Category: chocolate festivals and events


Visiting Pisa as described in my last post wasn’t what it was all about for me. Yes, I totally enjoyed the local culture and cuisine, and learned much visiting the historic relics. But I was there for the chocolate. And I was not disappointed.

We were lucky with the timing of our visit in that we were in Pisa for dolce Mente, a festival of sweets. The man I was looking for was to be there. I had come a long way to meet him, but somehow knew it would be worth the effort. I was so right.

We entered the festival in time to see Dutch-born chocolatemaker, Paul de Bondt, stirring up a pot of what looked like dry ice, causing considerable smoke and excitement in the room. Turns out he was making a very special and delicious gelato.

Paul de Bondt making his very special chocolate gelato

Paul de Bondt and his Italian wife, Cecilia Iacobelli are the dynamic duo behind de Bondt Cioccolato Originale. Spending two hours with this chocolate master was all I needed to help me tighten the focus for my chocolate book. He enabled me to get inside the mind of a chocolate master.

“It’s the small details that make the big differences, so we really put a lot of attention to the small nuances of flavours,” said de Bondt. I totally understood what he was telling me, and tasting his chocolate brought it all together for me. It made me realize we are cut from the same cloth. We are chocolate purists, and although we may appreciate the excitement that can come from adding fruits, nuts and other enhancements to chocolate, it is the quality of the cocoa beans that is of utmost importance to the final chocolate product.

some of Paul de Bondt’s chocolate barks — all awesome

I could tell you much more about Paul de Bondt. And I will. In my book. Chocolatour is on its way to becoming a reality, and by the end of this year I hope to be toasting Paul and Cecilia at the Italian launch of the book.

More on that to come. But before we go, I have to take a step back. In my last post I neglected to thank our wonderful guide in Pisa, Vincenzo Riolo. He’s the same guide who showed American travel writer, Rick Steeves, that Pisa is so much more than the Tower. See both of them in this pic. I must say that in each of the European cities we have visited, it has been the knowledge and insights of our local guides that has made the visit much more than a superficial fly by. Vincenzo is truly a master of his profession. You can reach him via the Pisa Guides website.

If you plan to visit Pisa, right now is a very good time! The weekend of March 25-27, 2011 will be filled with events through Pisa province, with special tours, and yes … a Chocolate Festival to be held in San Miniato e Tirrenia. More on this month’s events at: http://www.pisaunicaterra.it/en/Focus/pisas-new-years-day.html.

Be sure to join us back here on the blog the week of March 14th, when we’ll wrap up our visit to Italy with a whirlwind tour of Rome.

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Long-time readers of my Blogger blog will recall that last fall I embarked on a chocolate-tasting journey through Belgium, France and Switzerland.  What an amazing taste-tantalizing two weeks that was!  Well, I’m thrilled to say that the tickets are purchased, the reservations made and the Euro chocolate tasting resumes on Monday, September 20 when I fly to Amsterdam, Barcelona and Italy for more of the best European chocolate available to chocolate lovers anywhere. Yes, my waistline will suffer. But all in the line of duty for you, my dear readers as I continue my research along the Chocolatour. Stay tuned to this blog for news on the release date of the book.

Last year I came home with a suitcase literally filled to the brim with the most amazing chocolate from the most innovative Belgian, French and Swiss chocolatiers. Can the experience possibly be beat? I had oodles of fun, and learned much from chocolate connoisseur, friend and travelling companion Kathe Lieber of Montreal. This year, I’m travelling with vivacious Virginia Heffernan of Toronto, a fellow writer, chocolate and wine enthusiast. I’m thinking it’s going to be an amazing trip!

I’ll make the next post to this blog on October 5th, the day following our return.  But to whet your appetite, please take a look at last year’s reflection of “Take 1” here.

chocolate in my suitcase


I’ve just returned from 2 weeks in Europe, meeting some of the world’s best chocolatiers — all in the way of a good day’s work. My next book will be about chocolate. There will be much more about that as time goes by.
I’ve unpacked the big suitcase, which contained an assortment of immensely heavy press materials, heaps of clothes to be cleaned, toiletries and about 5 pairs of shoes. How is it that men can travel with just one (or possibly 2 pair of shoes?)
And then there’s the second suitcase. The size you use for a long weekend of travel. I took it nearly empty, knowing … hoping … that I would be coming home with lots of chocolate. And sure enough, I was right. So much so that I had to unzip the expansion pocket on the suitcase just to fit my treasured stash without crushing its valuable contents.
The trip began in Montreal on October 9th, where I enjoyed a tremendous lunch with friends at a trendy restaurant specializing in chocolate, then visiting a remarkable chocolatier in Pointe Claire. A great way to begin a voyage of chocolate discoveries.We flew from Montreal to Brussels (via London) with British Airways (BA.) The staff on BA is always friendly and courteous. They seem to enjoy their jobs, making travel so much more pleasant than what I’ve experienced on various other airlines. I’d highly recommend them for overseas travel and we are using forward to enjoying their service again.
Throughout our three days in Belgium we met several memorable creators of chocolate magic. I’ve always loved Belgian chocolate and now I know why. No one takes greater care than the Belgians in making chocolate much more than just cocoa butter, cream and sugar. Those 3 key ingredients are only a small part of the amazing chocolate creations we were introduced to. The Belgians really know how to innovate with chocolate.
France was included in my itinerary because the Salon du Chocolat and the World Chocolate Masters Championships were taking place at the same Paris venue mid October. How could a self-declared chocoholic not take in the world’s largest chocolate extravaganza? The Salon du Chocolat offered consumers an amazing selection of chocolate delicacies, enhancements and accompaniments. The World Chocolate Masters event introduced me to trend setters and key people in the chocolate industry from around the world. A most enjoyable visit to the south of France topped off the French experience and introduced me to yet another amazing chocolatier.
Our trip concluded with four days in magnificent Switzerland, a country whose thriving economy pays tribute to the chocolate industry. The Swiss take pride in eating the world’s most chocolate on a per capita basis and in producing the world’s greatest abundance of chocolate products. I came away with a greater respect for Swiss chocolate, thrilled to see that the country best known for its creamy milk chocolate is now producing an increasing amount of impressive dark and delicious delicacies.
Hats off and thanks to my translator, part-time navigator, full-time friend and fellow taster, Kathe Lieber for joining me in this endeavour. Her new knees served her well as we navigated our way through some of the world’s best museums, houses of chocolate and other memorable places. More on that later, too.
But for now, I just wanted to assure you that I am alive and well and probably a few pounds heavier than when embarking on this journey.
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