolate that was totally addictive. And my favourite treat of all … the toffee coated chocolate covered massive macadamia nuts that are dusted in Hawaiian grown cocoa. So delectable. This was one treat I absolutely would not share.
BIC makes so much more, and everything that I was sent for review, passed my test. Pure homegrown ingredients, fresh flavour, and a creative assortment of chocolates, nuts, and cookies that are among the best I have ever tasted. And everything came in really colourful attractive packaging, and to us ladies, that’s important. Big Island Candies is not a company to be overlooked by the chocolate connoisseur. I can assure you that on my next visit to the Big Island, I will be visiting Hilo to see firsthand how they make their creations, and I hope to meet the dynamic team that has been creating them and winning numerous awards since 1977.
Have you had the pleasure of trying some of the creations from Big Island Candies? How did you like them? Have you been to Hilo? What did I miss seeing there?
Please join me back here the week of August 11th, when we’ll say Aloha to the Big Island, and head back to North America for more culinary treats.
I hope you enjoyed meeting the executive chef of the Fairmont Orchid in my last post. In addition to the amazing food and ambiance of the resort, the Fairmont Orchid also provides a great location for exploring the northwestern shore of the Big Island of Hawaii.
Heading north on Highway 19, we arrived at Hapuna Beach, a place to which I would love to return. We didn’t have enough time to swim there, but we did enjoy an afternoon stroll along the beach. I was surprised at how crowded the parking lot was as this is a fairly remote location, but once we got to the beach we could understand why. It’s a lovely swimming beach that is great for families. In the background of the photo, you can see the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. We didn’t have time to explore it, but the hotel certainly has an amazing view and stunning location, doesn’t it?
We then headed to the end of Highway 19 to the Pololu Valley Lookout–an overlook of one of the most scenic stretches of shoreline I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. It reminded me of some of the striking scenery I’d seen in Newfoundland, Canada, but much more tropical, and with a black sand beach.
The Pololu Valley is part of the Kohala Forest Reserve, and was once a prime agricultural area for growing taro (a root and leaf vegetable also known as kalo) and rice.
It was kind of neat being at what is referred to as both the end and the start of the State Highway!
We then spent some time in the tiny village of Hawi, where we had lunch, shopped, and found a fabulous fudge shop in the Kava Kafe. The passionfruit and chocolate, passionfruit and ginger, macadamia nut and chocolate, and pure dark chocolate fudges were all fantastic, and handmade of local ingredients. I’d forgotten how delicious they were until I started writing this post!
As you can see, I am a huge fan of Hawaii, and my first visit to the Big Island was as satisfying as I’d hoped it would be. Have you explored this part of Hawaii? If so, what impressed or surprised you most? Let’s share more travel tips about this heavenly destination, and for your reward, I’ll meet you back here the week of July 28th, when I’ll share more discoveries of decadent Hawaiian chocolate …